LSU football: Grading every position group after the 2022 regular season
LSU began the season with a lot of personnel concerns.
The Tigers didn’t even have 85 scholarship players. A lot of players who were being counted on had come through the transfer portal or arrived as true freshmen, and it was unclear how they would mesh with each other as well as a new coaching staff.
The depth wasn’t as good as head coach Brian Kelly expects it to be in the future.
But LSU finished 9-4 and 6-3, with a West Division championship after a 50-30 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
It was No. 17 in the final CFP rankings and will be playing Purdue in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2 in Orlando, Fla.
So the personnel concerns weren’t fully realized. The Tigers had enough talent to accomplish a lot of significant stuff.
Here are grades for every position:
Jayden Daniels arrived through the transfer portal from Arizona State, ostensibly to be part of a 4-man competition to start. He won, Myles Brennan left the program, Garrett Nussmeier saw mop-up duty and Walker Howard redshirted.
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Daniels wound up being the most important newcomer on Kelly’s 1st team. At times, even the head coach said Daniels was too tentative in making decisions, but he mostly made good ones.
He was the team’s leading rusher and an effective passer and leader. He was the most dynamic player on the team.
If the Tigers had chosen to reassess the assignment of No. 7 during the season, it’s fair to assume Daniels and Kayshon Boutte would have found themselves trading numbers.
Everyone had his moment. John Emery Jr. ran for 3 touchdowns against Texas A&M, and Noah Cain ran for 3 against UAB. Armoni Goodwin was earning a significant role before being injured, and Josh Williams was the most complete back when he was healthy.
LSU didn’t have 1 explosive runner. Nor did it have the quality of depth that Kelly is shooting for. But overall, the coaches and players milked a reasonably good season out of the circumstances.
The wide receivers generally were considered the most talented group on the team going into the season, but their productivity fell short of expectations. Malik Nabers overcame a slow start to have a good season, but Boutte never regained the form he had before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2021.
The passing game was bolstered by a productive season from freshman tight end Mason Taylor.
The line went through a lot of shuffling during the 1st half of the season as the Tigers adjusted to injuries and searched for the best combination.
Eventually they found a healthy, stable group. The line became a strength down the stretch, though it was outmanned against Georgia.
The defensive line suffered a serious blow when Maason Smith was lost for the season after tearing an ACL in the opener.
His absence forced the coaches to play more 3-man fronts than they had intended. But the team adjusted, and BJ Ojulari, Jaquelin Roy, Mekhi Wingo and Ali Gaye led a solid unit.
Freshman Harold Perkins Jr. zoomed up the depth chart over the course of the season and became one of the most dynamic defenders on the team. Mike Jones Jr. and Micah Baskerville were solid throughout, and Greg Penn III came on late.
Ultimately, the linebackers emerged as one of the most dependable units on the team.
The secondary underwent a lot of shuffling, partly because of injuries and partly because the coaches were searching for the right fits.
Eventually, LSU found a solid and deep group that included Greg Brooks Jr., Jay Ward, Mekhi Garner, Major Burns, Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Joe Foucha.
LSU was 4th in the SEC in gross punting (44.3) and tied for 8th in field-goal percentage (75 percent). In the SEC, only Vanderbilt (40 yards) had a longest field goal that was shorter than the Tigers’ 47. The kick return unit ranked 7th (19.69-yard average), and the punt return unit ranked 12th (5.0).