I may have gotten a little carried away with just the first name on this list, but Fournette just inspires that in a writer sometimes! There’s so many talented players to get through on a loaded Tigers team, that there’s not even room for some quality prospects within the Top 5 section. Brace yourselves, this is a lengthy article…
THE TOP 5
Leonard Fournette, Jr, RB, #7 – 6ft 1, 230 lbs
It’s felt like a long time coming to finally be able to discuss Leonard Fournette as an NFL draft prospect. That’s in part because the stud running back has pretty much been NFL ready from the moment he stepped on campus at Louisiana State University. Physically, that has certainly been the case. There’s no doubt though that for a lot of his freshman season, there was naivety in the way he ran, as the realisation quickly came that bulldozing his way wasn’t going to work in quite the same manner as it did over poor high school kids (relatively speaking – he still trucked and does truck through plenty college players too). His second season however, the subtleties in his game and running style had developed and the results were just devastating. The aftermath of the Alabama loss and the subsequent plummeting of his Heisman campaign seems to have composed a very different narrative on the overall story of his sophomore season; if that doesn’t sum up the short term memories of some followers in this sport then I don’t know what else does. His year was spectacular. It tailed off a bit, and the Tide game was an undoubted low point. But make no mistake about how great the full season was regardless. Fournette surpassed 2,200 offensive yards, including 1,953 on the ground at 6.51 yards per carry and 23 total touchdowns. I really feel that his 2016 season, which should be his last in college, is going to be at another level again. He will likely use the relative disappointments of the latter part of 2015 as strong motivation, and to challenge again for that Heisman trophy. The size and build of Fournette immediately stands out, but both the speed and power combination that completes the physical skill set are just as impressive. What doesn’t get acknowledged as much due to those traits is just how good his footwork is as well to work in short areas and through traffic; his changes of direction contribute to many of the big runs, not just when lowering his shoulder and delivering direct hits to defenders. He gives it his all every carry with a tremendous motor that lasts all day, and that extends to getting in front as a lead blocker at times with no drop off in effort. There was an exceptional play against Mississippi State last season, where Fournette sells a fake hand off before leading the way and making two outstanding punishing blocks half way down the field that resulted in a massive play. That one was as much warranting to be on the highlight reel alongside any of the battering ram carries. There’s been nothing to suggest anything other than having a high character off the field to go with the intangibles and the great work ethic. This is going to be a talented running back class in 2017, and Fournette will be one of those leading the way.
Jamal Adams, Jr, S, #33 – 6ft 0, 211 lbs
The Tigers’ defense is stacked with talent at every level, yet Adams still manages to stand out constantly. Before getting into anything else, if there’s one thing that best sums up Adams, it is his play on special teams coverage units. Despite being one of the biggest stars on the team, Adams is out there charging down field every time the ball is kicked to the opposition. He’s not just out there, he is regularly making the decisive tackle to limit the returners progress, and then celebrates a special team tackle as much as he would a pick six touchdown. That love for the game and the boundless energy is something all his teammates feed off of. Whoever ends up drafting the dynamic safety will have no doubts that they will be adding a player who truly loves football and will give his all. Adams has been a playmaker on defence right from his freshman year. He only started 2 games that season, but that didn’t stop him quickly making an impact leading to freshman All-American honours. Adams is at his best moving down into the box, punishing ball carriers with his physical hits when tackling. There’s sometimes a bit of guesswork as he moves downfield, can take some poor angles and completely overrun some plays as his enthusiasm gets the better of him. You have to take a bit of that though with the way he plays the game, and more than makes up for it with the number of plays he does make. His coverage game is still developing, but the signs of progress are there, which including picking off 4 passes last year after no interceptions his first season. On top of inspiring by example, Adams is also known as a vocal leader both on the field and in the locker room. Finally, there are some positive bloodlines in his family history too, with his father a running back and first round pick of the Giants in 1985 and part of the following season’s Super Bowl win. Adams finished 2015 with 67 tackles, 5 tackles for loss (TFLs), 6 pass breakups, 4 interceptions and a forced fumble.
Travin Dural, rSr, WR, #83 – 6ft 2, 192 lbs
Were it not for a torn hamstring late in the 2015 season, Dural very likely would have been a part of the last draft, and had previously considered leaving after his redshirt sophomore season before that. His age was a reason to try and reach the NFL early, as he’ll now be a 24-year-old rookie, and reportedly had been struggling to remain academically eligible. Dural’s appeal to teams is obvious, as a fantastic athlete with great hands. Bringing elite level acceleration to quickly hit top speed, he frequently catches defenders out to get wide open. LSU look to get the ball into his hands in as many varied ways as possible, with short out routes, fly sweep hand offs, quick throws over the middle and deep balls down the field. All this resulting in an exceptional career mark so far of 19.4 yards per catch over his 3 seasons. He has however been limited by some relatively poor QB play at times over the years, significantly reducing his and the rest of a talented Tigers’ receiver group’s chance to excel. Dural will be sure to be a better pro than he was able to consistently show in college. He does need to show more courage over the middle, sometimes letting the anticipation of a hit affect him when trying to secure a catch.
Ethan Pocic, Sr, OL, #77 – 6ft 6, 310 lbs
At this early stage, this may not be quite the same quality of offensive lineman class as previous years, but Pocic has a chance of being one of the first off the board. Despite his very long frame, Pocic has been playing very well at center on LSU’s line. He split his time between right guard and center during his 2014 sophomore year before taking over the anchor spot full time last season. Part of his appeal though is the fact that Pocic could potentially start or provide cover at all 5 positions on the offensive line. He has the athleticism and footwork that could translate to playing on the edge. That movement is evident on the occasions he got to show his skills as a pulling guard during his time at the position, with an aggressive game that uses his length, but doesn’t rely solely upon it. Unlike many rangy linemen, Pocic has got it when it comes to setting a wide base, anchoring and winning when defensive opponents attempt to get low and beat him with leverage. He’s not the complete package though, and has his areas to improve on. For one, Pocic may have the quick movement and aggressive play in the run game, but can fail to finish after getting himself in position, notably missing blocks at inopportune times where his target ends up making the play on a number of occasions. Length, athleticism and versatility are great traits to have though, and might see him join a few of his teammates in the first round next draft.
Davon Godchaux, Jr, DL, #57 – 6ft 4, 295 lbs
Disruptive interior defensive linemen don’t last long on draft day. Especially ones with length and explosion in their arsenal with the production to back it up. Godchaux fits the description and another strong season ought to tempt him to take those skills to the NFL early. He’s already shown good progress from year one to year two in college, stepping up with 9 TFLs and 6 sacks last season, a step up in his backfield pressure. His play against the run isn’t quite so good though, despite a reasonable 83 tackles in his two seasons combined. The potential could be big. As of right now Godchaux has an incomplete game, but he is getting it done as an interior rusher despite his rather wild rush style. Godchaux has a fantastic non-stop motor with highly active hands to try to disrupt and disengage with, making it difficult for blocking offensive lineman to maintain contact and control. Those rushes are far from polished and cleanly executed moves though. If he can develop some more co-ordinated planned moves, he can grow into an even more effective interior rusher. Doing so will also help him hold up better at the point of attack more consistently, with his leverage and footwork sometimes resulting in him pushed back rather than the other way around. As he develops more functional strength and more consistent form, again the upside becomes even more encouraging. The fundamentals to work with and the high potential ceiling will be very appealing for any defensive coordinator to want to bring in and work with Godchaux to get the best out of him.
OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Tre’Davious White, Sr, CB, #18 – 5ft 11, 191 lbs
It surprised some that White chose to return for his senior season, but in my opinion a very wise one. There’s no doubt that the talented corner has first round athletic ability, with fantastic fluidity and speed to work with both deep and in short area movement. He has earned 34 starts already over his first 3 seasons, including an early impact that was a big factor in current Falcons DB Jalen Collins leaving early as White was eating into his snaps. However, the finer points of White’s game remain very raw. He can get caught out by sharp, well-run routes, and frequently gets very grabby, panicking when trying to recover that leads to him jumping on the receiver, holding down his arms and committing too many pass interference penalties as a result. The separation he allows at times is too easy for receivers to create. When in good position, he doesn’t get his head around enough and attack the ball, his awareness of when the ball is coming in his direction and the timing of its arrival is often lost on White. He needs to play the ball more and challenge the reception better than he currently does. He looks more of a day two prospect than day one right now. His potential special teams impact is very much worth noting as well, putting that excellent athletic ability to use as a returner with a pair of punt return touchdowns over the last couple years.
Kendell Beckwith, Sr, LB, #52 – 6ft 2, 252 lbs
Another who might have entered the 2016 draft, Beckwith joined White in returning for his senior year instead. Beckwith is a big, imposing middle linebacker who broke into the starting line-up half way through the 2014 season yet still managed to finish second on the team in tackles that year, and continued as a full time starter in 2015. He commands the center of the field well in defending the run with his powerful hard-hitting tackling. NFL teams aren’t so keen to draft inside linebackers early though unless they have a complete game with the ability to impact the pass game as well. Beckwith is a bit slow moving, lacking in the ideal sideline to sideline range of coverage. In addition to that, despite showing up often during Tigers games, I find his game a little underwhelming when actually focussing on him on film. He makes most of his plays when given a free run at the ball carrier; it’s not very often he actually manages to work through traffic to make a play, struggling to shed blocks much more often. There’s a bit of a limited game that doesn’t come close to matching his fellow SEC linebacker rivals such as Florida’s Jarrad Davis or Alabama’s Reuben Foster.
Christian LaCouture, Sr, DL, #91 – 6ft 4, 307 lbs
Godchaux’s less flashy defensive tackle partner has plenty of next level ability himself. LaCouture doesn’t make nearly the same impact in the backfield, but has excellent size and length, good initial burst off the snap, and impressive punch and aggression on contact with violent hands. With those skills he has potential to be more disruptive with tackles for loss and sacks than he is, but regardless, he’s built to perform well in the NFL, even if his game is more taking up blocks, playing the run and opening up opportunities for teammates than making the big plays himself. There should be a high floor with LaCouture.
Malachi Dupre, Jr, WR, #15 – 6ft 3, 190 lbs
It’s not meant to be double-standards at all, but although Dupre has the same issue with limited opportunities as Dural earlier, I don’t like his game quite as much. He’s another fantastic athlete with height as well, plenty to like in that respect. That led to good numbers last season with 43 receptions for 698 yards at an excellent 16.2 yards per catch and 6 TDs. I worry about the lack of physicality though and his general toughness and concentration. Dupre has his struggles coping with press coverage, with physical corners succeeding in disrupting his routes when they get their hands on him. Dupre’s own hands let him down at times with unexpected drops, failing to win quite a few contested catches and a preference to body catch when he can. There’s a lot of frustrating plays to go with the spectacular ones with Dupre, and think there’s a chance he has some struggles at the next level.
Lewis Neal, Sr, EDGE, #92 – 6ft 1, 268 lbs
This looks like it’s going to be a loaded class of edge rushers, and that could hurt an undersized guy like Neal who is only just over 6ft tall. However, he’s an athlete with an explosive first step, fast hands and regularly finds a way to disengage and work his way into the backfield. He had a particularly dominant outing against Florida last season, piling up 10 tackles and 3.5 TFLs that included 3 sacks. There’s versatility on offer with Neal, who can line up on either side, from a 2-point or 3-point stance, through the middle essentially as a rushing middle linebacker, and even spent some time playing as a defensive tackle his sophomore season despite his size. Neal is a talented football player with great tenacity and IQ.
Tashawn Bower, Sr, EDGE, #46 – 6ft 4, 245 lbs
Bower could be a real sleeper prospect – there’s potential upside to be an effective pass rusher at the next level. He lines up at defensive end, but with his build and his explosive speed, stand him up as an edge rusher for the NFL. He gets a bit lost in a talented rotation that the Tigers have at their disposal but did earn 3 starts his junior season. He was limited to just 9 appearances in total though, and very limited in a lot of those in terms of number of snaps, leading to a fairly modest 18 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass break up and 1 forced fumble in 2015.
Dwayne Thomas, rSr, CB/S, #13 – 6ft 0, 186 lbs
Injuries have disrupted Thomas’ college career, missing most of 2012 and 2014, the latter a knee injury. That durability will hurt his chances of being drafted, but he’s played very well when healthy and has decent length and good athleticism to offer. Versatility is another plus, with the ability to fill in at corner, safety and nickel. His name isn’t exactly well known, but he started all 9 games that he played last season and was very reliable in man coverage, arguably one of the better cover corners in the entire conference. I’m a fan and really hoping for a fully healthy final season in 2016 to help his stock further.
Corey Thompson, rSr, S/LB, #23 – 6ft 2, 221 lbs
Another who has had his injury issues, Thompson missed all of 2014 with a knee injury, receiving an additional year of eligibility. Whether he is a large safety or an undersized linebacker is a tricky question to answer, but there’s no doubt that he is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and in the box. Thompson plays with good energy and quickness around the field. There’s enough traits to like that he’s worth a look in a camp should he go undrafted.
Rickey Jefferson, Sr, S, #29 – 5ft 11, 206 lbs
Jefferson took advantage of Jalen Mills’ injury to start in his place early in 2015 at safety, and ended up with 8 starts in total on the year. He has an active game, getting around the ball often, but has limited measurables all round from his build to his average athleticism. There’s a solid player in Jefferson but nothing that really stands out about his game, and probably a long shot to have an NFL future.
Josh Boutte, Sr, OG, #76 – 6ft 4, 342 lbs
The big frame is the main selling point with Boutte, but there’s not been a great deal else to shout about for his potential pro future. Some recruiting outlets considered him a 4-star player out of high school but he hasn’t justified that during his time in college. With only one start in his career, against Mississippi State last season, his lack of experience is an issue, much of which has been on special teams units. Boutte is quite lethargic looking, doesn’t move too well, and makes poor adjustments to late pressure.
Colin Jeter, Sr, TE, #81 – 6ft 6, 248 lbs
The injury to Dillon Gordon allowed Jeter, a junior college transfer, to start for the Tigers in his place during 2015. Though tall, Jeter is rather lanky and awkward in his movements, but does show some good hands on the few occasions that he is targeted in the pass game. He contributed 12 receptions for 132 yards and the one touchdown last year.
Trent Dominique, Sr, K, #14 – 6ft 1, 170 lbs
After mostly just handling the kick off duties in 2014, Dominique took over as the place kicker in 2015, and converted 13 of his 17 attempts. He missed his one effort from 50+ yards, but did connect on 3 of 4 in the 40-49 yard range. On extra points, Dominique converted 49 of his 50 PATs.
Duke Riley, Sr, LB, #40 – 6ft 0, 228 lbs
Riley has made a little bit of a name for himself with LSU fans for his high impact highlight hits on special teams coverage where he has seen a lot of his playing time during college. He chips in with some solid relief play on defense as well, but if he’s to get a shot with an NFL team, it’s likely to be his special teams contribution that will give him that. There could be a chance for a bit more action at linebacker for Riley in 2016.
OTHER JUNIORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Ed Paris, Jr, CB/S, #24 – 6ft 0, 210 lbs
Paris is a big corner, so much so that he could have potential to play at safety as well. He’s yet to start for the Tigers, but did see extensive action against Western Kentucky last year in place of White who was injured. Paris may have measurables to like, but currently isn’t using them to his best advantage. He should be using his physical build more in press coverage, get his hands on receivers to disrupt them, but he doesn’t do that. His awareness and reactions aren’t that great either right now – that may come with more experience.
Brandon Harris, Jr, QB, #6 – 6ft 2, 206 lbs
He’s been the subject of plenty criticism, and the talk continues on how LSU can’t challenge without more at QB. That’s a bit too harsh, as Harris, though far from great, has had his moments and has some positives. He has been working very hard this off season, committing himself to film study, reaching out to pro quarterbacks to pick their brains, and working on becoming a better leader. He’s showing intangibles and ambition. He’s also athletic, has a strong arm with a fast release. In addition, he was looking after the football well for much of last season, not throwing a single interception over the first 7 games, before ultimately throwing 6 over the final 5 admittedly. He had his moments though in 2015, and has the right attitude. Let’s see whether the improvements he’s been striving for show up in 2016. All that said, he’s extremely inconsistent with his accuracy right now, both bouncing throws in front of receivers and sailing the ball over their heads too much. He’s yet to really show that he can win a game directly through his play, to lead his team to victory rather than just avoiding making the critical error. It’s going to be very interesting to see how his junior season pans out.