When we broke down the quarterback spot last week, we talked about the lofty expectations that weren’t quite met. Shoveling some blame on Greg Studrawa, Les Miles and Zach Mettenberger is probably fair, but so is pitching some over on the receiving corps. LSU failed to replace Reuben Randle’s production, and drops plagued this unit early on. None of the Tiger wide outs were exceptionally fast. None of them were exceptionally big. None of them were exceptionally productive. It was a disappointing campaign for this group, but there is some talent coming in. The only defection is Russell Shepard. And no, he didn’t throw a pass. Because you don’t want to read about 12 guys at once, I’m going to break the wide receiver groups into two: slot wide receivers and outside wide receivers. I could get into Xs, Ys and Zs, but that’s confusing as well. We’ll melt it down a little bit.
The Departed: Russell Shepard- Graduation
They’re Back: Jarvis Landry (6’1”, 195, Jr.); Odell Beckham Jr. (6’0”, 187, Jr.); Kadron Boone (6’0”, 207, Sr.); Jarrett Fobbs (5’11”, 188, Jr.)
Who’s New: John Diarse (6’1”, 205, Fr.);
What We Know: Jarvis Landry was really the only guy Zach Mettenberger could count on last season. Those sticky hands and quick feet produced in some big spots last year, none bigger than the fade route against Deion Belue and Alabama. The play in the back of the end zone against Arkansas wasn’t too shabby either. Landry isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he feasts on mismatches in the slot and generally catches everything within reach. There were certainly some drops last year, but he made more great catches than he had drops. His 56 catches and five touchdowns led the Tigers, and 33 of those catches came in the final five games. If Mettenberger gets that ball down on the final drive against Clemson, and Landry adds one to that number, LSU wins that game. Landry has become exactly what he was projected to be when he left Lutcher. He’s a strong, tough, soft-handed safety blanket for his quarterback. He’s not a threat to go 85 yards with a slant, but he’ll show up in a big spot and make a play.
Odell Beckham Jr. got the call to head to Hoover for SEC Media Days last summer where Miles called him the No. 1 receiver and a leader on the team. I can’t vouch for what he did in the locker room, but Beckham struggled last year out wide. Instead of working the slot as he did during his freshman season, Beckham lined up across the field from just about every No. 1 cornerback. It didn’t go well. Beckham’s only two receiving touchdowns came against Towson. He didn’t catch more than five balls in any game. I think when he fumbled the opening kickoff against Washington and dropped two balls in the first quarter, he was taxed a little bit mentally. He made huge plays in the kick return game, winning the Ole Miss game with a Billy Cannon imitation. He also made a great play to help ice the Arkansas game, as ugly as that game was. Beckham still possesses great athleticism, quick hips and plenty of speed. He can be a big play guy, as he was his freshman season.
Kadron Boone and Mettenberger obviously have a little bit of chemistry. Boone caught Mettenberger’s first four touchdown passes as an LSU Tiger. Those passes averaged 25 yards. Boone was the No. 3 option last year behind Landry and Beckham. Much like Landry, Boone has good speed, not great. He has decent size, not great. He has made some big plays though. The diving catch before the half against Texas A&M was a game-changer. This is Boone’s final go ‘round at LSU, and he’s proven he’s got the ability to make some plays.
Jarrett Fobbs still hasn’t registered a catch in three seasons at LSU. He redshirted as a freshman and has watched from the sidelines for two years. Truth be told, he may have had a shot at playing time on the defensive side of the ball, but he decided he wanted to play offense. Fobbs is on the short side and doesn’t have great hands. He does have good speed and is obviously committed to the program. Many would have transferred by now.
This spring John Diarse got his first look at wide receiver. Diarse was a quarterback at Neville and led the Tigers to three straight state title games, winning two. He’s a tremendous competitor who happens to be a great athlete as well. Diarse already possesses the strength to play at this level, but he’s got work to do in other areas. He wasn’t a great route runner in the spring, and drops tended to pop up. Not to make too direct a comparison, because I think they’re different players, but Diarse struggled with the same balls Russell Shepard struggled with when he converted. On hitches and outs when the ball is on the way before the head comes around, Diarse had some issues. I expect him to improve, though, because he’s got great hand eye coordination. That’s just a phase of the game he’s never worked on. Having a spring under his belt will do nothing but help the freshman.
What To Expect: I think this coming season for Landry will look much like last year. He averaged 10 yards per catch, the lowest on the team. That should continue as he works the middle of the field and the first down marker. He’s so good at beating linebackers in tight quarters, and the velocity of Mettenberger’s throws doesn’t bother him. I think you’re looking at a 60-plus catch season with 5-7 touchdowns. Mettenberger obviously knows where to find Landry who he’s been working with for two years. He’ll do that plenty this year.
Beckham’s production will increase this year. Book it. He was overmatched on the outside last year, but the additions out there will allow Beckham to shift back inside where he can work like Landry does in the slot. I think these two guys will lead the team in catches again, but expect Beckham to do a little bit more with his. He’ll make some more people miss and bust a couple of big plays. Last year Beckham had 13 fewer catches than Landry but had 140 more yards. His yards per catch may come down a little, but he’ll make a bigger impact. The two touchdowns from last year have to multiply this year. I’m thinking six.
Boone is solid, and he’ll be that this year. I do think his playing time may suffer because of the new adds at the position, but he’ll be in there. Boone is not afraid to throw a block on the outside, and he can make a catch. I wouldn’t expect four touchdowns from Boone this year, but he’ll show up from time to time in his final year at LSU.
Fobbs likely won’t make much of an on-field impact. But, there are some new guys who could learn from Fobbs in the meeting rooms and on the practice field.
Diarse may not quite be ready for big time action right now at wide receiver, but it’s not a stretch to figure he could be in the mix to cover kicks early in his career. He’s got the size, speed and attitude for it for sure. I think in time Diarse will make an impact at wide receiver because he’s too talented not to. I can think of six guys who are certainly in front of him right now. And LSU will split the tight end out sometimes in five-wide sets, so that makes seven hurdles to jump to get out there. That doesn’t mean to say he can get a snap here or there, but to expect serious production from Diarse would be a stretch. His biggest contributions on this 2013 season will probably be on special teams and during Hootie Jones’ visits.