LSU isn’t reloading, nor are they rebuilding heading into 2019. Instead, the Tigers only lose five senior starters and three underclassmen off of this year’s team, while adding one of the nation’s most elite recruiting classes.
Of the five seniors — safety John Battle, running back Nick Brossette, guard Garrett Brumfield, tight end Foster Moreau, and kicker Cole Tracy — Brossette and Moreau were the only ones to start more than 10 of LSU’s games. As for the juniors, linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams each started in 12 games, and nose tackle Ed Alexander started in six games, most coming after junior nose tackle Breiden Fehoko suffered a biceps injury against Georgia.
The lack of senior starters and bringing back all but three juniors results in LSU returning players who combined for 208 starts last season. That is an astronomical increase over the 151 returning starts from 2017, and the most for LSU since the 2016 team when they returned 196 starts from the 2015 team and for further comparison the 2011 team brought back 188 starts from 2010.
LSU began both the 2011 and 2016 seasons in the top five, which is close to where the Tigers will likely start the 2019 season. It is a strong sign in the right direction for LSU coach Ed Orgeron after the Tigers were riddled with questionable early departures of non-seniors in the later stages of the Les Miles era.
Some of more highly touted juniors who were considered risks to head to the NFL draft but returned were all on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Rashard Lawrence returns after posting 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. His tackles for a loss and sacks were both tied for second on the team.
Outside linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. also decided to return for his senior year after leading the team with five sacks. Divinity's role changed once sophomore outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson tore his ACL in the season opener against Miami, forcing Divinity to become the team's dominant pass rusher. With Chaisson returning, Divinity can go back to his original role as LSU's field linebacker, which is a more traditional linebacker position.
On the backend of the defense, cornerback Kristian Fulton is coming back for his senior season, even after receiving a second round draft grade, according to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. Fulton, who had to sit out a year due to a controversial suspension handed down by the NCAA, injured his ankle against Arkansas late in the season, but should be ready to go for spring practice. Fulton had 10 passes defended and one interception in 2018.
Offensively, the biggest losses were Brossette and Moreau, who was LSU’s lone tight end for the majority of the season. LSU has rebuilt its stable of running backs by adding five-star John Emery and another top 10 running back in Tyrion Davis, and tight end, Jamal Pettigrew and Thaddeus Moss are both expected to be healthy after missing all of 2018 with injuries.
Quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t lose a single contributor at wide receiver from last season, which is a stark contrast to what LSU had coming into the year when there were no receivers with more than 20 catches in their career. Now, LSU has five, including Justin Jefferson who caught 54 passes for 875 yards and six touchdowns.
Overall, LSU returns eight starters on offense, seven starters on defense plus Chaisson, and all core special teams player with the exception of Tracy.
The plethora of talent coming back is going to bolstered by a recruiting class that should be ranked No. 3 in the country by the February signing date, and one that is expected to be LSU’s best since the 2009 class finished No. 1, according to 247sports.com.