LSU replenished its talent pool that was weakened by 11 underclassmen entering the NFL draft when it signed one of the nation’s highest-rated recruiting classes Wednesday.
National Signing Day brought 27 new players officially into the program. Two recruiting services ranked LSU’s class No. 5 in the country and two others ranked it No. 7.
Eight of the recruits are in school and will participate in spring practice next month.
“This class really fits the needs that this team has and ultimately that’s the most important piece,” coach Les Miles said.
“I think the depth of this recruiting class is very strong. I don’t think there’s much difference between the highest-ranked guy and the lowest-ranked guy.
“Every class since I’ve been here (2005) has been designed to meet what are very specific needs. We had 11 guys go to the NFL at a variety of positions. We did our best to (offset) that loss. I think this is as strong a class as we’ve signed.”
The Tigers class got a last-minute boost when defensive end Tashawn Bower, of Somerville, N.J., and a four-star (out of five) recruit, chose LSU just hours after defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, of Logansville, Ga., and the nation’s No. 1 recruit, chose Ole Miss over LSU and Florida, as expected.
Bower, who had rescinded his commitment to Auburn, spurned Florida to sign with LSU at the last minute.
Miles said Bower gives LSU the type of talented defensive end it has been used to having but was lacking after juniors Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery joined seniors Lavar Edwards and Chauncey Aghayere in the draft.
“He’s exactly what we needed,” Miles said. “He’s a tremendous get for us and he fills a need that this team had to have. I don’t know if I would have felt as good about this class if we did not have Tashawn.”
Bower rescinded his verbal commitment to Auburn after it fired coach Gene Chizik in November.
“It was really a last-minute thing, but you have to go with your gut feeling and I think going to LSU will be the best thing for me,” Bower said. “This morning, I thought maybe Florida, then LSU, and back and forth all throughout last night and this morning.”
In addition to Mingo and Montgomery, the early departures included four other defensive starters from last season — tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid and cornerback Tharold Simon.
Additionally, former All-America cornerback Tyrann Mathieu entered the draft with two years of eligibility remaining after being kicked off the team in August.
The Tigers, who signed 14 defensive players and 13 offensive players, added three linebackers and four defensive backs, none of which is a true safety, but Miles said at least two of the cornerbacks have the ability to move to safety.
Otherwise, LSU met each of its position needs.
“Our first need was with four defensive ends graduating and two defensive tackles we had to replace them with a very, very quality defensive line class,” Miles said. “We had three defensive tackles and four defensive ends — need met.”
The Tigers also bolstered the offensive line, where they lost four players and replaced them with, according to Miles, “probably the best five-man class in the offensive line that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Miles said LSU addressed other needs with “two very quality young quarterbacks that will give us the ability to throw it and run it” as well as four tall receivers ranging from 6-foot-1 to 6-4.
Miles said he expects wide receiver Quantavius Leslie to get his junior-college academic issues in order by the fall.
Defensive tackle Tevin Lawson, of Denham Springs and a former LSU commitment, hasn’t signed. He’s weighing offers from other schools after the Tigers asked him to pay his own way for a year before going on scholarship in 2014.
Defensive back Jeremy Cutrer, of Jewel Sumner, is investigating junior college options after failing to qualify academically.
Though Wednesday was just the first day of the signing period, Miles said, “We’re done with prospects for this class.”
Of the 27 recruits, 15 came from other states, including California, New Jersey, Illinois and Nebraska, leading Miles to call them “maybe the most diverse geographical class that we’ve had.”