When LSU’s offense takes the field in the season opener, Tiger fans may be reaching for their programs to identify all the new receivers.
The Tigers return only five players with collegiate receptions—one of whom did not play the entire 2017 season. Despite that, the unit looks to be one of this year’s strongest position groups.
“We have very little experience coming back at wide receiver, even though I think we’re very talented there,” first-year LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger says.
“Talented” might be an understatement.
Over the past few signing classes, LSU has put together one of the deepest receiving corps in recent LSU history.
“We’re one of the top three talented groups that’s on the [LSU] field,” junior receiver Stephen Sullivan says. “Everybody is big, fast and strong.”
A NEW LEADER
The Tigers’ running game, long the brutal strength of the offense, currently features a running-back-by-committee approach. After years of relying on bell-cow backs such as Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, the LSU receiving corps is poised to pick up the offensive slack.
Led by junior transfer Jonathan Giles, the Tigers’ wide receiving corps features double-digit former four- and five-star talents, with a diverse blend of strength, speed and catching ability.
“We haven’t had that depth here,” Ensminger says. “I wish we’d had that depth here last year. We ended up only playing four or five receivers, and with all the motions and [jet sweeps] and everything else we did, at some points you felt like they wore down.”
Standing at 6 feet tall, Giles suits up for the Tigers for the first time this season, after sitting out the 2017 season following his transfer from Texas Tech.
Wearing the illustrious No. 7 jersey, the junior playmaker is the presumed leader of this group—and undoubtedly the most productive, amassing 1,158 yards, 69 receptions and 13 touchdowns during his 2016 sophomore season in Lubbock.
The LSU offense has not produced a 1,000-yard receiver since 2013, when both Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry accomplished the feat during a 3,000-yard season from LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Giles calls his quickness his greatest strength as a receiver. During his career, he has primarily been utilized in the slot-receiver position, running quicker and intermediate routes, typically aimed toward the middle of the field.
“You’ve got to have a lot of quickness, because you’re running across the middle a lot in short routes,” Giles explains. “That’s something I use to my advantage going against linebackers who are not as quick.”
The Tigers also return four other receivers who made catches last season. Juniors Derrick Dillon, Stephen Sullivan, Drake Davis and Dee Anderson combined for 31 catches, 523 yards and three touchdowns last fall.
The numbers weren’t eye-popping, but they were all highly rated as high schoolers and have shown flashes of brilliance within their limited roles on the offense.
Davis hauled in an 87-yard touchdown pass last season against Syracuse.
Sullivan jumpstarted LSU’s comeback victory over Auburn with a 1-yard jet-sweep touchdown on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter.
Nine of Dillon’s 14 receptions came on third down.
Ensminger has reiterated to his offensive coaching staff that the receiving corps is going to get its chance this season.
“We’ve got some kids who can run, play and catch,” Ensminger says. “They’re going to have their opportunities.”
Among the younger members of LSU’s receiving corps: sophomore Justin Jefferson, younger brother of former Tigers Jordan and Rickey. He has been drawing rave reviews from his teammates this offseason.
“I remember the first play he got in the [fall camp] game, he caught a deep pass over [cornerback] Kevin Toliver, and from that moment on he has not taken a step back,” Giles says.
Then there’s the onslaught of LSU’s freshman talent, who will be jockeying for playing time within the deep unit.
Five-star talent Terrace Marshall Jr. was the crown jewel of the team’s 2018 recruiting class: the state’s unanimous top player and listed as high as the
No. 2 receiver in the country.
Sidelined by an injury his senior year, Marshall hauled in 55 catches for 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior in 2016.
Joining Marshall are four-star receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Kenan Jones, as well as three-star talent Jaray Jenkins.
With the combination of incoming and returning talent in the wide-receiving corps this season, Sullivan is embracing the competition, noting none of his 2017 catches matter when it comes to deciding playing time this year.
“The competition is going to be crazy,” Sullivan says. “We’ve got four-stars, five-stars and freshmen that can play ball. Nobody has a starting spot.”
Giles believes that with the Tigers’ depth and great blend of height, speed and playmaking at wide receiver, they can have up to five receivers on the field at one time.
“We can rotate in and out, and there won’t be a step back,” Giles says. “Depth is one of our biggest strengths right now.”
Depth is definitely what Ensminger is counting on from the unit this season. He says he plans to run a flexible offense that adapts to the game situation, rather than stick to one unsuccessful methodology (i.e. lining up in the I-formation and repeatedly trying to pound opposing defenses).
LSU’s deep stable of receivers means more passing—potentially lots more, according to Ensminger.
“Don’t get comfortable in your seats,” Ensminger says. “We’re going to throw the football. We’re going to move the football around; we’re going to go fast at times. We’re going to slow it down. It’ll be different. Stay on the edge of your seat, and get ready.”
After sitting out last season, Giles is ready for the receivers to step up and make the most of this 2018 season.
“It’s on our hands to make this offense go,” Giles says.
This article was originally published in the Tiger Pride section of the August 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.
Click here to browse the rest of the special LSU section.