Upgrade or downgrade? Where LSU football's position groups stand before spring practice
BATON ROUGE ― It's hard to deny that LSU football has gotten better this offseason.
The Tigers have added 25 high school recruits and 11 players from the transfer portal, garnering the No. 6 recruiting class and the No. 1 portal class in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. In addition to bringing back the majority of its starting offense and key defensive contributors like Maason Smith, Harold Perkins and Greg Brooks, LSU heads into 2023 as a contender for the College Football Playoff.
The offseason isn't over yet, but here's a look at where each position group for LSU stands before spring practice.
Losing Walker Howard to Ole Miss doesn't help, that's for sure. But Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier are back and both should improve in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock with similar weapons and the same offensive line. Plus, the Tigers added four-star signee Rickie Collins.
Running back: Upgrade
Everyone is back: Josh Williams, Armoni Goodwin, John Emery Jr. and Noah Cain. The Tigers also added four-star signees Kaleb Jackson and Trey Holly.
Wide receiver: Slight upgrade?
Whether the Tigers got better is debatable. On the one hand, losing Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins and Jack Bech isn't good. Boutte gave the Tigers an explosive element downfield that won't be easy to replicate. Jenkins was extremely reliable when called upon and Bech was a quality option in the slot.
But, on the flip side, Alabama transfer Aaron Anderson provides another explosive option to a position group that added four-star signees Shelton Sampson Jr., Jalen Brown, Kyle Parker and Khai Prean. The Tigers also bring back top wideout Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr., Kyren Lacy and Chris Hilton Jr. from injury.
Offensive line: Neutral
Five of the top six contributors last season are back. The only one who left was Anthony Bradford (NFL Draft). That's the good news. The bad news is that the depth behind the starters is paper thin after four of LSU's veteran backups are transferring. LSU does have a good group of incoming freshmen, including five-star Zalance Heard, but it still needs veteran depth.
Tight end: Upgrade
LSU will not have to rely on Mason Taylor as heavily this season after adding three freshmen in December: Mac Markway, Ka'Morreun Pimpton and Jackson McGohan. This group is young but a lot deeper than it was a year ago.
Defensive line: Slight downgrade
After adding Paris Shand, Bradyn Swinson, Ovie Oghoufo, Jordan Jefferson and Jalen Lee from the portal, LSU has drastically improved its depth on its defensive line, particularly on the interior.
Smith coming back from injury will also help immensely, as will adding five-star signee Da'Shawn Womack and four-star Jaxon Howard. But without BJ Ojulari, Ali Gaye and Jaquelin Roy, LSU loses most of the elite talent that made its defensive line a special group in 2022.
Linebacker: Slight downgrade
LSU lost Mike Jones Jr. and Micah Baskerville, plus Kolbe Fields and DeMario Tolan to the transfer portal. That's a lot of depth gone in one offseason. But the addition of Oregon State All-Pac-12 selection Omar Speights from the transfer portal evens out a lot of what the Tigers lost. Freshmen Whit Weeks and Christian Brathwaite should also help fill in the gap.
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Safety: Slight upgrade
With Brooks and Major Burns back, LSU will have two of its top three safeties returning. The Tigers will also have more depth behind them after signing a trio of recruits in December: Kylin Jackson, Ryan Yaites and Michael Daugherty. Additionally, Matthew Langlois is expected to be back from injury.
Cornerback: Major upgrade
LSU lost all of its key contributors – except for Sage Ryan – which is usually not a good thing. But the Tigers got much younger, deeper and more talented at cornerback without sacrificing too much experience. Former five-star recruit and Texas A&M transfer Denver Harris, Syracuse transfer Darian Chestnut and Ohio State transfer JK Johnson highlight the improvements.
Special teams: Neutral
With Jay Bramblett, Nathan Dibert and Damian Ramos back, LSU's specialists will be the same in 2023. The real question is whether special teams coordinator Brian Polian can improve the pieces around them.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.