After closing the 2016 season with a victory against Louisville in the Citrus Bowl on Saturday, LSU was dealt a blow on the recruiting trail Monday.
Three-star linebacker Monty Rice dropped his verbal commitment to LSU and flipped to Georgia. The Madison, Alabama, native was expected to depart for Athens, Georgia, on Monday as a midyear enrollee, according to several recruiting outlets.
Rice, the 21st-ranked inside linebacker in the 2017 class according to 247Sports' composite rankings, chose LSU in December over Georgia and Auburn. At the time of his commitment, the Bulldogs were considered the favorite to land 6-foot-1, 227-pound linebacker.
LSU's recruitment of Rice was spearheaded by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, whose approach on the final day of the open contact period was instrumental to Rice's initial pledge to the Tigers.
"I love the coaching staffs at Auburn, Georgia and LSU, but what happened yesterday is coach Aranda called my mom. All the coaches wanted to be the last one to see me. I really didn't feel like seeing anyone," Rice told Scout.com at the time of his commitment to LSU. "(Aranda) was just like 'All right, I understand' and was perfectly fine with it. The other schools didn't want to hear that, but it is what it is. It shows Dave Aranda is a caring person."
Rice had offers from a host of other program outside of his finalists, including Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Tennessee and others.
Linebacker is an area of need for the Tigers, especially inside backers like Rice. LSU is losing its two starting inside linebackers this year in Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley. Junior Donnie Alexander, freshman Devin White and junior Devin Voorhies are the only returning inside linebackers.
Excluding hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers like Arden Key and Isaiah Washington, the Tigers currently have four outside linebackers on scholarship.
LSU did not sign a linebacker in the 2015 class and signed only two linebackers in last year's class: White and outside linebacker Michael Divinity. White, a member of the SEC Coaches All-Freshman Team, was listed as a running back when he signed with the Tigers before transitioning to inside linebacker.
The Tigers, as of Monday, have only one linebacker committed for the class of 2017: four-star Livonia product Patrick Queen, who is listed as an athlete. LSU continues to press several linebackers — both inside and outside — who are committed to other schools, including Baton Rouge native and Alabama commitment Christopher Allen and Oklahoma commitment Jacob Phillips.
Before kickoff of the Tigers' 29-9 win against the Cardinals, LSU extended an offer to Orlando, Florida, outside linebacker Nick Smith, who is currently committed to North Carolina State. Smith, the No. 84 outside linebacker in the country according to 247Sports' composite rankings, will visit LSU on Jan. 27.
The Tigers currently hold the No. 7 overall recruiting class for 2017 with 19 commitments.
Recruiting is never a difficult task for LSU.
Four in three
The Tigers have only signed four linebackers over the previous three signing classes. One of them, Clifton Garrett, transferred after his freshman season. Devin White, a 2016 signee, signed as a running back before moving to linebacker.
Class of 2016
Michael Divinity, Ray Thornton
Class of 2015
Class of 2014
Donnie Alexander, Clifton Garrett
LSU’s linebacker signing classes coincide with the linebacker production in Louisiana, as you might expect:
* — Devin White, now a linebacker, signed as a running back.
State by state
LSU often looks out of state for linebackers, especially over the previous four signing classes. The Tigers mostly look to California and Florida, and just one out-of-state player (Clifton Garrett), out of 53 offered, signed with LSU:
Players offered (signed w/LSU)
LSU's current linebackers
LSU’s 2017 roster as of now is set to include eight scholarship linebackers, including the one linebacker signee currently in the 2017 commit class. Many of these players are hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends, with just three of them being traditional inside linebackers:
ILB Devin White, So.
ILB Donnie Alexander, Sr.
ILB Devin Voorhies, Sr.^
OLB Michael Divinity, So.
OLB Ray Thornton, RFr.
OLB M.J. Patterson, Sr.^
OLB Corey Thompson, Sr.^
OLB Patrick Queen, Fr.*
* — commitment
^ — Signed with LSU as something other than a linebacker before moving positions
Note: Hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers like Arden Key and Isaiah Washington are not included in this list. Only LSU’s F-linebacker and the two inside positions, Mack and Rover, are included.
Top Class of 2017 linebacker targets
LSU has 35 scholarship offers out to linebackers, but many of these players were offered under Les Miles. Here are the top targets among them, according to recruiting experts:
National position rank
OLB Chris Allen
ILB Jacob Phillips
E. Nashville Magnet (Tenn.)
ILB Tyler Taylor
OLB Willie Gay
ILB Will Ignont
OLB Nick Smith
Dr. Phillips (Fla.)
OLB Levi Jones
Note: Other top targets such as four-star prospects K'Lavon Chaisson and Markaviest Bryant were not included on the list of LSU's linebacker targets because they are listed as defensive ends by 247Sports. Chaisson and Bryant fit the mold of a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.