LSU left thin at defensive tackle after Maason Smith declares for draft

LSU’s Maason Smith declared for the NFL draft on Tuesday evening, joining fellow defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo.

There was originally some optimism that Smith and Wingo would return, giving LSU a solid foundation to build on up front. Now, new defensive coordinator Blake Baker is stuck looking for answers on the interior defensive line.

At the moment, LSU returns Jacobian Guillory and Jalen Lee. Guillory played 258 snaps last year, and he’s competent but never occupied a role as a full-time starter. Lee played just 52 snaps after transferring in from Florida.

LSU’s stuck in this position now after failing to sign a single defensive tackle in the 2023 class and coming up empty in the transfer portal thus far.

Last offseason, I wrote about how having two elite players at defensive tackle can change your defense. Just look at what having Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis did for Georgia on its title run. Look at how Texas‘ strength at defensive tackle took that program to the next level in 2023.

The hope was that Smith and Wingo would do that for LSU last year. But that never panned out as Smith took a while to get going after returning and Wingo missed the second half of the season.

This is the SEC, and it’s going to get even tougher with Oklahoma and Texas joining. You can’t be thin up front, especially in the middle of the defensive line.

There doesn’t appear to be an immediate solution. Just two of the top 25 transfer defensive tackles remain uncommitted, according to 247Sports. LSU does have a solid group of interior defensive linemen in its high school class, including headliner Dominick McKinley, but you can’t count on those guys to be ready right away.

Kelly and whoever takes over the defense have their hands full. There’s usually another wave of transfers following spring practice. LSU will need to hold onto everything it has on the defensive line while hoping a couple of difference-makers hit the portal.

The defense was already going to take a year or two to rebuild with how young the secondary is, but losing Wingo and Smith up front just made the job tougher.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire