We discussed the slot receivers earlier this week and mentioned how much those guys could be improved by the immergence of a deep threat. Last year Odell Beckham wasn’t able to break free all that often manly due to a lack of size and breakaway speed. Guys like Demetrius Byrd and Reuben Randle had those attributes and repeatedly blew the tops off of defenses to loosen up the entire field for the rest of the offense to operate. The way LSU runs the ball, teams often bring an eighth man up into the box. It's what LSU does when that eighth man creeps up that will determine how this season plays out. That’s where these guys come in.
The Departed: None
They’re Back: Travin Dural (6’2”, 180, rFr.); James Wright (6’2”, 203, Sr.); Armand Williams (6’3”, 20, Jr.)
Who’s New: Quantavius Leslie (6’4”, 190, Jr.); Avery Peterson (6’1”, 180, Fr.); Kevin Spears (6’3”, 190, Fr.)
What We Know: Travin Dural would have played last season barring injury. That’s not a guess, it’s a reality. The Breaux Bridge product isn’t that 6-foot-4 monster on the outside, but he’s a legitimate 6-foot-2, and he is an explosive leaper. He’s also got great speed. All of that showed when he scored 19 touchdowns his senior season, and those came basically without a quarterback. Dural is a little on the skinny side, so we’ll have to check on that when fall camp opens, but it will always be his quickness that gets him off the line rather than his strength. In spring ball, Dural looked 100 percent healed from that knee injury, and he changed the scoreboard in the spring game with a long catch and run, albeit against a walk on. That play did flash a glimpse of what Dural can do with the ball in his hands.
James Wright hasn’t really broken out in three years at LSU. He’s got the size and some speed, but it’s never amounted to a great deal of production. Wright made 18 catches last year, tied for fourth on the team with Spencer Ware. The only play that pops in my mind was a 50+ yarder against Ole Miss when he laid out and hauled in a really nice catch. Not much else. Wright is a physical blocker, which means he’ll get in there some. He just hasn’t done much in three years to inspire a great deal of confidence moving forward
Armand Williams will forever be grouped with Jarrett Fobbs in my mind. Those two were late adds to the 2010 signing class, and neither has gotten on the field for any worthwhile playing time. Williams is one of the best athletes on the team. He runs exceptionally well and may be one of the top two or three leapers on the squad. He just doesn’t run great routes, and his hands are very suspect. Williams has not recorded a statistic at LSU.
Well Mr. Leslie, everyone is counting on you. That much we know. The deficiencies on the outside are so well documented that the expectations on Leslie are very high. At Hinds CC he was the go-to receiver, caught a ton of screens and hitches. But he also made explosive plays over the top, scoring seven touchdowns in six games. That’s where LSU needs him. Leslie is the prototypical 6-foot-4, and he weighs 190 lbs. He actually looks bigger than that on film. I would say he has ‘great’ speed, but it’s certainly adequate much like a Brandon Lafell or even Odell Beckham. Leslie showed good hands on film and ran fairly precise routes. The routes can be taught, his size and athleticism cannot, and those were lacking at LSU last season.
Avery Peterson arrived in the spring, and until he proves himself, he’ll be knows as Patrick’s little brother. Peterson has a little Patrick in him. He made a catch the first day of spring drills that few guys on the field could make. He leapt backwards and snatched a ball out of the sky that was destined to land out of bounds. Because of that athleticism, Peterson plays taller than the 6-foot-1 he stands, and that’s why I think he’s an outside guy. He can play both. Peterson runs very well, and he’s hands are good. They aren’t great. He spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy, so he’s a little bit more developed than most freshmen. We’ll see how much weight he’s added when fall camp commences in a few weeks. That frame could use some extra poundage.
Kevin Spears turned a few heads when he got his offer and committed late in the 2013 process. Spears was a hooper who was lured out to the football filed for his final high school season at Holy Cross. He became unstoppable. He hauled in 60 balls for 11 touchdowns during his lone campaign on the gridiron and drew interest from some big time schools who all felt late to the party. Spears has excellent size, and he’s a great athlete on top of that. At 6-foot-3, he can jump over almost any defensive back out there, and his hands are really good. He catches everything away from the pads, much like a basketball player would catch a rebound or pass. Those skills translate really well. As you would expect, the route running is a work in progress. He rounds off breaks and doesn’t change direction with much force, but that’s very teachable. This kid has some serious physical tools, and his potential is largely untapped.
What To Expect: Dural is going to be a key player on this LSU offense. He’s going to be in there early and often, and, as I mentioned earlier, he’s going to change the scoreboard. On a receiving corps with only a couple of big play threats, he is one. He can turn a short gain into a big one, and he can outrun defensive backs for deep throws. My only concern is his weight, but it’s not a red flag. I expect Dural to catch three or four touchdowns this year as a freshman. He’s a difference maker.
Wright will see plenty of action, but I don’t see a ton of production from him this year. He was fourth on the depth chart this past season, and I think Dural and Leslie jump him this year. Wright will help some in the running game and can block on screens as well. He’ll make some catches, but I wouldn’t expect touchdowns or big plays.
Williams will once again be a scout teamer. He and Fobbs will help out in practice with the younger players and help the defense get ready for Saturdays.
I’d try to calm the Leslie expectations down, but I don’t think it will do any good. This kid is very talented and provides something LSU desperately needs. He’s not Rueben Randle. His production won’t be Demetrius Byrd (2007). That’s too much to heap on him. I do think he can make some plays down the field and help stretch the defense. He’s certainly more capable than any of the guys LSU had out there last year. I’d expect a handful of big plays and a few touchdowns. Truth be told, his biggest contribution may be twofold. One, he’ll help keeping teams honest. That won’t ever show up on a stat sheet. If he and Dural can hit a couple of big plays early in the year to force safeties back, LSU will be able to run the ball more effectively than it did down the stretch last year. That’s a huge difference right there. Two, he allows Odell Beckham to move inside and make plays against linebackers and Nickel backs. I think Beckham benefits more than anyone from Dural and Leslie stepping in.
Peterson is an interesting case. Athletically he’s an impressive player, but I think the experience and talent above him on the depth chart will keep him from making much of an impact. Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone, James Wright, Leslie and Dural figure to see the majority of the snaps, which doesn’t really allow for any time on the field for Peterson. I’d expect that Peterson will be an impact guy down the road, but it’s tough to envision that this fall without some injury issues.
Same case for Spears. Both of these last two guys have the tools to play football in the SEC. Just not with seven guys in front of them. Expect both to spend time on the practice squad learning routes and matching up with guys like Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins. That will do nothing but help them develop. They’ll get a solid year in the weight room and be ready to make the jump when two, three or four guys depart from this team.