LSU football’s 2016 recruiting class is mesmerizing even to those who are a part of it.
Texas linebacker Rahssan Thornton, for instance, spent a few minutes recently researching each of the other 16 commitments who make up the group. He found similarities with most of them: They’re ranked in the upper echelon at their position nationally.
There’s the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, and a safety and cornerback both ranked second at their positions. The Tigers have commits from the seventh-best defensive tackle, sixth-ranked tight end and third-ranked guard.
They’ve got three more players in the top 15 at their position nationally, according to 247Sports’ rankings, and there are five highly ranked in-state uncommitted prospects whom many expect to pledge to LSU soon.
Thornton finished his research and probably smiled.
“We’re going to be nasty,” he said. “It’s looking good.”
Good? Great. No. 1, in fact.
LSU has the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation after a commitment surge in June, and the Tigers, most feel, are on track to reel in the first consensus No. 1 signing class in program history.
LSU’s class in 2003 was ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com but No. 2 by Scout. The classes in 2014 and 2004 were ranked No. 2 across the board.
This group has a twist in at least a couple of position groups. LSU seems to be moving away from the recruiting scheme of former defensive coordinator John Chavis and targeting bigger defensive linemen and different linebackers.
That aside, the class is “pretty elite,” said Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ national recruiting analyst. “I think coming in we expected LSU to contend for the No. 1 class. The pieces were coming into place — both regionally and the new coaching hires they’ve had. It’s not surprising, but it’s still impressive.”
Why isn’t it surprising? Can the Tigers stay here come February? And what’s different about this class from some of the most recent groups?
It’s a banner year in the state. Nine Louisianans are among 247Sports’ top 100 prospects, including four five-star players. How good is that? There were four Louisiana players in the top 100 last year — and just one five-star.
The 2016 Bayou State group is drawing comparisons with the 2014 class that included at least four players ranked No. 1 or No. 2 at their positions: running back Leonard Fournette, receivers Malachi Dupre and Devante “Speedy” Noil and offensive lineman Cameron Robinson.
Combine the state’s talented haul with the addition of LSU’s three new coaches and this is what you get, recruiting gurus say. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and receivers coach Tony Ball were known as successful recruiters before their additions to the staff this spring.
One NFL scout told 247Sports that LSU’s staff “has to be the best recruiting staff in the country.” That was before Ball’s hire in February.
“It’s paying dividends,” said Shea Dixon, recruiting reporter for 247Sports’ Geaux247.com site.
“Relentless recruiters. Nonstop all of the time,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director. “Some develop reputations among their peers that, if this guy is coming into our area, we need to buckle up. I think Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron are those guys.”
LSU has commits from three of the top 10 prospects in the state, and the Tigers are believed to be leading with five of the other seven. That, recruiting experts say, is why LSU should finish no worse than No. 3 in the team rankings for 2016. Can this group finish No. 1 to make history?
“I think it can,” said Mike Scarborough, publisher at TigerBait.com, the Rivals.com affiliate covering LSU recruiting. “Some of the guys who are still out here uncommitted, LSU is in good shape with.”
The hunt is now on for those five most-wanted prospects: running back/athlete Devin White of North Webster, Neville defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence, John Ehret outside linebacker Michael Divinity, Rummel cornerback Kristian Fulton and offensive tackle Willie Allen of John Curtis.
“They’ll finish no worse than No. 3,” said Hunter Paniagua, of TigerSportsDigest, the Scout.com affiliate covering the Tigers. “Eight spots to fill, and there are a lot of big names in Louisiana. A lot of four-stars and five-stars left in Louisiana.”
The Tigers’ 17 commitments are the most this early in the year in some time, experts say. In fact, last year LSU had 17 commits two weeks before National Signing Day.
“LSU could go into a football season and only have five spots to fill,” Dixon said. “That could be a first.”
Some of the commits may look different than you’re used to.
Steele and Orgeron have affected LSU’s recruiting in more ways than one. Some believe they’re targeting a different type of athlete than those sought by Chavis and ex-defensive line coach Brick Haley.
The main difference: bigger, more versatile D-linemen and linebackers.
It has some thinking that Steele and Orgeron have their sights on a 3-4 defense in the future — something Steele has run in the past.
“I think some would say LSU got run on some over the last few years. I think they’re going to bulk up a little bit,” Dixon said. “That’s been the most telling storyline of the summer: These guys are being coy about how quickly they are going to move into different fronts, but it’s loud and clear how they’re recruiting.”
“They’re offering a lot more bigger bodies, guys who can play nose tackle,” Paniagua said.
Take, for instance, 325-pound defensive tackle prospect Ross Blacklock from Texas, Scarborough said. He has an LSU offer.
“That’s a guy who looks like he’s a nose tackle,” Scarborough said.
The Tigers seem to be recruiting high school defensive ends for linebacker roles — like Thornton and Erick Fowler — and defensive tackles for defensive end spots. Thornton sat in the film room with Steele and defensive assistant Bradley Dale Peveto during his visit. Coaches showed him practice tape of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
Already, coaches are moving current players around to fit this more versatile scheme. Maquedius Bain moved from tackle to end this spring.
“John Chavis recruited to a certain mold, and I think Kevin Steele is doing the same, but he’s given LSU a little more flexibility to just go get as many athletes as they can,” Simmons said. “That’s what this class looks like. The front seven is a bunch of really athletic guys who can play anywhere.”
They’re athletic, big, talented and — oh yeah — ranked No. 1.
“The defense recruits,” Thornton said, “look nasty.”