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LSU Spring Football Outlook: How do Tigers replace Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. at WR?

Spring practice is the first real sign we’re moving away from 2023 and heading for the 2024 season.

At LSU, Brian Kelly is just a few weeks away from his third spring practice with the Tigers.

Throughout the spring, I’ll be taking a look at how LSU stacks up at every position. There’s still plenty to figure out at this point, some of which we’ll learn in the spring, but we know where LSU stands personnel-wise at these spots.

Now, we move on to the wide receiver position. LSU finds itself in an intriguing spot with Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. gone. Let’s see what Joe Sloan and Cortez Hankton have to work with in 2024.

WR1 is open for the taking

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Last offseason, we knew Nabers would be the go-to option. This year, that role is wide open with no obvious candidate. And it’ll take more than a few weeks of spring practice to figure it out.

All things considered, LSU’s offense remains in a good spot, but this is the biggest concern.

Having a true game-changer at wide receiver makes a real difference. LSU’s offense has been at its best when it has elite receivers like Nabers, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson on the outside. There’s no guarantee of that this year.

Experienced candidates

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The two most likely candidates for that WR1 spot are Kyren Lacy and CJ Daniels. Together, the two have combined for 210 career catches.

Neither started their career at LSU. Lacy transferred from Louisiana two years ago and Daniels is LSU’s top-ranked transfer in the 2024 class.

For Lacy, this is the chance he’s been waiting for. His 18.6 yards per catch ranked third in the SEC among qualified receivers, 25 of his 30 catches were first downs, and he led the conference in passer rating when targeted.

But with Nabers and Thomas getting the bulk of the targets, Lacy didn’t get a ton of opportunities. As he enters his fifth year of college football, he could be prime for a breakout.

Daniels already had his breakout year, posting 1,067 yards and 10 touchdowns with Liberty last year. Now the question becomes: Can he do it at the SEC level?

All the numbers are strong and he was one of the most explosive players in the country last year, but you just don’t know about players transferring up until you see them in action.

Class of 2023 signees

LSU’s 2023 recruiting class featured a few blue-chip pass catchers.

The class included Shelton Sampson Jr., Kyle Parker, Jalen Brown and Khai Prean. Brown transferred out, but the other three remain.

We didn’t see much from the group last year. Whether that’s because they weren’t ready or there just wasn’t an opportunity is unclear, but LSU will need a couple to step up this year.

All eyes will be on Sampson and Parker, who combined for just 66 offensive snaps last year, but this offseason will be key for their development.

Both have the potential to be strong all-around receivers, but Parker could be slightly more polished at this point, evidenced by playing a few snaps in the bowl game.

The class of 2024

Three more blue-chip freshmen join the fold this year with Kylan Billiot, Jelani Watkins and Michael Turner signing.

However, all three will not enroll until later this year, which could hurt their chances of contributing as true freshmen. Still, given how open the room is, you can’t count it out.

Billiot is the highest rated of the group, ranking as a top 70 overall recruit in 247Sports’ rankings. At 6-foot-3, he has the size to come in and play right away.

Watkins can fly and will be one of the faster players on the team the moment he steps on campus.

There’s ability here, and LSU will need to have these three ready to compete sooner rather than later.

The wildcards

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

There are two more names that offer intriguing possibilities: Aaron Anderson and Zavion Thomas.

Anderson and Thomas are both Louisiana natives who began their career at SEC West rivals. Anderson transferred from Alabama last year with Thomas coming from Mississippi State in December.

Anderson caught 12 passes for 59 yards in 2023. He was coming off an injury and was another guy who didn’t get much of a chance behind Nabers and Thomas.

The coaching staff likes the idea of what Anderson can do in space. He’s a former five-star recruit and some areas of his game still need to be developed, but he can run.

With Thomas, LSU adds a player with proven SEC production. He caught 40 passes for 502 yards in 2023 and according to PFF, earned the 13th-best receiving grade in the SEC.

If he has another step to take, he can be difference-maker in this offense. If not, he can still help provide a steady veteran presence.

Takeaways

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The Daily Advertiser

There are too many unknowns to make a real evaluation of this group.

LSU entered the last two years knowing it had one of the best receiving groups in the SEC. This core has that potential, but that shouldn’t be the expectation.

However, with Cortez Hankton’s coaching, they should be good enough to remain in the top half of the SEC and give LSU what it needs against good defenses.

This spring should tell us some things about this group.

Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire