LSU Football: Never too early to look ahead to 2020
What will LSU’s lineup look like in 2020? Okay, maybe you’re not thinking about that right now since the Tigers are potentially two wins away from a national championship but we have some time to also look toward the noot-too-distant future.
LSU has achieved successes this season that in some ways are potentially superior to anything that they have accomplished in the past. Winning the College Football Playoff after Joe Burrow has already captured the coveted Heisman Trophy would place the Tigers in elite company. Burrow joined Billy Cannon as the only Heisman winner in program history already but hoisting the crystal in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in January would place them in the same class as the 1958, 2003 and 2007 Tiger squads.
Of course, this year’s SEC Champions have set numerous offensive records. When you look back years from now, the NFL rosters will be littered with many players from the 2019 roster. Many will move on to the pros next year while others remain with eligibility.
So how good will the 2020 LSU Tigers lineup be?
The current success has attracted plenty of attention. If there is a scholarship available, I envision a grad transfer to join the competition when LSU can take one after the spring semester. It can be at any position of need.
The 2020 commitments will be facing an uphill battle at winning a starting role. But there will be some very important opening with the first string.
Replacing Burrow will be a nearly impossible task. Current redshirt sophomore Myles Brennan, a strong-armed pro style quarterback, appears to be odds on favorite to do it but 2019 signee Peter Parrish has a year in the system and dual-threat talent which is tantalizing. Much will be decided during the offseason workouts.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire will almost certainly declare of the NFL Draft, and who can blame him? Everyone predicted prior to the season opener that the junior running back would be relegated to a backup role behind two highly regarded freshmen, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price. Edwards-Helaire had other ideas.
After tallying 658 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, Edwards-Helaire made a quantum leap forward in LSU’s new spread offense. He ran for 1,233 yards and 16 scores while becoming an indispensable threat as a receiver for Burrow. Clyde is NFL ready.
Davis-Price will get a shot, but expect Emery and Chris Curry to take a major step forward despite their current places behind him on the depth chart. LSU coaches are also in hot pursuit of elite 2020 recruits who could have a major impact on the position.
Derrick Dillon and Stephen Sullivan have run out of eligibility while junior Justin Jefferson is another polished star who is expected to leave for the NFL with a decent chance to be taken on day two of the draft. There are other standout receivers returning.
A pair of sophomore, Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, will be back. Trey Palmer got valuable reps as a freshman. Devonta Lee, a much heralded signee in 2019, has been waiting his turn while learning the complexities of the offense. Racy McMath, who will enter his senior campaign, has demonstrated all the skills to take on a larger role. Jontrae Kirklin reminds me of Russell Gage, who was often overlooked at LSU before proving himself and becoming a successful NFL player with the Atlanta Falcons.
Tight end Thaddeus Moss had a breakout year, showing his skills as a receiver and a capable blocker. Returning for his senior season looks to be a good option but he may decide to follow in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame father Randy. I am sure father and son will discuss what’s best for his future.
As for other tight ends in-house, Jamal Pettigrew will need to step up while 2020 commit Arik Gilbert, a five-star talent, should step on campus ready to get meaningful reps. T.K. McClendon should return to compete at tight end after filling a role as a reserve defensive end this year.
If all goes well for the Tigers, starting tackles Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus will return as seniors although Charles may go pro. Dare Rosenthal has the athletic ability to become a superb left tackle but has a ways to go to become a consistent SEC-level starter. Thomas Perry, a 2019 signee, and massive Anthony Bradford will get plenty of reps during the offseason to gauge their progress. Sophomore Cameron Wire made strides late in ’19.
Either Donavaughn Campbell or Jakori Savage could be the 2020 version of Adrian Magee as veterans who a huge jump forward as consistent senior season contributors on the offensive line.
If Ed Ingram returns to form and much heralded 2019 signee Kardell Thomas returns to full health, the guard position in Baton Rouge will be one of the strongest in the SEC. Campbell could provide depth or even see opportunities at center. Current 2020 pledge Marlon Martinez could end up as useful depth right away.
Lloyd Cushenberry, a center with 26 starts, will have a decision to make concerning his future as well. He is well-regarded by NFL scouts so he may view now as an opportunity to move on to the draft. He is a mid-round prospect. If Cushenberry does leave, Chasen Hines looks to be ready to step up. Charles Turner, a signee last year, will compete.
We look next at the LSU defense, where there will be some important shoes to fill.
The defensive line will lose dependable Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko. Glen Logan (21 starts) is expected to return along with Neil Farrell to solidify the Tigers up front. Logan may take a peek at the NFL draft just to get a grade but he should stay to show he can be more productive and stay healthy.
I am not sure if Justin Thomas returns to the roster since leaving the team late this past season. Travez Moore, Jarell Cherry and Soni Fonua will have to show something in spring drills. Texas transfer Michael Williams (6-2, 275), Baton Rouge native, will bring athleticism to the line.
Tyler Shelvin and Apu Ika man the middle as prove nose tackles, and freshman Joseph Evans saw the field enough to be ready to add depth next season.
The incoming 2020 class will have a major say so as to how the depth chart ends up.
LSU must have production from the outside linebacker spots for the defense to be at its best. K’Lavon Chaisson is well regarded by NFL teams. I would not be surprised to see him bolt at the conclusion of this season. Andre Anthony, Ray Thornton and Marcel Brooks offer great promise as pass rushers while 2019 signee Desmond Little spent the season gaining strength and weight.
Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips (24 starts) formed a solid and proven tandem on the inside at linebacker. I expect one or both to solicit a draft grade but there’s a good chance both return. Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville have shown that they are quite capable of manning those spot with little drop off.
Another 2019 signee, Donte Starks, arrived late on campus and never caught up. He is capable of bringing physicality to the linebacking spot.
Of course, some shining stars will be taking off from DBU to the NFL. Kristian Fulton and Thorpe Award winner Grant Depit both expected to go in the first round of this spring’s draft so there are important jobs open in the secondary.
Freshman superstar Derek Stingley, Jr. returns to claim one cornerback spot. I can see expected 2020 signee Elias Ricks end up as the starter opposite Stingley and perhaps have a similar impact. Kary Vincent will be back to man the slot.
Cordale Flott stepped up when called upon. He has All SEC written all over him. Jay Ward and Raydarious Jones should be as good as advertised as well so LSU will have secondary depth despite key losses.
Stingley is a unique talent, so much so that 2002 could be a Heisman campaign for him. Eventually, he is expected to see action on both sides of the ball, somewhat similar to what Charles Woodson did at Michigan to win the coveted trophy. Stingley could leave Tigertown with the “best athlete in school history” tag. Think about how impressive that list is.
Safety Todd Harris flashed skills before falling to injury early this season so he is likely to join Jacoby Stevens in one of the best safety tandems in the SEC. Maurice Hampton grabbed valuable experience late in the season as a freshman but he will shift to the baseball program at the conclusion of the season. Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis, a pair of seniors with experience, will be interesting to watch in their final chances to break through.
It will be a different dynamic for the 2020 campaign, regardless of what transpires in the playoffs as the Tigers stake their claim for college football national supremacy.
Most importantly, the program has gotten over the hump to become one of the elites in the game once again. They will begin next season as the hunted. It will be a challenge for a collection of players and coaching staff who already know what it takes to win and have the road map for how to play at a high level.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…