By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Over the last week or so, LSU introduced a number of new transfers on roster, including a few more home state talents returning to the Boot, some potential key out of state contributors, while addressing some central areas of roster worry early.
Entering the 2023 offseason, LSU's immediate needs were always at CB, linebacker, defensive line, interior offensive line, and safety, in that order....
Needing to make up for a loss of three NFL-destined stalwarts along the defensive front, Ojulari, Gaye, and Roy, LSU's Defensive Line Coach Jamar Cain is facing his first true test as trenchman in chief:
Losing such key veterans, proven difference makers & productive playmakers will be tough;
Despite their lack of household edge rusher names for 2023, LSU will start an All-American at each defensive tackle spot: Maason Smith & Mekhi Wingo.
Because of Smith & Wingo's unstoppable potential on the interior, Jamar Cain will understand how important it is to attain the right edge components for LSU's defensive line.
Building up a stockpile of depth for both present and future remains the most pressing team imperative....for any position.
Needing help, as well as depth at cornerback, Coach Kelly's DBU staff of Steeples & Cooks have been working in overdrive, aiming to fill roster spots vacated by NFL Draft entrees Jay Ward, Jarrick Bernard-Converse & Mekhi Garner, while Todd Harris has run out of eligibility and Damarius McGhee, Raydarious Jones and Derrick Davis Jr have all transferred.
Elsewhere, LSU expected #1 WR Kayshon Boutte to return for his senior year....but only a few weeks after declaring his last dance return with a lengthy, "heart on sleeve" letter, Boutte reversed his decision and announced his NFL Draft exit....amid an orgy of wild speculation & rumor.
The Tigers now required another receiver....and they couldn't just be any receiver....LSU needed to surround Malik Nabers with another alpha....
Although still needing at least two linebackers via the portal, all together, Kelly's staff has thus far excelled in their growing collection of 2023 transfers, beginning to plug massive holes on roster.
Let's Geaux Through Each Name:
Taking the field for 553 snaps last season for West Virginia Mountaineers, Jordan Jefferson's obvious versatility, power, and production landed him in Jamar Cain's line of sight.
Deployed mostly as a nose tackle or interior DT, the senior lineman will add much-needed experience and depth at a position already boasting supreme talents (Smith, Wingo).
Jefferson will be moved across the interior three, possibly in a triumvirate with Wingo and Smith, given the formations Cain favors.
-8 QB Hurries
3 Missed Tackles
Lining up mostly over the A gap throughout his time at Arizona, Defensive End Paris Shand arrives at LSU ready to work for an opportunity...much like the one Mekhi Wingo received on the first drive during the first week of the first game of 2022.
Wingo responded to the challenge on national television, becoming the lone Tiger name on the All-American list, making an All-SEC team for the second straight year, and showing out wire to wire, all while playing a ton of snaps.
Is Shand ready for that moment, stepping in for the outgoing BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye?
It's too far out to tell just yet, given the intensive competition at that position for those two spots.
However, Shand has an outside chance at making a splash.
Over 3 seasons at Florida, the Watson, Louisiana-native only produced 19 tackles, 3 stops behind the line of scrimmage, just a single sack, as well as 1 forced fumble.
Across last season's 11 game appearances and 224 snaps, Jalen just had 8 total tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0 sacks and like all three years at Florida, Lee supplied just a single pass rushing pressure in 2022, 2021 and 2020 respectively.
Not exactly awe-inspiring numbers, although past statistics hardly forecast future production....
Lee could be exactly what our defensive line is looking for, a pure Jack LB built for the pillar position of Jamar Cain & Matt House's defensive scheme.
In a room full of ever-expanding defensive ends or edge rushing talents looking to overtake Ojulari & Gaye's vacant roles, Lee is another option with 499 snaps of SEC experience....plus, playing back home in Louisiana does something to a man....
Jalen could end up becoming a revelation, a nice depth asset or a bust, but we won't know until late November of 2023 at the least....so sit back and watch the development of another promising LSU defensive lineman.
RED SHIRT JUNIOR
Playing very limited reps for Dan Lanning's debut defense, Swinson registered just 1.5 tackles for loss and 8 total tackles, although his 10 pressures is far more promising.
Swinson is yet another boost of experience and depth along Jamar Cain's front....but at this moment, could he overcome competition from Saivion Jones?
It may take a second for Swinson to become acclimated to the pace, power and ferocity of SEC football, but when he's ready, he could be a strong asset.
-2 Returned for TDs
Alexander may be transferring from a lower division, yet his numbers make great reading no matter the level of competition.
Returning 2 of his 9 interceptions for touchdowns over the last pair of seasons, Zy Alexander has been rising on transfer portal boards over the last 12 months.
Luckily, LSU's Robert Steeples identified Zy as an overlooked talent and locked him in before anyone else could get a look.
Yes, DBU needs bodies at this point, but LSU aren't prepared to waste a single scholarship.
Alexander is a move that should count for more than just a live DB among their thin room, Zy should become a contributor for Steeples' unit at some point in 2023.
-A&M's 2nd Rated Defender on PFF
-81.5 Run Defense (#2)
-86.8 Tackling Grade (#1)
-69.8 Coverage Grade
4 Catches Allowed
28 Yards Allowed
1 TD Surrendered
For all the off-field rumors and drama swirling around Harris, the young man with LSU family ties actually stood out among A&M's best performing young defenders.
Showcasing promise amid a disastrous, toxic campaign for A&M, losing Harris will no doubt greatly hurt the Aggies' secondary going into 2023, while LSU add a potential superstar shutdown corner.....who should've been a Tiger in the first place.
Harris is a sure fire starter or candidate for a starting job, holding the right amount of experience to go with his obvious defensive pedigree.
People, forget what you've heard: Denver is a Tiger to be excited about.
RED SHIRT FRESHMAN
Likely headed for stardom at LSU, Aaron Anderson's Alabama defection brought the happy ending we'd all hoped for following a long, painful recruiting saga throughout 2021 & early 2022.
As a freshman, Anderson wasn't ever given a sniff of the field by Nick Saban, even when his Crimson Tide suffered mightily without a talisman or playmaker at receiver.
When you watch Anderson's raw ability, it's stunning and almost inconceivable for me to think Nick Saban lured such a promising Louisiana talent out of the Boot, only to lose him 12 months later...
I'm not saying Anderson will win a Heisman and Biletnikoff, but just think if Saban lost control of Devonta Smith....
Now that the unthinkable has happened due to Saban slipping, LSU's wide receivers room contains weapons like Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr, Chris Hilton Jr, incoming freshmen dynamos Shelton Sampson Jr, Kyle Parker and Jalen Brown, plus Anderson himself on roster....2023 isn't a time for lost opportunities in the receiving game.
Possessing blistering pace, expert route running, a prize fighter's mentality during aerial duels, elite vision after the catch, and most importantly, solid hands, Anderson is the complete package.
It's time for Brian Kelly's Tigers to cash in on their enormous portal win at Saban's expense.
One man's bench player is another man's Biletnikoff candidate.
Assisted by our deep quarterback & wide receiver rooms, Aaron Anderson will likely become a special Tiger over the coming seasons.
DAMARI "DUCE" CHESTNUT
Rated by Pro Football Focus as the 4th overall defender for Syracuse last season, Darian "Duce" Chestnut was an immediate transfer portal attraction for DBU, providing much-needed experience and capability at the back end.
The third year corner appeared in every regular season game for the Orangemen at just under 700 snaps, registering an impressive 75.6 coverage grade despite allowing 34 catches from 48 Targets for 356 yards & 4 TDs.
12 Catches Allowed
Ohio State's former red shirt freshman arrives at LSU with a chance to feature among Robert Steeples' cornerback rotation, especially with Mekhi Garner, Jay Ward, & Jarrick Bernard-Converse declaring for the NFL Draft.
As a former pupil of Steeples & teammate of Mekhi Wingo & Mac Markway at De Smet, Johnson arrives with more than a familiar footing in a new surrounding.
After careful judgment of his film, I feel Johnson has what it takes to compete for a starting spot immediately, such is his coverage prowess.
Activated by Steeples' strong development & motivational skills, Johnson has every advantage upon arrival.
Alongside former Ohio State / current LSU teammate Sevyn Banks, fellow transfers Denver Harris, Darian "Duce" Chestnut or Zy Alexander, backed by talented youth such as Javien Toviano, Laterrance Welch, Jordan Allen, Ashton Stamps, and Jeremiah Hughes, Robert Steeples' cornerbacks room is beginning to take shape.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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