By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
For generations, the idea of the sidekick has always been a role few wanted, little could handle, and even fewer succeeded at, but when maximized at its greatest, a hungry sidekick alongside an unselfish alpha can create something far bigger than themselves.......Legendary alchemy.
Which is exactly what we're witnessing QB Jayden Daniels and his receiving corps commit upon defenses left, right and center throughout their 2023 schedule:
WRU teammates Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr, a dynamic duo who are recording or snapping records one by one every Saturday, are even topping Ja'Marr Chase & Justin Jefferson's combined 2019 yards and catches.
The work each has done to fully unleash their counterpart is 2nd to none, alongside tremendous run-blocking downfield (most evident during Daniels' 234 yard performance vs Florida), but while the lion's share of national attention, plaudits and awards are heading towards Malik Nabers, #8's "sidekick", Brian Thomas Jr, is dominating, catching and running routes like a #1 WR.
After two seasons where Brian Thomas Jr received very little of the ball, as he dealt with annoying transfer rumors & a late season shoulder injury during the SEC Championship Game, LSU's #11 thoroughly maximized his athletic potential in Year 3.
Making damn sure his so called "Money Year" produced the goods, LSU's WR Adonis skied above all challengers for the program's 3rd all time single season touchdown haul (15 scores) alongside his first 1,000 yard campaign.....and now, named one of 10 Biletnikoff Award semifinalists, the Walker, Louisiana native has sealed the deal, making his wildest dreams bear miraculous fruit.
When commenting on his illustrious receiver, Head Coach Brian Kelly was asked "what specifically did Brian Thomas Jr improve on during this offseason to accomplish such an incredible year?"....Kelly's answer hinted at the daily grind Cortez Hankton's top two receivers embarked upon:
"Everything," Coach Kelly said about what BTJ changed going into 2023, "he's focused, his attention to detail, doing a great job In the classroom....that is reflecting in the way he's playing, blocking downfield, catching the ball, all of that is a byproduct of him taking care of the little things in his day to day life.....it was a choice. He made the choice to be elite..."
Catching passes all throughout the spring and sticky hot summer, Heisman frontrunner Jayden Daniels worked his receivers into the ground, hoping to strike gold in a season with plenty of offensive potential and fireworks to be had.
Alongside Malik, the towering #2 never skipped or eased his way through a passing session, both top wide outs pushing each other to their ultimate; Then, sporting development trainer Jake Flint mentioned the former Walker High receiver among the strongest overall players on the team, highlighting one of his lesser identified skills.
But many were skeptical about #11's ability to take his game to the next level, with many analysts from the national (Josh Pate) to the local (T-Bob Hebert) calling upon the junior wide out to fulfill his potential following 2 middling seasons.
Over the course of 12 games this fall, he did just that:
Stamping his authority thanks to a nation-leading 15 touchdowns, while also topping 1,000 yards, Thomas Jr supplied the yin to Malik Nabers' yang, with the duo racking up a combined 146 receptions, 2,625 yards, 29 shared TDs, and 5 games where both simultaneously racked up over 100 yards....besting Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson's combined 2019 numbers in all categories except touchdowns, accomplishing those figures through 3 fewer games.
Whether it was his recruiting profiles before he became a Tiger, or first two overviews as a freshman or sophomore, we always pointed out Thomas's incredible finishing powers concerning big plays or the red zone, however we were blown away by his production during fall 2023:
Against the best teams, in the biggest games, throughout LSU's toughest moments across their historic offensive campaign, Thomas was there to supply a big time play downfield, peeling the roof off of an opposing defense, displaying speed, power and vision after the catch, and a hulking aerial presence that clinched victories for Brian Kelly's Tigers.
5 touchdown catches of 49 yards or more, including scoring from 86, 75 and 70 yards out, while also supplying contested catches in the red zone, Thomas Jr became the home run hitter as Nabers wore down or bled defenses dry, inside and out, upwards, downwards, sometimes even sideways, the 2023 WRU Pillars of Doom even switched roles back and forth mid-game.
Together, the tandem are definitely in the conversation as the greatest Tiger receiving duo, yet even when individually judging both wide outs, you can say LSU were gifted with two #1 receivers for the 2023 season.
Although Thomas may be the forgotten gem at times, buried beneath Malik Nabers' record-breaking & Biletnikoff-frontrunning push for history, Brian is no doubt an aerial assassin, an interstellar receiving force of nature, projected as high as a late 1st round pick for this spring's NFL Draft....
Unequivocally, he has become the main target Brian Kelly will hope to keep on roster for next season....and for good reason: no DB could handle #11's combination of size, speed, power and hands....and just think about this for a moment: he hasn't come close to hitting his ceiling yet.
682 Offensive Snaps
7/12 Contested Catches
42 First Downs
18 Yards Per Catch
11 Missed Tackles Forced
1,530 Offensive Snaps
17/35 Contested Catches
79 First Downs
73% Catch Avg.
15.1 Yards Per Catch
29 Missed Tackles Forced
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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