Generally when a three-star center prospect makes a non-binding verbal commitment in March, it doesn’t throw the news cycle on its head. Not surprisingly, when Cole Smith committed to LSU’s 2018 class last weekend, it was more of a footnote than a headline.
You will have to forgive the purple and gold faithful for not popping corks. Smith’s only other major offer was from Oregon with a whole lot of Tulane, Arkansas State, Marshall and Troy mixed in. Not only was Smith not among the top-300 prospects, he barely squeezed in the top-800 prospects list (he’s No. 798 nationally) if such a thing existed. Despite the fact the he’s a Mississippi State legacy – his dad, Brent Smith, played for the Bulldogs and spent nine seasons in the NFL – and a top-20 prospect in Mississippi, Dan Mullen had yet to offer the younger Smith.
Understandably, much of the reaction to the offer and subsequent commitment was head scratching and not high-fiving.
Take one glance at LSU’s roster, however, and realize why Smith was prioritized and his commitment celebrated by the coaching staff. LSU lists only two centers on the roster: Will Clapp, who will be transitioning from guard to replace Ethan Pocic, and Lloyd Cushenberry III, who is only now getting his first crack at the position with Clapp out for Spring with a shoulder injury. Veteran center Andy Dodd announced his transfer late last month and LSU did not sign a center in the 2017 class.
Let’s spell it out: If Clapp leaves after 2017, his fourth year in Baton Rouge, LSU will enter the 2018 season with Cushenberry as the only option for the position on the line that makes every call and touches the ball on every play. LSU has been spoiled by a decade of Brett Helms, T-Bob Hebert, P.J. Lonergan, Elliot Porter and Pocic. For the first time in a decade, the next star is not in the queue.
In the name of full disclosure, the next snap of football I see Smith play will be my first. What I do know is that he has good size (6 feet 4, 275 pounds), NFL bloodlines and athletic enough to at least play tackle in high school. It is easy to get caught up in the low star ranking, but the truth is, scouting services don’t value centers. Consider that the top-rated center for the 2018 class, Justin Dedich is only a four star who ranks just outside the top-250 prospects in the nation in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Smith’s commitment is a big deal for Ed Orgeron’s staff because it shows a deal of forward thinking by prioritizing a position that could be either solidified for the next two years with Clapp or serve as a major hole this time next year. By not wasting time and adding Smith now, the coaching staff addresses a position of need with a prospect on the rise who clearly want to be at LSU.
Tigers fans may not celebrate Smith’s star ranking, but they should take note that Orgeron and his staff are building a roster with the foresight to address needs before they become problems.
(You can follow Matt Moscona on Twitter @MattMoscona)
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