There was always going to be attrition when the transfer portal window opened in early December. What was unclear was exactly how many players would leave LSU and how Brian Kelly’s staff would fill the roster needs.
Forty-five hectic days later, the dust has settled. The early signing period came and went. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft passed. And the first transfer portal window closed.
Players in the portal can still sign with another team, and graduate students are allowed to transfer at any time. National signing day arrives Feb. 1. But until the transfer portal opens again May 1-15 after spring practice, player movement will slow down.
That makes this a good time to evaluate how LSU fared in the transfer portal, the ways the team changed over the last month and where the roster stands now.
How LSU addresses its needs
As the offseason began, LSU had questions at cornerback, tight end, returner, edge rusher and defensive tackle. Inside linebacker later became an issue after promising freshman DeMario Tolan transferred to Auburn.
LSU has added 11 transfers to fill the holes, creating the No. 1 class in the 247Sports transfer rankings as of Jan. 19. The group includes four cornerbacks, one wide receiver, two edge rushers, three defensive linemen and inside linebacker Omar Speightsa first-team All-Pac 12 selection last year at Oregon State.
The staff found young corners so they wouldn’t have to overhaul the position again next year. Denver Harris (Texas A&M), Duce Chestnut (Syracuse), JK Johnson (Ohio State) and Zy Alexander (Southeastern) all have at least two years of eligibility. With three freshmen and two returning corners also in the mix, the secondary competitions will be the most intriguing of the offseason.
Along the defensive front, LSU generally signed older Power Five players to bridge the gap to underclassmen. Jordan Jefferson (West Virginia) and Jalen Lee (Florida) provided experienced defensive tackle depth. Ovie Oghoufo (Texas) and Bradyn Swinson (Oregon) made sure LSU doesn’t need to rush five-star freshman Dashawn Womack at Jack linebacker. Paris Shand (Arizona) gave LSU another defensive end.
The only offensive transfer, Aaron Anderson (Alabama), has high upside as a receiver and returner, a position where LSU struggled last season. And though the Tigers haven’t landed a transfer tight end yet, they signed three freshmen to pair with returning starter Mason Taylor.
The haul addresses LSU’s biggest needs and means none of the 25 incoming freshmen have to start right away. Some of them may push for time, but they can develop instead of getting thrust into the lineup too soon. Then if everything goes to plan, LSU won’t have to lean on the transfer portal as much in future classes.
Transfer portal loose
Most of the 15 transfers — linebackers Antoine Sampah and Phillip Webb, who were not on the team last fall, also entered — would be considered normal attrition in the portal era. Four of them started a game last season, and only wide receiver Jack Bech started after Week 2. They generally left to find playing time and LSU backfilled their spots.
Offensive linemen Cameron Wire, Marcus Dumervil, Xavier Hill and Kardell Thomas were going to have trouble cracking the lineup with most of the starters returning and four freshmen joining the team. Damarius McGhee and Raydarious Jones had gotten passed over at cornerback. Tight end Kole Taylor, edge rusher Desmond Little, linebacker Kolbe Fields and edge rusher Zavier Carter were backups. Derrick Davis hadn’t cracked the safety rotation before LSU moved him to running back, a crowded position next season.
The ones that stung were freshman quarterback Walker Howard, Bech and Tolan. Bech’s decision made sense after finishing with the eighth-most catches on the team. He would’ve then contended with Anderson and four incoming freshmen. But Bech was a local fan favorite who proved he could play in the Southeastern Conference.
Howard would’ve sat for another year, if not more, after Jayden Daniels returned. He was behind redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier, who has a chance to compete for the job and take over when Daniels leaves after next season. LSU’s quarterback future looks bright with Nussmeier having three years of eligibility, but it now may have to content with a local product and LSU legacy at rival Ole Miss.
In the immediate future, Tolan was the biggest loss. He might have started after a promising freshman year. Kelly raved about him, and his departure left LSU thin at inside linebacker. Speights filled the hole, but he has one year left. LSU will replace a starting linebacker again in 2024, when Greg Penn is also eligible for the NFL draft.
Where the roster stands
LSU currently has 77 scholarship players. There are almost as many new signees (36) as returning players (41) with eight spots still available on the roster.
The total doesn’t include running back Josh Williams and kicker Damian Ramos, former walk-ons who earned scholarships and should have them renewed. That would give LSU six scholarships, a number that could change when the transfer portal opens again after spring practice.
The Tigers don’t need to be aggressive the rest of the offseason. They have room to add but already addressed their needs. They’re keeping an eye on the transfer portal for a veteran tight end to give the freshmen time to develop. They’ve looked for centers and offered longtime Miami starter Jakai Clark. Another linebacker might help.
There’s not much left on the high school front. LSU reportedly targeted three-star Chicago defensive tackle Jamel Howard down the stretch, but national signing day won’t have the action of years past. LSU pretty much wrapped up the 2023 class and turned its attention to the next cycle.