The strength of the LSU defense
How would you describe the 2021 LSU defensive line because I’m struggling to find the words.
The group was deep but banged up; stout but you could run on them; havoc creators but couldn’t get Bo Nix down at key junctures in the Auburn game; loaded with future pros—and by my count at least three future first round picks—but the team stunk so what does it really matter if you’re going 6-7?
I was high on the LSU defensive line this time last year and it didn’t really amount to anything. This year’s group is maybe just as talented, if not better, and will need be as good as we all expect in order to help out a totally reworked secondary and Damone Clark-less linebacking group.
LSU’s got a lot of star power along their front four and features what I believe to be at least three future first round pick. The moment the 2022 draft concluded and the first way too early 2023 mock drafts came out, juniors Jaquelin Roy and BJ Ojulari found themselves as potential first round picks and so far neither have done anything to dissuade that hype. Ojulari was named first-team preseason All-SEC and found himself on the Nagurski watchlist; Roy was, in my opinion at least, snubbed from all three preseason All-SEC teams but did end up on the Outland trophy watchlist.
I’ve said this often over Ojulari’s career but he’s the best pass rusher LSU’s had since Arden Key. Of his 71 career tackles, nearly 40 percent of them have been for either a tackle for loss a or sack (27.5 TFLs/sacks). When he shows up there’s a good chance the opposing offense is going backwards.
Roy’s been may be one of the most underrated Tigers over the last few years (going 11-12 over a two-year span will do that to you), but as 104.5’s Matt Moscona broke down Roy is performing statistically to some of the best defensive tackles LSU’s ever had.
Maason Smith might be the best defensive lineman on the roster and while he was only held to nine games last season, you saw why he could be going early in the 2024 NFL Draft. Smith made the SEC’s All-Freshman team and was joined by incoming Mizzou transfer Mekhi Wingo. For being outside the top-600 among all recruits in the 2021 cycle, Wingo certainly over-performed relative to his recruiting rankings. Not a lot went right for Missouri in 2021, but Wingo and this right-place-right-time pick six against North Texas was one of the highlights.
It’s a testament to how good Roy and Smith are that Wingo, a freshman All-SEC selection a year ago, is going to have to battle just to get on the field. But he and rising junior Jacobian Guillory should give LSU some proven depth up the middle. Guillory hasn’t taken off yet but the important thing was he got on the field in 2021. Compare that to 2020 where an ankle injury limited him to just one game.
LSU’s other projected starter is fifth-year senior Ali Gaye who was lost for the season after the Kentucky game. What was thought to be a “stinger” wound up needing surgery that ended Gaye’s year after just four games. Gaye’s got all of the tools you’d want in a defensive end, now he’ll need to show he can stay healthy in his money season.
Behind Gaye and Ojulari is an intriguing collection of underclassmen. Sophomores Zavier Carter and Sai’vion Jones are another year older while Bryce Langston is looking to see the field after taking a redshirt in 2021. Carter is still listed on LSU’s roster as a defensive end despite being 205 pounds. Perhaps he can be a stand up rush end in Matt House’s new defense.
One incoming freshman I’m excited to see is Quency Wiggins a top-100 overall prospect from Madison Prep. Originally a basketball player, Wiggins only recently started playing football but has tantalizing size: 6’5” and 275 per LSU’s website and has a wingspan verified at seven feet. If Jamar Cain can unlock all the potential Wiggins has, LSU might be sitting on their next great defensive lineman.