Ladies and gentlemen, the debate should be over by this point. The Louisiana State University Tigers are defensive back university (DBU). They have the skins on the wall dating years and years back. They have had an influx of fantastic talent on the back end in the past few years that led to multiple high-end draft picks. And now they have the very best cornerback in the country in Derek Stingley Jr., and he isn’t even draft eligible. But it’s the LSU safeties in 2020, and throughout time, that really butter the bread.
There is an embarrassment of riches in the safety department for the Tigers. Last season alone, one could find four possibly draftable safeties on the field simultaneously. The highly-esteemed Grant Delpit, JaCoby Stevens, Kary Vincent Jr., and Todd Harris Jr. all graced the grass against Texas in 2019. There isn’t as much hype surrounding the three as there has been in LSU safties past, but that could change in 2020.
The coolest part about all of this is that Stevens and Vincent are both seniors. Meanwhile, Harris is a redshirt junior after obtaining a medical redshirt after suffering an injury in game three of 2019. That veteran presence will be huge on a team that lost the bulk of its linebacking corps in front of them and the departure of Kristian Fulton to the NFL.
Getting to know the 2020 LSU safeties: JaCoby Stevens: The physical specimen
Stevens is an absolute, unmitigated UNIT. The senior was a Second Team All-SEC player in 2019. The former five star and top-20 recruit from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has a high school scouting report that reads like a love letter. Watching some tape of Stevens on the field at LSU, it’s easy to see why that would be the case.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound safety/bulldog hybrid is an old school gladiator that can be used as a chess piece in a modern defensive scheme. He’s a perfect candidate to cover big/physical tight ends, yet he possesses the athleticism to hang with the freak athlete tight ends as well.
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Although he seems most comfortable playing up on the end of the line bashing into arc-blocking tight ends and h-backs, he’s no slouch at covering ground in the back half in a more traditional safety role. He isn’t a true burner that can cover from the middle to the sideline from single high, but he has the build-up speed to cover the sideline in a two-high shell.
Where Stevens excels
Against the run, Stevens works hard to hold the edge and not give up ground against blockers, squeezing down and forcing rushers either back inside or to bounce outside where he has the athleticism and physicality to wrestle them to the ground. He can even rush the passer a bit off the edge, although it would be nice to see him refine his hands a bit and have a more defined plan of attack.
The issues in Stevens game stem from his lack of quick twitch mobility and flexibility in his lower half. Although he’s versatile in deployment, he should never be asked to cover wide receivers in man-to-man coverage without safety help behind, and he probably shouldn’t do it at all. His inability to fluidly change direction could make him a candidate for a “position change” at the next level. This just means he can play the same role he does now, only with an “LB” next to his name on the roster instead of an “S.”
Because of his lackluster athletic ability as a traditional safety, it’ll be interesting to see how teams value Stevens. His ability as a football player could easily land him in day two, but his in between status in regards to position could hurt his draft stock in the end. But Stevens is just one of the great LSU safeties suiting up in 2020.
Kary Vincent Jr: The speed demon
This young man can FLY. Vincent was the top-ranked 200-meter sprinter in the country as a high school recruit and was an All-American in the 4×100 as a sophomore. He ran a 10.07 in the 100-meter dash at the LSU Invitational as well. For reference, Henry Ruggs III‘s Alabama record was a 10.58.
Vincent was a four star cornerback recruit from Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas. He plays both in the slot as a cornerback and as a safety for LSU, but his continued struggles as a cover corner could lend to a full-time position change to safety. He would be a perfect candidate for a single high free safety. Vincent has shown he has the ball skills and leaping ability to contend with wideouts in jump ball situations.
Although in the Texas A&M game, he covered Quartney Davis quite a bit in the slot and had some success, he is far too loose and passive in coverage to be trusted on a down-to-down basis. He isn’t necessarily tentative when it comes to contact consistently, but there are examples of passive closings when other defenders are also entering the area.
Even though his pure anticipatory skills in the back end don’t necessarily breed confidence, his ridiculous range will make up for some slow processing at times. If an NFL team is cover one and three heavy, they should consider Vincent as their starting free safety with that range. But his natural fluidity and suddenness mean he can also come down and cover slot receivers if he can tighten up his technique.
Todd Harris Jr: The “what if” guy
Harris is another former four star recruit, and his reported testing numbers explain why. He ran a 4.51 and jumped 41 inches coming from high school, and even though he didn’t play in three games in 2019, it was easy to see why he’s a potential 2021 Draft prospect at safety.
Harris is another free safety type who can come down and cover in the slot, but he does it more with length and fluidity than shocking suddenness like Vincent. Hopefully, his knee injury does affect his athleticism, because it’s fun to watch how smooth he moves playing in off coverage.
He’s certainly not without flaws, as he struggled on a rep against the much more physical Collin Johnson going downfield. He was in a good position over the top and flipped in a half turn to run with Johnson, but he grabbed as the ball was in the air, they got tripped up, and he got a penalty out of it.
Harris is known as one of the hardest working players on the entire LSU team, if not the hardest worker. He displays good range and some fun click and close ability from his deep safety position. If he can come back healthy and remain that way in 2020 he could see his stock skyrocket into the day two discussion with the flashes he’s shown.