Meet the replacements: LSU football’s next men up

The two-year wave of underclassmen departing for the NFL draft won’t hurt the LSU football program, coach Les Miles insists.

LSU recruits with the expectation that some will leave early.

But what about LSU’s competitors, who might have more seasoned and mature players? The response quickly leaps from Miles’ mouth: “Or have lesser players,” he snapped.

LSU has lost 16 underclassmen to the NFL draft in the past two years. That number is 18 if you include safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed before the 2012 season, and running back Alfred Blue, who chose not to use a fifth year of eligibility this year.

The Tigers lost two underclassmen after the 2010 season, three in 2011 and 10 in 2012. They managed to replace much of the production those years. The three following teams combined for a 33-7 record.

Can they do it again? The Tigers must replace six departing underclassmen, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said this week that he expects some reserves last year to emerge — players “we’ll build things around,” he said.

So who are those guys? Here’s our best shot at answering that question.

Running back

Who left: Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, a senior who chose not to use a fifth year of eligibility

Production lost: 54 percent of rushing touchdowns (20), 70 percent of rushing yards (1,845)

The candidates

Terrence Magee

Briefly: Junior, 5-foot-9, 214 pounds, Franklinton High

Experience: Has played in 27 games but has not started.

Production: Has run for 777 yards and nine touchdowns.

The scoop: Magee had a breakout season in 2013, running for 626 yards and eight scores. He averaged a whopping 7.3 yards per carry, the best average of any one of LSU’s regular runners. He showed the ability to find a tight seam and squeeze through it.

Kenny Hilliard

Briefly: Senior, 6-3, 230, Patterson High

Experience: Has played in 37 games, starting once.

Production: Has amassed 1,110 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns and averages more than 5 yards a carry.

The scoop: Hilliard finished fourth on the team in carries last season, but expect that to change in 2014. He began his career with a surprising freshman season before being stuck behind Hill and a stable of backs the past two years. He has had bright spots, including three 100-yard games.

Leonard Fournette

Briefly: Verbal commitment, 6-1, 225, St. Augustine High

Experience: None at the college level.

Production: During his senior year of high school, he ran for 1,793 yards on 194 carries, a 9.2-yard-per-carry average.

The scoop: One recruiting analyst called Fournette the “best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson.” He’s the top-rated recruit in the nation by all of the major recruiting serves. He’s expected to immediately compete for playing time as a true freshman.

Also keep an eye on: Darrel Williams, a verbal commitment from John Ehret

Wide receiver

Who left: Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry

Production lost: 71 percent of receiving yards (2,345), 78 percent of touchdowns (18)

The candidates

Travin Dural

Briefly: Sophomore, 6-2, 182, Breaux Bridge High

Experience: Played in 12 games this past season with no starts.

Production: Made seven catches for 145 yards and two scores in 2013.

The scoop: Dural might be the fastest player on the team, teammates say. His role was minor this past season, but all seven of his catches went for touchdowns or first downs. That includes his 49-yard, game-winning TD catch against Arkansas.

Quantavius Leslie

Briefly: Senior, 6-4, 175, Hinds (Miss.) Community College

Experience: A junior-college transfer last year, he played in four games this past season.

Production: Has caught one pass for 11 yards.

The scoop: Leslie has a tall, lanky frame, and one would expect LSU to use him this upcoming season more than last year. He was buried behind the best receiving duo in LSU history last season. Leslie was a former four-star prospect out of Callaway High School in Hogansville, Ga.

Also keep an eye on: Freshman John Diarse; recruiting target Malachi Dupre of John Curtis; Barbe High’s Trey Quinn, a verbal commitment.

Right guard

Who left: Trai Turner

Production lost: Started every game in 2013 and played in all 13 games in 2012 with seven starts

The candidates

Fehoko Fanaika

Briefly: Senior, 6-6, 348, College of San Mateo

Experience: Played in 12 games this past season with most, if not all, on special teams.

Production: He helped College of San Mateo, a California junior college, run for an average of 300 yards in 2011.

The scoop: Left tackle La’el Collins made a push for Fanaika to take over the position during his returning announcement earlier this week. Fanaika “would be a great fit for that right guard position because he’s a strong, athletic big guy,” Collins said.

Also keep an eye on: Sophomore Ethan Pocic; freshman Andy Dodd; Garrett Brumfield, a verbal commitment from University High; junior Jonah Austin.

Defensive tackle

Who left: Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson

Production lost: Had 25 of 26 possible starts this past season and had a combined 94 tackles

The candidates

Christian LaCouture

Briefly: Sophomore, 6-5, 298, Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest High

Experience: Played in all 13 games with no starts this past season.

Production: Played in every game and had 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss and a sack.

The scoop: LaCouture served as the No. 3 defensive tackle behind Johnson and Ferguson this year, rotating in for, sometimes, long stretches. LaCouture was rated a four-star recruit by both 247 Sports and Scout.com.

Quentin Thomas

Briefly: Junior, 6-3, 290, Breaux Bridge High

Experience: Started one game and played in 11 this past season.

Production: Has tallied 10 total tackles in his career, nine of those this past season.

The scoop: A consensus three-star prospect, Thomas joined LaCouture as the first men off the bench to spell Johnson and Ferguson. He wasn’t as productive, but he started in the Outback Bowl in place of Ferguson, who did not make the trip.