By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
With a new Head Coach in Brian Kelly and his entirely revamped staff, wildly different approach or philosophy (compared to prior head man Ed Orgeron), while nearly 25% of their teammates and 2021 coaches exited amid Kelly's transition, it's a major sense of pride to see so many Tigers excel in 2022...in fact, we were forced to leave off 3 Tigers who could've easily fit on this list.
We will list those three when the top 10 countdown concludes....but for now, get into this, get yourself relaxed, drink something warm, eat something good, jive on our vibe and dive into the ultimate 2022 breakdown:
(Click Each Name) #10: JOHN EMERY JR
5. MALIK NABERS
-300 After Catch
-44 First Down Catches
-13 Catches on 3rd/4th Down
-17 Broken Tackles
-5 PIs Drawn
Within LSU's nearly anonymous passing game, it's perhaps a miracle we witnessed sophomore receiver Malik Nabers lead the team in both receiving and catches, needing only 146 more yards during the upcoming Citrus Bowl to eclipse 1,000 for the first time in his career.
If Nabers achieves that mark, he'll become the first 2022 LSU Tiger to record 1,000 yards from scrimmage and just the second Tiger rusher or receiver in the past three seasons to record over 1,000 (Ty Davis-Price 2021).
But if you've seen how hard Malik grinds to become the best, it would come as no surprise how he battled against the odds this past fall.
Despite his near calamitous fumbles in Week 1 vs Florida State, Malik was continuously clutch for LSU throughout 2022, all but erasing the memory of his return errors:
Making a pair of tough catches immediately after his 2nd fumble vs Florida State, sustaining LSU's "game-tying" drive; converting a trio of third down catches and another "had to have it" 4th down grab to seal victory over Mississippi State; His brilliance could not be contained by former Tiger Eli Ricks throughout November's epic bout:
Alabama's former five-star practiced against Malik during LSU's 2021 season, getting crisped by the freshman on occasion even back then.
2022 followed the same script:
At the hands of Nabers' expert route running, the elder cornerback was left broken & perplexed in #8's wake, beaten for a pair of key critical down catches in front of the riotous Tiger faithful.
Later on, Nabers drew two penalties for pass interference on Ricks, including a moment where Eli desperately prevented a sure-fire touchdown with an illegal pull of the collar.
Ricks wasn't the only defensive back who suffered the Lafayette native's wrath.
Making 11 contested catches from eighteen 50/50 targets, Nabers showed out as a dominant aerial force, torching the SEC's best cornerbacks from either slot or out wide when given the chance.
Most impressive, and a sign of what's ahead, when #1 receiver Kayshon Boutte was out for the birth of his son, rested during "gimme games" or unavailable due to illness, Nabers cashed in every opportunity:
81 yards plus a touchdown vs Southern, 65 in limited targets vs New Mexico, followed by 7 catches for 129 yards vs UAB and opportunistic performances working with few targets vs Tennessee, Auburn & Florida.
But he saved his best for last, reeling off 128 yards and a touchdown vs Georgia during the SEC Championship Game, cooking UGA's #1 ranked defense with one big catch after another....averaging 25.6 yards per grab against UGA's elite defenders.
The best part?
Nabers and Boutte appeared to grow from one another's strengths vs UGA, hitting over 100 yards in tandem while scoring touchdowns for the first time together.
Without hyperbole, Malik Nabers is an absolute phenom of a receiver, right on the same path as Jefferson, Chase, Reed, Davis, Clayton, Landry and Beckham Jr as yet another dynamo Tiger wide out....traveling the same path as his current teammate, SEC Single Game record holder Kayshon Boutte.
Although he was celebrated with an All-SEC Freshman selection right out of the gates, Nabers is now nationally known and respected on a whole new level, all because of the unflinching grit he displayed in the face of adversity on a highly public stage:
For Malik Nabers, 2022 began as the season from hell:
His pair of special teams fumbles nearly buried LSU vs Florida State, and with the entire American sporting world watching & commenting on his public mishap (including supportive words from LeBron James), Malik and his family experienced social media harassment and abuse for days after the Tigers' extra point humiliation.
Regardless of the odds or bleak circumstances, strong support also arrived Malik's way:
Coach Brian Kelly accepted blame while Mike Denbrock's offensive staff never lost faith in their young star; Kayshon Boutte displayed immediate leadership on the sidelines, encouraging his apprentice at his lowest moment; QB Jayden Daniels continued his confidence & trust in Malik; veteran wideout Jaray Jenkins rose to the sophomore's defense; the brotherly backing from Jack Bech & Kyren Lacy brought all the "big stage, bright lights" thinking back home....in that heart-wrenching moment, Nabers' teammates rallied around their crestfallen young receiver.
But over the course of the 2022 season, in every game since Week 1's harsh lesson inside the Superdome, Malik more than atoned for his errors....he reminded an entire fanbase why they fell in love with his prodigious talents in the first place.
Malik's "never say die" / "pry this ball from my cold dead hands" brand of mental toughness is one of the main reasons for outside admiration, as well as a key factor in his growing success...allowing his raw abilities to take full flight.
In 2023, much will be expected of LSU's 2021 All-SEC Freshman.
In 2022, he rose to the occasion as the Tigers' definitive #2 receiver, although he performed like a #1 throughout proceedings....making tough catches in traffic, accepting hard hits while maintaining possession, earning repeated first down yardage...the only thing missing from his 2022 resume?
Touchdowns, but among LSU's receiving corps, Nabers is far from alone.
Boutte and Nabers caught just 4 combined touchdowns through 13 games, half of that tally arriving vs UGA. Jaray Jenkins leads the way at 6 scores, while no other wide out possesses more than 2.
Through no fault of his own, Malik should get his share of the end zone next season, as LSU look to reintroduce their high-powered passing game with three solid options at quarterback (Jayden Daniels, Walker Howard, Garrett Nussmeier).
To make that vision a reality, Nabers should be a central focus once again in 2023, having proven himself to be an NFL-caliber weapon for LSU time and time again.
STAY TUNED FOR #4-1, ARRIVING NEXT!!
+ ON THE HORIZON....
-INTRODUCING & DISSECTING LSU'S NEW TRANSFERS & FUTURE TARGETS
-FINAL 2023 MOCK CLASS
-CUTTING EDGE CONVOs w/ LSU TIGERS & THE BEST VOICES IN & AROUND THE GAME
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
©️ 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc