Early LSU defensive depth chart prediction for the 2023 season

Earlier this week, we took an early look at what LSU could throw out there on offense this fall.

Now, It’s time for the defense.

This unit is more of a challenge to pin down. LSU’s offense is bringing back most of its production. The defense, however, is losing several key pieces.

BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye are gone after holding down the edge spots since 2020. The secondary is going through another makeover and veteran linebackers Micah Baskerville and Mike Jones Jr. are gone too.

DeMario Tolan, a talented young linebacker, hit the portal along with a couple of young corners.

The cupboard is far from bare. LSU returns strong players on the interior and did heavy work in the transfer portal, especially on the backend. With Harold Perkins, Mekhi Wingo and a healthy Maason Smith, the defense remains in a good spot.

Here’s how we think the defense could stack up next season.

JACK: Sai'vion Jones

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The assistant shuffle is still ongoing and the NFL could come calling, but right now, [autotag]Matt House[/autotag] remains LSU’s DC. This projection will be based on his scheme.

The JACK, House’s traditional edge rusher spot, was Ojulari’s in 2022. With Ojulari gone, there’s no obvious replacement. [autotag]Sai’vion Jones[/autotag] is the returnee with the most experience. He was top 10 at his position in the 2021 recruiting class and Kelly has offered him praise before.

He started three games in 2022 and according to PFF, notched 14 pressures and five sacks.

Jones is far from a sure thing and he’ll be pushed by transfers and youngsters, but he’s going to make an impact next fall and has the chance to be LSU’s top guy off the edge.

Transfer portal pass rushers

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LSU brought in a couple of edge rushers from the portal — [autotag]Bradyn Swinson[/autotag] and [autotag]Ovie Oghoufo[/autotag]. Both are solid players who should contribute in some way with a chance to do more.

Swinson didn’t play much at Oregon last year, but had a pass rush win rate of 26.1% and applied 10 pressures. Only five edge rushers in the Big 12 totaled more pressures than Oghoufu.

Swinson and Oghoufu will be firmly in the mix for playing time.

Young edge rushers

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[autotag]Da’Shawn Womack[/autotag] and [autotag]Quency Wiggins[/autotag] are two names that will draw plenty of attention entering camp. Wiggins was a five-star in the 2022 class while Womack was a five-star in the 2023 class.

Wiggins spent much of the fall recovering from an injury and didn’t see the field often. At 6-foot-55, he’s a freak athlete. He’ll be healthy entering 2023 and is a prime breakout candidate.

Womack could be LSU’s top recruit this cycle. Heralded as LSU’s next great pass rusher, he’ll have the chance to make an immediate impact. This is one of the most open positions on LSU’s roster. Anyone from Jones to the transfers to Womack could start.

DE: Maason Smith

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This was Gaye’s spot, the more traditional defensive end and in House’s defense, plays a critical role in stopping the run.

House doesn’t have just one scheme. More than most DCs, he likes to switch things around, especially on the front. This allows him to assemble the best combination of players.

With [autotag]Maason Smith[/autotag] back, LSU will likely feature a heavier front. Smith isn’t a traditional defensive tackle. He can come off the edge to with a deadly combination of size and speed.

With all the depth LSU has on the interior, LSU’s best combo could be Smith pushing the pocket from the edge and allowing speedy linebackers to offer support.

DE2: Paris Shand

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Shand is a portal addition from Arizona. It’s been reported that LSU sees him as an end, as opposed to an interior guy. A solid contributor for two years, he brings experience and totaled 11 pressures and two sacks in 2022.

He has 5.5 TFLs and two forced fumbles in his career.

DT: Mekhi Wingo

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Wingo was a breakout star in 2022 after transferring from Missouri. The sophomore was a third-team All-American and delivered for LSU against the pass, the run and on big fourth downs.

His 25 pressures ranked fifth among SEC DTs and his run defense grade was third and the best among any SEC DT who played 500 snaps. Wingo will be a preseason All-SEC and one of the conference’s best defenders in 2022.

DT2: Jordan Jefferson

(AP Photo/William Wotring)

LSU has good depth at DT with the addition of [autotag]Jordan Jefferson[/autotag].

Jefferson brings a wealth of experience from WVU. He’s played over 1,000 snaps in his career. He had the best tackling grade among Big 12 DTs in 2022 and notched three sacks.

He batted down four passes in 2022 and made 18 stops. This is a good player who should factor into LSU’s rotation. He’ll be more than a backup.

NT1: Jacobian Guillory

. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

Guillory enters his fourth year with the program and has played 423 snaps in his career. He’s racked up seven pressures in each of the last two seasons. With [autotag]Jaquelin Roy[/autotag] gone, there’s a prime opportunity for Guillory.

A former top-100 recruit, he should be considered a breakout candidate in 2023.

NT2: Jalen Lee

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Another transfer on the defensive line, Lee provides size and depth. The former four-star prospect spent three years at Florida before hitting the portal. It’s unlikely that Lee competes for the starting job but he’s good enough to make an impact in some capacity and brings needed depth.

LB: Harold Perkins

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The expectations for Perkins were high and he still blew them out of the water. As a true freshman, he led SEC LBs with 41 pressures. He totaled 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.

He’s a rare talent — the type of defender who can take over a game. Perkins has the chance to be one of the best players in the country.

LB: Greg Penn III

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A former top-300 recruit, Penn earned a starting role last fall. LSU doesn’t have depth at LB and Penn should be right back in that spot again.

He racked up 78 total tackles and six tackles for loss. Penn was a solid player, but there’s still room for growth. He’s a breakout candidate in 2023.

LB: Omar Speights

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LSU got one of the transfer portal’s premier linebackers with the addition of [autotag]Omar Speights[/autotag]. He was all-conference at Oregon State and 2022 and instantly becomes the best defender in LSU’s linebacker room.

Backup linebackers

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Perkins, Penn and Speights give LSU one of the best starting linebacker groups in the country – but further down the depth chart, there are some questions.

The room took a hit when Tolan hit the portal. Veterans Baskerville and Jones are gone, too. LSU holds onto [autotag]West Weeks[/autotag], who it got from the portal last year, and he saw playing time in 2022.

West will be joined by his brother, [autotag]Whit Weeks[/autotag], a top-300 recruit. LSU might need contributions from both Weeks brothers in 2022 because apart from them, there’s very little depth here.

CB1: Denver Harris

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This spot is wide open. I’m going with Harris here because of the talent and what we saw in a limited sample size last year.

Harris has the potential to be a star. He’s not there yet, but it’s possible he makes that jump soon. He’s got the talent to be a first-round pick when the time comes.

CB2: Zy Alexander

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Another transfer, Alexander fits the mold of what House and LSU have looked for in their cornerbacks. Tall and athletic guys that can play man coverage.

At 6-foot-3, Alexander is just that and his presence will help LSU cover the losses of [autotag]Jarrick Bernard-Converse[/autotag] and [autotag]Mekhi Garner[/autotag].

CB3: Deuce Chestnut

(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Again, this is really all speculation with this group, but Chestnut is a proven corner who has had sustained success in the P5. He has four career picks and played over 1,400 snaps in his first two years with Syracuse. Expect to see a lot of Chestnut in 2022.

Nickel: Sage Ryan

(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

There’s a few things LSU can do with this spot.

[autotag]Greg Brooks Jr.[/autotag] and [autotag]Sage Ryan[/autotag] both saw time here in 2022. In an ideal world, Ryan finally makes the jump and becomes a consistent star in the secondary. He’s a former five-star and fans are anticipating a breakout.

Brooks is a proven SEC player, but as we’ll discuss in a second, he could be needed at safety. With [autotag]Jay Ward[/autotag] headed to the draft, this position is wide open, but Ryan has the edge.

Safety: Greg Brooks Jr.

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Brooks is a leader of the defense and his return was a massive get for LSU. Nobody on LSU’s defense played more snaps than Brooks in 2022 and it could play out like that again in 2023.

Matt House knows Brooks is a playmaker, lining him up all over the place. Brooks can create havoc in all phases of the game.

Safety: Major Burns

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Burns is another leader on the back end. He missed significant time with a neck injury in 2022, but when he was in there, Kelly praised his communication.

Burns made 16 stops in 2022 and has the ability to offer support in the box. If he stays healthy, Burns should see even more time in 2023.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire