Updated: May 17, 2022
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
LSU's All-American-level DE Ali Gaye returns after a powerful 2020 and an injury-hampered 2021, only appearing across 4 games last season due to a fractured hand (posting 19 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and 1 PBU).
Despite his lack of game time, Gaye was delivering stunning second year development & production when you watch the tape, on the cusp of a breakthrough if not for injuries:
Across 6 fewer outings (compared to 2020's 10 appearances), LSU's former junior college transfer amassed more than half of his 2020 tackle total and eclipsed his sack numbers.
Still, the most remarkable and efficient element to Ali's game has to be his relentless passing game disruption, all thanks to his towering height and abominable arm length.
Batting down 7 passes over his 14 games wearing purple & gold, Gaye is second only to Jay Ward's 10 PBUs during that same timeframe, while surpassing elite cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr (top 5 pick), Cordale Flott (3rd rounder) and Alabama transfer Eli Ricks' production over those two seasons.
As a defensive end at DBU playing on the same field as such marveled secondary talents, that statistic is mind blowing.
After just 14 Saturdays at the Division I level, Gaye still could have found himself selected as a top round pick during the 2022 NFL Draft, however, in a scoop broken by this very author, Gaye chose to stay at LSU for a third season...with plenty of unfinished business on hand for year three.
Despite his world class athleticism and NFL bound skill set, Gaye is yet to totally take control of an entire season, being relegated behind Bo Pelini's horrorshow defense throughout 2020 and railroaded by injury across 2021, the Gambian-American has only just begun to scratch the surface of his fiery potential.
After year three, no matter how successful, we may still look back on his LSU career, see the horrible conditions of 2020, his injury-laden 2021 and say "what could have been", such is his abundant talent.
Also adding to these tantalizing thoughts, if transfer rules had been updated in summer of 2019 when he first committed, then Ali would have joined in time for LSU's G.O.A.T season.
Quite a crazy realization.
Despite a feeling of lost time and "what ifs", I choose to look at Gaye's final year as a major opportunity for the former community college transfer to cement his LSU legacy in defiant, swaggering style before ascending to the top round of next Spring's NFL Draft.
#11 could be gearing up for a truly historic defensive season at LSU....one which will hopefully capture all of Ali's transcendental skill, versatility and mesmerizing athleticism in one 12-15 game stretch.
Could this be the year Gaye slaps a pass to himself and rumbles for 25 yards down the field to score a touchdown?
Could this be the year Ali devastates all quarterbacks for LSU's first double digit sack season since Arden Key's record-breaking 12 Sacks in 2016?
Will Gaye and his opposite flank-mate BJ Ojulari become a highly heralded DE tandem unlike any LSU have seen before?
The possibilities are endless.
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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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