Updated: Aug 2
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
With Fall Camp less than 48 hours from ignition time, we thought it would be appropriate to give you our top 10 breakout Tigers for 2023, 5 on each side of the ball....beginning with our 5 from Matt House's defense.
By breakout, I don't mean for you or I, the serious, hardcore, die hard, hell bent for leather Tiger fans to start noticing these players, I'm talking about SEC-wide recognition and the launching of a national footprint.
For instance, Harold Perkins was of course a breakout player in 2022, but you could also list Mekhi Wingo, Malik Nabers, Mason Taylor, BJ Ojulari showcasing his best during his third & final season (already a known commodity) and offensive linemen Anthony Bradford, Will Campbell and Emery Jones Jr, just for an example of what we're looking for.
By the way...the list doesn't stop at #1 👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀👀😄
5. OMAR SPEIGHTS
At linebacker, senior Omar Speights transferred from Oregon St holding an already formidable & highly decorated career within the Pac 12.
But Speights wanted the smoke, transferring to LSU in search of a National Championship, a 1st-2nd round NFL Draft selection next Spring, while playing alongside the best in the game, Harold Perkins.
Alongside Perkins, the pair (or trio with Greg Penn III, Matt House's 2nd leading tackler from 2022) should be devastating, combining tremendous versatility and speed; Most importantly, Speights' experience will help Perkins navigate his way through a sophomore season that could be quieter due to his possible deployment at middle linebacker.
4. SAGE RYAN
2023 should stand as a breakout campaign for third year Tiger Sage Ryan, due for a big season at nickel or safety, and even resurrecting his past as a returner on special teams.
After a solid but at times mixed red shirt freshman year, where Ryan received a good portion of snaps, he allowed 3 TDs (including opener vs Auburn) as he fought against the current, battling at a newer position: nickel.
However, Ryan also became a divine playmaker, becoming one of only a handful of Tigers to recover 2 fumbles in the same game (judging by available stats; Mathieu, Stevens, James), forcing another vs Alabama thanks to a physics-defying strip of the ball on tight end Cameron Latu, a play that nearly turned the game on its head.
On the final play of the season, Sage Ryan delivered yet another big play, batting the ball into the air at the goal-line for backup CB Quad Wilson to intercept, running 99 yards down the field for an outrageous touchdown......all set up by Sage's swat.
Also key on a solid 4th and goal coverage vs Florida State:
Facing a 10 point deficit already, close to becoming 17, Ryan blanketed his man and fought the ball out of their grasp inside the end zone, forcing the turnover on downs in what would turn out to be a crucial play for LSU's epic, yet ill-fated comeback attempt..
Can he deliver in year 3 or will LSU look for other options at nickel?
Could LSU move Brooks Jr to nickel and Sage back at safety?
That is a swap that could actually work....
Ryan is also a special talent that is capable of transcendental things with the ball in his hands, scoring at will on kickoffs or punt returns at LCA.
I'm betting on him to find his niche and have a strong campaign for LSU, continuing to create turnovers and hopefully receive an opportunity to return the ball on special teams.
3. JAVIEN TOVIANO
Capable of playing three different secondary positions, the former 5 star true freshman is cut from the same cloth as some of the best DBs in the program's history....yet we're talking about potential, something we could say for Ashton Stamps, Sage Ryan or Jeremiah Hughes......the question is: do I really believe Toviano will play a lot in 2023 & contribute to the team as a breakout?
Yes I do, considering he could play three different roles & continually held his own or excelled 1 v 1 against LSU's best receivers; You, I, or even the coaches don't know much about how LSU's secondary will perform this season (5 new transfers, 4 at corner, alone)....still, what we do know?
Toviano possesses the bloodborne intensity, ability and mental strength to echo the all-world freshman debuts of Harold Perkins, Mason Taylor, Emery Jones Jr, and Will Campbell.....due to DBU's major need for proven studs at any of those three secondary roles, and a future at safety, Javien Toviano could absolutely become the lockdown cover man DBU need.
2. LT WELCH
Standing and being counted as a true DBU contender amid LSU's 2023 Spring Game this past April, third year CB LT Welch is poised for a starting role.
Targeted 6 times and allowing 0 catches, facing deep shots against the speed of track superstar Chris Hilton Jr or the strong body and hands of Brian Thomas Jr over the middle, Welch faced a testing onslaught.
Instead of getting beaten...not even once, LT blanketed one of the team's fastest players, Hilton Jr, breaking up passes his way or forcing incompletions due to his tight coverage; then, he prevented a touchdown by way of another bat down, punishing the receiver with a nasty hit for his troubles.
There's something about the confidence, focus, abilities and charismatic aura around LT Welch right now. After a difficult opening season adrift on the bench, Welch is ready to make one of LSU's two cornerback jobs his own.
1. SAIVION JONES
How could he not be on this list?
Saivion Jones savaged quarterbacks for 4.5 sacks and 11 pressures over just 278 snaps (in comparison to Wingo and Brooks' nearly 900 snaps, to give you a barometer of how much he appeared on the field), while also forcing a fumble with a brutal strip sack and batting down 2 passes.
Jones announced himself gradually, building each year, from an anonymous, sideline straddling first season to brilliant rotational reps in his second, now at a colossal 280 pounds, Saivion is ready for a monumental third season.
0. MAASON SMITH
Yes....I get it....is Maason Smith really a breakout player, as a former All-SEC Freshman sensation when he debuted with 4 sacks across 9 appearances and 4 starts, (including 3 in one night vs McNeese)???
No...not by name recognition....
Regardless, we are listing Tigers not by star power, but by on field production.....concerning that aspect, Maason is yet to truly breakout as a Tiger.
He's the most known commodity on our list's defensive side, yet of LSU's prominent third year Tigers, he has appeared in nearly the least amount of games:
Just 10 appearances and 5 starts for his career, missing 18 total games in his LSU career thus far, Smith doesn't necessarily have a lot to prove as an athletic specimen or high NFL Draft pick, but he has a lot of time to make up for wearing purple and gold....and possibly just one fall where he can put it all together.....possibly just one full, final season for Tiger fans to witness Maason Smith in all his ravenous, vengeful glory.
5 HONORABLE MENTIONS
-DASHAWN WOMACK, Jack LB / DE
-JAXON HOWARD, Jack LB
-DENVER HARRIS, CB
-MAJOR BURNS / GREG BROOKS JR, Safety (only one)
-RYAN YAITES, Safety
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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