These are the 10 LSU football players you need to know for 2016. Who are the Tigers’ key stars to watch out for?
1. RB Leonard Fournette, Jr.
One game. Fournette had one bad game against a national championship defense, and that was it for the Heisman campaign. The main man for the LSU attack finished the season with 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns, showing off the 6-1, 230-pound size, power, flair, and panache that makes him the rare running back worthy of a top ten overall selection in next year’s draft. The superstar of superstar recruits more than played up to the hype last year, and now he has more help around him – he’s not going to have to carry the team all by himself.
The best player in the country over the first half of the season, he ran for over 200 yards in three straight games and ripped through Florida for 180 and South Carolina for 158, but with the national spotlight on, Alabama held him to 31 yards and a score on 19 carries – it wasn’t his fault. After closing out with three straight 100-yard games – including a 212-yard, four touchdown day in the bowl win over Texas Tech – he kept the phenomenal season rolling. Can he stay in one piece for one more year? If he can, he’s got the ability to become a historic star.
2. S Jamal Adams, Jr.
Leonard Fournette might be LSU’s signature star, but Adams might be the higher draft pick and could be the better overall pro prospect. The prototype NFL safety, he’s 6-1, 211 pounds with corner speed and secure hitting ability. He might not have been the hyped recruit like Fournette was, but he wasn’t all that far off as one of the top defensive players in the 2014 class – and he hasn’t disappointed with 133 tackles in his first two seasons.
Hitting wasn’t a problem at the start, but last year he showed what he could do in a full-time role picking off four passes to go along with 67 stops in his all-star season. This might be Fournette’s team overall, but as the season goes on this will be Adams’ defense.
3. S/CB Tre’Davious White, Sr.
The lockdown corner on the outside, White is a 5-11, 191-pound first round pro prospect who came back for his senior year and now could be deep in the hunt for the Thorpe Award. He earned All-SEC honors last season even though he didn’t pick off a pass, making 38 tackles with six broken up passes after coming up with two interceptions in each of his first two seasons. With decent size, good enough toughness, and the quickness to be a special punt returner, he’s got all the tools. Now he has to make teams pay for coming his way.
4. C/G Ethan Pocic, Sr.
The Tigers caught a huge break when Pocic chose to come back for another year – he probably would’ve been a late first round pick in the 2015 draft. At 6-7 and 309 pounds he’s got the body of a tackle, but he’s able to work anywhere on the line starting at center last season before moving to guard. He might be a bit too tall at times, but he’s got special tools with the pop to power through for the ground game. He’ll test off the charts at the combine next April – he’s what the next-level wants for an interior lineman.
5. WR Malachi Dupre, Jr.
The team’s leading receiver should blossom now that there’s more of an emphasis on the passing game – at least there should be a bit more happening down the field. He’s not a blazer, but at 6-3 and 190 pounds he’s got the size and he’s got the ability to make things happen on deep plays averaging just over 16 yards per catch making 43 grabs for 698 yards and six touchdowns. He hit Florida with 115 yards and two touchdowns on four catches, and made eight grabs for 109 yards and a score against Arkansas, but he needs the ball more. LSU has an NFL starting target, and not it has to use him.
6. LB Kendall Beckwith, Sr.
Could he be the best LSU linebacker pro prospect in the Les Miles era? He might not be quite as tall as some might like, but at 6-2 and 252 pounds he’s got the build and the frame to be a rock in the middle of the defense. A true middle linebacker with the range and athleticism to work on the outside, he followed up his 77-tackle sophomore season with 76 tackles and two forced fumbles, highlighted by an 11-stop day against Alabama. He might not be a big factor in the backfield, but that’s not his job. He’s supposed to eat up everything against the run, and he has few problems doing that.
7. DE Lewis Neal, Sr.
A bit short, squatty end, the 6-2, 264-pounder is quick off the ball with good pass rushing skills. A closer when he gets the motor running, he’s tough enough to work on the inside as a matchup problem at tackle, and he’s athletic enough to be turned loose on the outside from time to time. Hardly one of LSU’s top recruits, he worked his way into the mix over his first two years and broke out last year making 48 tackles with a team-high eight sacks, cranking up three of them against Florida. Also good at batting balls down, he broke up six passes – he’s an active presence.
8. RB Derrius Guice, Soph.
For just about anyone else, Guice would be the star back everyone would get fired up about. But it’s hard to rise up and get notices with Leonard Fournette getting the workload. Even so, the Baton Rouge native showed that LSU has another option to play around with – the fewer carries No. 7 gets, the better. The 5-11, 222-pound Guice exploded whenever he got his chances, averaging 8.55 yards per carry with 436 yards and three touchdowns while averaging close to 24 yards per kickoff return. He ripped up South Carolina for 161 rushing yards and a score on just 16 carries, and he ran for 73 yards and a score on ten carries against Texas A&M. At the very least, he’s a heck of an insurance policy.
9. WR Travin Dural, Sr.
At 6-2 and 203 pounds, he’s got the NFL size, and he’s got the lightning 4.3 speed. Now he needs to get more deep plays coming his way – and he has to get healthy. He only caught 28 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns, but he made his plays count in his nine games, averaging 19 yards per catch before his season ended with a torn hamstring. He was out all offseason recovering, but he’s expected to be ready to roll and be a dangerous No. 2 on the other side of Malachi Dupre.
10. DT Christian LaCouture, Sr.
One of the SEC’s best defensive linemen went down for the year in preseason practice with a torn ACL. He’ll still be a decent draft pick once he heals up, but it’s going to take a full year to get there.
The LSU defensive linemen haven’t fallen in talent over the last few years, but there haven’t been the superstars up front like there were when the program was national title-good under Les Miles. That was supposed to change with LaCouture, a Lincoln, Nebraska native with the versatility to work anywhere on defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s front three. At 6-5 and 307 pounds he’s built to be an NFL 3-technique tackle, but he can hold his own on the nose. He’s not much of a pass rusher, but he’s active against the run making 75 stops over the last two years with 3.5 sacks. Now LSU loses its main man up front.