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CFF Targets - LSU pass-catchers offer intriguing upside in 2023
Louisiana 'Speed' University has a recent history of productive CFF assets, let's take a look at the pass-catchers headed into 2023
LSU Football is without a doubt one of the coolest brands in college football (CFB). Their WRs in particular have been known to make the VolumePigs All-Swag Team on numerous occasions. Although ‘swag’ and ‘drip’ don’t account for any fantasy points in CFF (well, not yet at least), I’ve always felt that it was a good omen for players’ CFF projections.
In 2019, I took a flyer on LSU’s Justin Jefferson in the eighth round of the one CFF league I participated in (shoutout to the Lockeroom Lads Invitational league). Admittedly, I had no idea at the time the scale of volume pig I had just stumbled upon. Remarkably, I was also able to secure the services of WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. off of the waiver wire to round out the Tigers’ receiving corps. That 2019 season was absurd for the Tigers passing offence, and that campaign represents an inflection point in LSU’s CFF tradition.
Prior to the 2019 season, despite numerous elite WRs donning the purple and gold, LSU’s offences did not produce many high level CFF assets at receiver. Then 2019 happened, where QB Joe ‘cool’ Burrow and OC Joe Brady created what is likely the most explosive offence CFB’s ever seen. The WRs (and my Lockeroom Lads Invitational squad) benefited from that immensely. The three WRs I had acquired accounted for a total of 51 receiving TDs, including one Biletnikoff winner (Chase) and one WR catching over 110 passes (Jefferson). Those two torched it all season and I can’t forget about Marshall, who dealt with injuries throughout 2019 but was a TD monster, scoring 13 TDs in 12 games — not bad when considering he only went over 100 yards once all season.
Perhaps more importantly though, I would assert that the 2019 version of Justin Jefferson will always be one of the swaggiest CFB players ever (and possibly the 1.01 of VolumePigs’ favourite CFB players of the 2010s). He was smooth, man. And I can’t forget what he and Burrow did to OU’s charmin soft asses in the CFB playoffs.
Since that season, CFF managers have learned to pay close attention to LSU’s pass catchers. In 2020, it was freshman five-star sensation Kayshon Boutte who broke out towards the end of the season. His CFF stock skyrocketed as many CFF managers selected him in the first and early second rounds of 2021 re-drafts. They were rewarded, Boutte was having an incredible season in 2021 (509 yards and 9 TDs in 6 games) before suffering a lower leg injury midway through October.
Boutte would unfortunately disappoint in 2022 (and he’s still doing so in 2023…) but a new name would emerge — sophomore standout Malik Nabers. Now we head into 2023, and CFF managers are paying close attention to this room once more. I too, am interested, though I will draw the readers attention to the fact that I wrote ‘pass-catchers’ instead of wide receivers in the headline for a reason. But first let’s take a look at the infrastructure in place down there in the Bayou.
Coaching & System
When Brian Kelly isn’t pretending to have a southern accent, or grinding on prospective recruits, he is usually coaching the LSU Football program. Kelly took over as CEO in 2022 and spent the previous twelve (2010-2021) seasons at Notre Dame. Of those twelve seasons there is an exact even split of six seasons where ND had a 1000-yard receiver, with the last being Chase Claypool in 2019. In a 1-PPR league, Claypool’s numbers would have averaged just over 18 fantasy points per game (FPG) in the 13 games ND played that season.
His OC’s history with WRs is less flattering. OC Mike Denbrok, formerly of Cincinnati (2017-2021) previously worked with Kelly at ND from 2010 to 2016 in various capacities, including OC and WR’s coach. In his time as play caller at Cincinnati, Denbrok’s offences produced zero 1000-yard WRs. It didn’t take him long to do so in Baton Rouge, though, as Nabers secured 72 passes for 1017 yards and 3 TDs in 14 games. Two of Nabers’ three TDs came in the SEC Championship game and LSU’s bowl game vs. Purdue. Of note, in the one season Denbrok spent as OC in ND, Will Fuller caught 76 passes for 1094 yards and 15 TDs.
Okay, so my takeaway is that there isn’t any reason to be overly optimistic or pessimistic about the passing attack. I lean more negative than positive though, as the recent track record under BK and Denbrok isn’t pretty. That probably reads a bit funny considering I just mentioned that Nabers went over 1000 yards last season. It should be noted that he secured 286 of those 1017 yards in the SECCG and bowl game. I know that’s nit-picky, but I think it’s important to point out that Nabers only went over 100 yards once in the CFF season period and only scored 1 TD in those 12 games.
That being said, when looking at this WR corps I think Nabers is the logical starting point as it relates to CFF.
Malik Nabers — 6’0, 195
Let’s get the cat out of the bag right off the bat, Nabers is cool. He looks cool in the uniform, he sports a swaggy number (#8), though maybe he’ll get that infamous #7 for 2023, which is a cool number too, obviously. I got a firsthand look as he torched the Dawgs’ secondary in the SECCG, though I will point out that if Malaki Starks was just a hair earlier on his rotation Nabers’ TD is likely non-existent. Football is a game of inches after all, and in that game Nabers put himself in the right spot at just the right time.
He followed up his stellar showing versus the Dawgs with a monster performance against a Drew Brees led Purdue Boilermakers squad in something called the Cheez-it Citrus Bowl. He opened my and many other’s eyes with his last two performances, leading many to wonder, is Nabers the next big-time LSU WR? Let’s assess his profile.
He’s already had a 1000-yard season with the current staff
He had his best games toward the end of the season
The starting QB that helped him hit 1000 yards receiving returns (Jayden Daniels)
LSU should be scoring a lot of points next season as most of the offence returns, including a young but elite offensive line, and Nabers’ strong finish bodes well for his role in 2023
He looks very cool in the LSU uniform (double this effect if he gets #7)
This staff has a spotty track record when it comes to WR production and its been worse lately
LSU has a crowded WR room and brought in another via the portal — Aaron Anderson by way of Alabama
The CFF community is all over Nabers as he often goes in the top five/six rounds of mock drafts as of March 2023, a bit of a steep price for his profile
Personally I feel like anything under round six for Nabers is a bit of a reach, though I don’t feel that strongly about it. I won’t argue with you if you think he’s worthy of a round five or six pick. I don’t think I’ll be acquiring any shares at that price this summer, though.
Other notable WRs
Brian Thomas (6’4, 200) should be considered a prime candidate to secure WR2 for LSU in 2023, and at 6’4 he’s an imposing presence on the field. He was somewhat of a TD merchant for this WR unit in 2022, securing 5 TDs receiving (second on the team) on 31 receptions.
The good news with Thomas is that he will likely not be drafted in any format of CFF this summer, unless you’re in a particularly deep league.
The bad news is there are good reasons for that. I don’t see him superseding Nabers as the alpha in the room, and I’ve already expressed my concerns about the staff’s track record in the passing game. Alas, this is not 2019 LSU’s passing attack, it is unlikely that there’ll be more than one CFF relevant WR, and it’s not a lock that there’ll even be one, for that matter.
Kyren Lacy (6’2, 217) was a productive player while at Louisiana Lafayette, but he had a less than stellar first season at LSU, catching 24 passes for 268 yards and 0 TDs. I always keep a stray eye out for Lacy as he actually looks similar in his movements on the field to Justin Jefferson, but that might just be the nostalgia kicking in. Hard to foresee him having a massive season in 2023 baring something crazy happening. I’ll be monitoring his situation as the season progresses nonetheless, as waiver wire WRs from the Bayou have been good to me in the past.
TE Mason Taylor — 6’5, 245
Kudos to you if you’ve made it this far in the article. Mason Taylor is actually the player that I wanted to write about. His profile intrigues me quite a bit.
I mentioned earlier that this staff has a mixed track record with WR production, however, there is a nice history of TE production. Between 2019 and 2021 the TE was the second leading receiver (yardage) for BK’s Fighting Irish teams, with Michael Mayer doing so in 2021 and 2020, and Cole Kmet before him in 2019. Ditto for Denbrok’s Bearcats, in 2021 TE Josh Whyle caught the second most TDs on the team with 6.
Taylor (who is the son of NFL legend Jason Taylor, in case you didn’t know) had a nice freshman season in 2022, securing 38 passes for 414 yards and 3 TDs. Taylor made it onto my radar last August when BK raved about his ability:
I'd like to say that we outrecruited everybody in the country on him. We liked him. But he's been better than anything we could've hoped for, he's going to come in and play a lot of football for us . . . He’s ready to help us win this year and play for us. He’s been outstanding. I feel so much better about that position because of his presence and the way he’s shown himself.
Although he didn’t quite live up to the pre-season hype from coach Kelly, who at one point even compared Taylor to Brock Bowers, it’s probably worth pointing out that, like Nabers, he had a strong finish to end the season with 11 receptions, 161 yards, and a score in his last two games. Unlike Nabers, though, Taylor can be acquired virtually for free. He also occupies a lower risk position as a TE, where I tend to gravitate more towards high upside players rather than the high floor guys.
It’s always encouraging when a true freshman plays a bunch, and hearing BK rave about him has my attention. Of course, I would rather Taylor not miss this upcoming spring camp, but I feel pretty confident that he will be the starting TE for LSU in 2023. I’ll be keeping him in mind for the last round of my CFF re-drafts, or at the very least, will keep an eye on him for a waiver in the early weeks of the season.
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