When reviewing LSU's players and their careers, it’s easy to notice the amount of talent on the roster. Many players, even before this past season, had the talent and ability that, with work, could become special.
The nation watched as the LSU offense dominated the NCAA in almost every major statistical category while the defense was put on the back-burner. However, the success of the defense, especially late in the season when it mattered most, cannot be undersold.
Early in the season the defense struggled, giving up 38 points to Texas and Vanderbilt; but, as the season continued, they continued to improve and had undeniable success.
After the regular season, the Tigers’ defense and their stars turned it on. The No. 4 team in the nation, Georgia, came into the SEC Championship averaging 31 points per game. They were held to 10 points. In the Peach Bowl, Oklahoma, led by Jalen Hurts and the arguable No. 1 wide receiver prospect Ceedee Lamb, was held to 28 points. They came into the game averaging 48 points per game.
Finally, in the national championship game, on the biggest stage against the likely No. 1 draft pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Trevor Lawrence and a Clemson team that averaged 44 points per game were only able to score 25 points. The other Tigers' quarterback failed to pass for a touchdown.
Best stat for #LSU’s defense?The Top 5 QBs they faced: Lawrence: 18-37, 234, 0 TDHurts: 15-31, 217, 0 TD, 1 INTFromm: 20-42, 225, 1 TD, 2 INTLove: 15-30, 130, 0 TD, 3 INTTua: 21-40, 418, 4 TD, 1 INTTua was only one to complete more than 50% or have more than 1 TD pass.— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) January 15, 2020
Here are some of the players from that defense that will move on and represent LSU at the next level:
Chaisson was a four star recruit and made an instant impact as a freshman, starting three out of 12 games played, he made the SEC All-Freshman team.
Going into the 2018 season, Chaisson was expected to replace Arden Key and become a star, but these expectations were cut short when K’Lavon tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the season opener. The injury cost Chaisson his sophomore season, though he ended up finishing the game and season with five tackles and a sack in three quarters of play.
Chaisson’s draft stock skyrocketed during the 2019 season. Being named to the All-SEC first team and leading a championship defense in tackles for loss and sacks, LSU's star defender caught the eye of NFL scouts.
Though he did not participate in the combine, Chaisson’s speed and quickness is what stands out on tape. Chaisson excels off the field and in the locker room, receiving the coveted number 18, which is only given to a player with high character and leadership.
Chaisson has better bend and flexibility than some of the best edge rushers coming out of college, but he struggles with his balance on the edge. On some occasions, he bends fluidly but loses his feet, causing him to be blocked into the dirt.
While Chaisson's power is a question, his great size and build for the position cannot be denied. Whether at outside linebacker or defensive end, Chaisson is a speed rusher through and through.
An apt comparison would be fellow LSU draftee Danielle Hunter. Hunter’s bend and speed off of the edge has earned the Minnesota Viking two pro bowl trips. Hunter is taller and has longer arms, but Chaisson shares Hunter's speed and burst.
Chaisson is considered a “boom or bust” prospect, much like Hunter was, but I personally don’t see him that way. The only way I see Chaisson not succeeding at the next level is if he suffers a similar string of injuries that plagued him in college.
Draft projection: Mid 1st round selection.
Fulton was a highly-touted recruit coming to LSU. He was the heir apparent at "DBU".
While he was overshadowed by the incredible play of star freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., Fulton was a consistent presence for the defense.
Fulton is mainly a press-man corner that has the confidence and flexibility to body any wide receiver. His ability to shadow receivers offered the LSU defense a 1-2 punch at corner many teams could not handle later in the season.
He only allowed 48 catches and a 43.6% completion percentage over the span of two years, according to Pro Football Focus. This comes on top of 89.7 and 86.8 PFF grades in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The worry NFL scouts have about Fulton was his lack of top end speed as he gave up five catches that went for 30 yards or more this past season. Fulton ran a 4.46 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. His time ranks in the 75th percentile among cornerbacks, but his lack of burst and agility bring these numbers down, according to Playerprofiler.
Similar to Fulton, Baltimore Ravens Marcus Peters is a press-man cornerback with a knack for jumping routes and batting away passes. Both have similar builds at 6-foot and 200 pounds. Peters has also been known to give up the deep ball because of his lack of top end speed on deep routes.
Fulton has a great chance to become a star in the NFL. Most NFL teams look for man-to-man shadow corners that have great hand fighting ability and can hold down one side of the field. Fulton delivers in that regard.
Draft projection: Early 2nd round selection.
Recruited by LSU as a linebacker and running back, Patrick Queen stepped into a role of his own this season as former star linebacker Devin White departed to the NFL. Queen learned from White as they are both played the “rover” linebacker position.
Coming into the season, Queen was doubted because of his size and lack of experience. Queen proved any doubters wrong as he finished third on the team in total tackles and second in tackles for loss. On a defense loaded with talent, Queen made a name for himself.
Queen’s strengths lie in his speed and range; he’s an animal when he drops back in coverage and can fly to the ball. Though his tackling could use some work, in 355 coverage snaps Queen allowed 165 total yards to opposing receivers all season, according to PFF. That’s an average of half a yard per snap. This statistic was recorded before his “breakout” performance in the National Championship game against Clemson. This performance solidified Queen as a first round talent and saw him win defensive player of the game.
Patrick Queen has allowed just 165 total yards on 355 coverage snaps this season.Even the linebackers can cover💀 pic.twitter.com/OkB3xLtrVZ— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 12, 2020
A downside to Queen's game is his lack of raw power and block shedding ability. Posting 18 reps on the bench press at the combine is nothing to scoff at, but it lands him in the 18th percentile of the combine, according to Playerprofiler. Queen compensates with his burst, but he can be blanketed out of plays if he is rushing or gets blocked by a pulling guard.
My NFL player comparison for Queen would be fellow LSU alum Deion Jones. Jones was selected in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons and has become a force for their defense, sticking to tight ends and running backs. Both linebackers are 6-foot-1 and have exceptional speed and range while being undersized for the position.
Queen’s fluidity and recognition of the game is what will carry him in the NFL to stardom. If he can have free range over the field and continue to play a weak side linebacker role, Queen can become a force in the NFL.
Draft projection: Late 1st round selection
At 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, Grant Delpit is a big-bodied safety that can play underneath and support the run while also being able to drop back and make plays downfield. His large frame helps him out muscle smaller receivers on jump balls and helps him shrug off blockers to get to the ball carrier.
Unfortunately, Delpit did not participate in the NFL combine, but he ran an astonishing 4.39 at his pro day. While pro day numbers are always taken with a grain of salt, his closing speed was definitely shown on his tape.
Delpit's knocks are his inconsistency at times against higher level competition and his regression from the 2018 season to the 2019 season.
His 2019 season saw him going from 74 total tackles (46 solo), five sacks, one forced fumble and five interceptions in to 65 total tackles (38 solo), two sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions. His 2019 numbers are respectable, but the statistics show Delpit's seemingly inconsistent play. Also, while Delpit had arguably his best games against teams like Utah State, Texas A&M and Florida, he unfortunately was mediocre against teams like Georgia, Texas and Alabama, having zero passes defended and only eight total tackles in the latter three games combined.
Delpit’s decline could be due to a preseason high ankle sprain that pestered him throughout the season, but not everything in Delpit’s junior year was bad. Again, his numbers were still respectable compared to the talent in this draft class at the safety position.
Delpit has a below average projected completion percentage allowed and an above average projected playmaker rate (rate of passes broken up and intercepted per coverage snap), according to Pro Football Focus. This statistic shows that his production should translate to the NFL.
Delpit is a sometimes-too aggressive safety that can adjust well with the ball in the air and can jar passes loose from receivers. The angles he takes to the ball carrier can be inconsistent because of his aggressiveness, but he remains a solid run defender because of his ability to set his feet, gauge ball carrier movements and break down for a tackle.
His NFL comp for me is Justin Simmons, a second team AP All-Pro this past season. Simmons is a 6-foot-2, 210 pound safety that has the range to be one of the best coverage men in the NFL, as well as a solid run defender because of his size.
Delpit’s versatility will garner him top safety status in this upcoming NFL draft; and, with his lingering injury healing, he should be ready to dominate at the NFL level.
Draft projection: Early 2nd round selection
Lawrence's strengths, both on and off the field, should translate well to the NFL as his anchoring ability can give teams additional run support and his leadership can help to strengthen any NFL locker room. Lawrence clogs gaps and lanes due to his long arms and strength. Even when blocked, Lawrence is always sticking an arm in a gap or shrugging off his blocker to make a tackle before a running back can make it to the second level.
However, Lawrence’s lack of mobility and pass rushing ability will hurt his draft stock because, in today’s NFL, pass rushing defensive tackles are more valuable than run stuffing tackles due to the game’s shift toward passing. He’s not a quick-twitch, block shedding type of defender and will likely be rotated out of obvious passing situations.
Lawrence’s play style is similar to Rams defensive tackle, A’Shawn Robinson. Both have exceptional arm length, ranking in the 80th percentile or above according to playerprofiler. Robinson has a 76.4 run defense grade while having a 58.6 pass rush grade from 2015-2019, according to Pro Football Focus.
Although Lawrence’s stats aren’t anything special on paper, it’s rare you find a defensive tackle with the eye-popping stats of a defensive end. What he brings to the table with his toughness and grit will definitely rub off on his NFL teammates in the future.
Draft projection: Late 4th round selection
Probably the most underrated player on the LSU defense, Jacob Phillips has often been overshadowed by the more flashy players of the Bayou Bengals.
Always a team-first player and contributing to almost every play, Phillips led the Tigers defense last season with 113 total tackles, along with 7.5 tackles for loss. While not a major factor in coverage, Phillips was around the ball almost every play as a middle linebacker. He and Queen were usually the only linebackers on the field (Chaisson is an edge rusher); so while Queen was holding down the coverage role, Phillips had free reign to spy the quarterback, plug running lanes and be an overall nuisance to an opposing offense.
While Phillips is not as fast as his Tiger counterpart, he tested above average at the NFL combine with a 4.66 in the 40 yard dash and solid measurables.
Phillips’ 6-foot-3 and 229 pound build and play style closely resembles Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham is a solid run-stopping linebacker as he led all off-ball linebackers with 200+ run stops and recorded a defensive stop on 14% of his run defense snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Both linebackers have excellent burst to the line of scrimmage to stop opposing ball carriers or even break to the outside to run down a quick back off a screen pass.
Although Phillips struggles in coverage because of a lack of play recognition, he has the intangibles to improve this at the next level. If Phillips can be paired with another quicker linebacker in the NFL in a possible 4-3 or 46 defensive scheme, he will be able to help with stopping opposing runners while having the tools to improve into a possible star.
Draft projection: Mid 4th round selection