Updated: Jul 3, 2022
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
This Spring, 9 freshmen early enrollees practiced alongside the purple & gold....and for the majority of their reps, these young stunners held their own.
Some of LSU's most interesting roster pieces hail from the 2021 class as early enrollees, athletes such as QB Garrett Nussmeier, OT Garrett Dellinger, Safety Derrick Davis Jr, WR Deion Smith, JUCO LB Navonteque Strong, and the abominable DT Maason Smith, with Coach O publicly touting our 2021 Early Enrollees all along the way:
At one point during Spring ball, Coach Ed Orgeron called Maason Smith "our best pass rusher"........
.....wait a second, remember: this kid is just a freshman...frankly, he should be at prom instead of battling Liam Shanahan or Ed Ingram. He's a defensive tackle (not known for being pass rushing specialists) and he's on a team that has two of the SEC's best pass rushers, Ali Gaye & B.J Ojulari.....
Was this merely Coach O talking up his young folks???
Regardless of what anyone thought, Coach O was right about Maason, maybe not as a rusher himself every rep, but definitely as an influence:
I witnessed prolonged dominion during Spring's scrimmages to back up that kind of talk.
Maason plowed Chasen Hines out of his way and created electric avenues for Ojulari, Evans and especially Jaquelin Roy with swift, effective brutality, utilizing Andre Carter-certified violence to bully our interior O-line into a collective fetal position.
Orgeron also raved on end about Derrick Davis Jr's multi-faceted strengths, from proposing that the freshman "could start" to saying he could possibly play a variety of positions.
But these young Tigers are just the tip of the 2021 iceberg...
We've covered the 2021 early enrollees thoroughly, however when examining the young depth for LSU to call upon, at times Tiger fans forget about Coach O's reinforcements arriving in late May and early June:
Yes...that's right....if you believe LSU's roster contains holes or depth issues, the rest of our 2021 class has something to say about that.
You may spot one absence:
Yes, we are excited about Mike Jones Jr, too, however he misses out on our list because... he's not a freshman.
Here are some of the top guys we're looking forward to seeing most, as well as our top two Tigers from the incoming class:
Over the past two years, DE Saivion Jones remains one of the most productive stat-stuffers in recent Louisiana High School memory, racking up 119 solo tackles out of 159 total, 47 tackles for loss, 42 pressures, 20 sacks, 10 forced turnovers (3 FF, 6 FR, 1 INT), 9 passes defended, 3 safeties scored, 2 defensive touchdowns, 2 blocked punts....and 1 undefeated championship season at St James.
Gonna be a player, ya think??
Even if Saivion requires a season to figure out how he can best attack the collegiate level, the same result will occur: the St. James grindhouse is going to be quite an incredible Tiger and only just barely missed out on our #1 defensive spot.
DE Bryce Langston (profiles as more of a DT) is another freshman Coach O wasn't afraid to boast about ("he may be the best defensive lineman I've recruited since I've been here").
Can Langston make good on those lofty words from Coach O?
WR Brian Thomas Jr is ranked by LSU Odyssey as the #1 WR of the 2021 class (another one time Tiger commit Jo Jo Earle was 2nd) and justifiably so:
Walker High's magnum opus lit up the Louisiana high school fields over his last two seasons, posting 24 TDs and 17.0- 16.9 yards per catch, reminding me of an embryonic Chase / Marshall hybrid when in full flight.
Thomas Jr's combination of height, strength, speed and abundant playmaking powers make him a showstopper, yet we'll see how he battles against LSU's top defensive backs.
If Brian already has enough elite physicality to fight off our DBs, then he could find himself at WR #3 or 4 when the Rose Bowl sun sets.
WR Malik Nabers actually scored more touchdowns than any Louisiana wide out throughout 2019, ripping down 21 scores as a junior at Comeaux.
While transferring to play the 2020 season, Nabers was cruelly denied his waiver for a senior year at Southside High, spending last fall in a holding pattern away from the field.
Due to his transfer hardship, our staff are seeking to give Nabers advanced reps until the Tigers begin to iron out their core group; he simply will need to get out there in helmet and pads, no more 7 on 7, and play football again.
Amidst this shuffle, Malik will get an opportunity to shine from WRs King Deluxe Mickey Joseph.
After that, it's up to his work ethic and desire...so, I think it's safe to say Malik will be within reach of LSU's top 5-6 WRs when LSU takes on UCLA.
Safety Matthew Langlois fails to receive the recognition his talents are due, considering he's not only an incendiary safety or superb running back, he's also a state champion in track, topping Kayshon Boutte's junior 100 meter dash time.
He may arrive under the radar concerning LSU's fanbase, however LSU's coaching staff know exactly who they're dealing with:
The second coming of Craig Steltz...although subtracting Steltz's long blonde locks, but adding Langlois' ruthless track speed & running back athleticism to the menu.
RB Corey Kiner is ready to contribute right now in an LSU uniform, regardless of age or experience.
Sure, the easy bet is on Kiner sticking to the 3rd string back role behind TDP & Emery, however the Ohio-native possesses the size, strength and all-encompassing traits to be a serious contender for our starting spot....he is that good...and he is that ready.
Just watch his 6 touchdown game to understand why he could be a special phenom at LSU, displaying liquid authority every time he touches the ball.
No wonder Kevin Faulk pursued him so righteously.
WR Chris Hilton Jr barely misses our Top 2, illustrating just how tight competition for reps will become this summer.
When the Tigers lost Jo Jo Earle to a last week flip to Alabama on National Signing Day, I felt there was only one young man on the entire roster (outside of Kayshon Boutte) who could replace that kind of otherworldly athleticism and dynamism:
The "Olympian Tiger": Chris Hilton Jr.
Ranked lower than Earle or Thomas Jr by so many (including this very author), Hilton will always possess certain abilities that destroy a modern day defense, just like Kayshon Boutte.
Even if Hilton is still raw, his undeniable pace should terrify coordinators, meaning he should see plenty of time from Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz's playbook.
Imagine Hilton & Boutte out there together...with all of our other weapons, how can anyone cover us?
That's Matchup Heaven for us and Matchup Hell for our opponents, or as Peetz aptly put it: "our dream, they're nightmare."
Give him the ball & watch him geaux. Chris takes the roof off, stretches or guts 'em underneath & can mercilessly tear off for a touchdown from anywhere on the field...which West Monroe found out the hard way.
TOP 2 INCOMING FRESHMEN
WR/TE Jack Bech has what it takes to not only grab heavy snaps throughout 2021, Bech is versatile enough to create his own position within Jake Peetz's all action offensive set up.
Standing at 6'2 and thickening up around 215, Bech has been named by Coach Orgeron as a freshman who could play a vital offensive role at both wide out or as a tight end-esque weapon.
Keeping that in mind, a major indicator of his chances for reps will be whether or not Arik Gilbert returns to Baton Rouge.
When I asked Bech about the potential for Gilbert's return, he confidently said, "...whatever happens I'll ride with it," embodying the St. Thomas More receiver's adaptability and humility.
Regardless of Arik Gilbert coming or going, Jack Bech is a Tiger who I cannot wait to witness in full action.
He's also a Legacy Tiger:
Back in the early 90s, his Uncle Brett suited up for Curley Hallman from 1991-1995, racking up 9 touchdowns and 1,438 yards (catching a few from Jamie Howard, the father of Jack's best friend...LSU commit Walker Howard). Brett later coached Strength & Conditioning for the Dallas Cowboys.
Jack has the same baller DNA and he'll be intent on taking his Uncle's solid output to the next level.
Bech is a human highlight reel, leaping over opponents, hauling in towering back shoulder receptions, burning defenders into ashes after the catch...all while forcing DBs to cover his brutal physical tempest.
It's the St. Thomas More senior's rugged, bruising machismo which tricks analysts, coaches or scouts into thinking he's a tight end. But don't forget, Bech is a pass catcher who amassed the second most touchdowns throughout 2019's full campaign, more than every Louisiana receiver barring Malik Nabers.
Bech ripped off 3,004 total receiving yards alongside 37 total TDs (featuring 35 receiving scores) in his high school career, averaging a nasty 18.4 per catch, as well as demonstrating his special teams prowess when returning a wild punt return to the end zone (he even tacked on a rushing TD).
The Lafayette Tiger was born already wearing the purple & gold, and while he will face stern competition for places in 2021, Bech could be the kind of "take no prisoners" destroyer Mickey Joseph's "Boutte then who dey?" wide receiving corps need at this juncture.
If Iron really does sharpen Iron, well then Bech is indeed among LSU's sharpest.
Unless injury or an unimaginable lack of opportunity occurs, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Safety Sage Ryan is about to geaux off as a true freshman, mark my words.
Ever since early enrollee Derrick Davis Jr began making the talk show rounds as a top name for LSU fans to keep an eye on, Ryan's supernatural versatility faded into the background as Tiger fans became familiar with Davis Jr at safety.
Well, it's time to realize the stern fact of the matter here:
Regardless of how many athletically elite superstars, track champions, two or three position athletes or legacy Tigers there are on roster, no one comes close to the range of dominant mayhem Sage Ryan can produce...oh...and he's also an athletically elite superstar, a track star who readily plays two or three positions, and thanks to his kinship with the Faulks, he's also a Legacy Tiger.
The complete package, my dear readers.
Not only is Sage an elite cover safety fully capable of locking down slot receivers, he's just as aggressive at the line or when tracking underneath, attacking and brutalizing anyone coming over the middle.
Though he's hardly been utilized as a blitzer, Ryan is also effective when penetrating the backfield, covering backs in the flat and reading an opponent's RPO action easier than The Cat In The Hat.
Still, his best strengths aren't found in football's physicality, but more through his reverence for the ancient art of cerebral playmaking....paying tribute to past DBU heroes (Tyrann Mathieu, Tre'davious White, Corey Webster) loud and proud.
Ryan's pre-snap diagnosis is the best I've seen from any 2021 defender, creating a world where quarterbacks become Dan Brown page-turners.
Another main reason he's our top defensive freshman arriving this summer?
When Ed Orgeron signs 5 star defensive backs, his Bayou Bengals' track record is incredible thus far:
Eli Ricks broke out as a freshman last year, Derek Stingley from 2019, Jacoby Stevens back in 2017, and 2016's Kristian Fulton: 16 overall INTs, two NFL Draft picks (with Derek & Eli locked to follow as 1st Round picks), two All-American honors thus far, one second team All-SEC, an SEC title, and a National Championship...
So, it geauxs without saying...
Sage Ryan doesn't have to explode as a freshman to be a major success (i.e Stevens or Fulton), however if recent LSU history tells us anything, Orgeron & Corey Raymond's freshmen DBs have been unrepentant in their brilliance.
Who knows, LSU might need an All-American debut from Sage to reach the College Football Playoff:
When you look at the Tigers' options at safety, no matter how many names and faces you can count, our coaching staff continue to feel so concerned by the position, they're repeatedly dipping into the transfer portal for help (Major Burns looks all but signed).
While Austin Thomas' crew look abroad for safety help, our next All-American DB is already on our roster.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: Michael Dineen, the Kung Fu Master