Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we will break down each of LSU’s position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. We move today to the wide receivers.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s issues at wide receiver last season largely flew under the radar because the Tigers’ quarterbacks were so ineffective. But those problems went hand-in-hand, helping to explain why LSU ranked last in the SEC and 114th nationally in passing at 162.9 yards per game.
It was reasonable to expect a drop-off after the departures of 2013 quarterback Zach Mettenberger and nearly every receiver with on-field experience -- particularly stars Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry -- but few would have predicted such a sharp decline in production. Nonetheless, it happened, and LSU fans must hope that last season’s growing pains lead to a more consistent passing game this fall.
Developing stability at quarterback will obviously help, and that’s something the receivers can’t control. But the sophomore-laden group of wideouts surely benefited from last season’s learning opportunity, which is cause for optimism that receiving production will spike in 2015.
Nobody was a proven commodity within this group last season, but junior Travin Dural proved that he can be a dangerous downfield threat. He and sophomore Malachi Dupre both averaged more than 20 yards per catch, and they could develop into one of the SEC’s most dangerous tandems this season.
What remains to be seen is the role this year’s freshmen might play. Tyron Johnson -- ESPN’s top prospect in Louisiana and No. 3 wideout -- seems like a guy who could play immediately if receivers coach Tony Ball sees fit to work him into the rotation. Fellow signees Derrick Dillon and Jazz Ferguson also earned four-star grades, while Lanard Fournette -- little brother of star tailback Leonard -- could eventually develop into a useful slot receiver.
But the fate of the Tigers’ 2015 receiving corps largely rests on the continuing development of the returning wideouts who were still trying to establish themselves last season. Dupre has the makings of a star, and several of his position mates are talented enough to become dangerous SEC receivers, so things are looking up.
We’ll see how far they’ve progressed once the season arrives, but the bet here is that LSU’s receivers are far more consistent and productive than they were a season ago.
Newcomers: Tyron Johnson (Fr., New Orleans, La./Warren Easton, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 3 WR, No. 30 overall prospect); Derrick Dillon (Fr., Franklinton, La./Pine, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 8 ATH, No. 119 overall prospect); Jazz Ferguson (Fr., Saint Francisville, La./West Feliciana, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 52 WR); Lanard Fournette (Fr., New Orleans, La./Saint Augustine, ESPN three-star prospect, No. 101 RB).
Keep your eye on: Chark. The sophomore was one of the breakout performers of LSU’s spring practice, but every school has a long list of spring standouts who couldn’t carry it over into the fall. Chark appeared in six games last season, but didn’t record a single catch -- plus several fellow sophomores (Dupre, Diarse and Quinn) garnered far more on-field experience. However, Chark seems to have a skill set that could make him a valuable downfield target for the Tigers’ quarterbacks, so don’t expect him to disappear.
Confidence meter: Improving. This was an extremely inexperienced bunch in 2014 and it frequently showed. It also didn’t help that LSU’s quarterbacks struggled with consistency for much of the season. But talent is certainly not an issue within this group. Dural established himself last season, while Dupre performed in the Tigers’ spring game like a former No. 1 wide receiver prospect who is on the verge of a breakout. The Tigers also signed an excellent group of receivers in February. Improvement at quarterback will be a key factor here, but it’s reasonable to expect a lot more from LSU’s receivers this season.