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Sophomores Will Need to Make Giant Leap For LSU Football to Reach Full Potential in 2021

Ricks, Ojulari will be major parts of improved defense while Boutte will be No. 1 option on offense

Some of LSU's top talent during the 2020 season came from the freshmen on the roster. Each one showed flashes of immense potential and those players will be critical for the Tigers to return back to SEC and championship contention. 

The big names are obvious: TJ Finley, Max Johnson, Kayshon Boutte, Jaquelin Roy, BJ Ojulari and Elias Ricks. If all make the kind of jump in their games that many expect, LSU's prognosis for the 2021 season will be dramatically different than the 5-5 season the program just endured. 

Starting with the freshmen quarterbacks, Finley and Johnson started seven of the 10 games with both displaying what the future of the quarterback could look like in Baton Rouge. Finley will likely work on his decision making and accuracy as the physical tools are there for him to be a dominant SEC quarterback with improvements in both of those areas. 

He has a strong arm and is the kind of game changing playmaker that helped LSU pick up wins over South Carolina and Arkansas. However, his high turnover rate and inconsistency, all common for a freshman, were reasons the team was blown out by Auburn and Alabama.

As for Johnson, the freshman lefty was extremely impressive in wins over Florida and Ole Miss, tossing for 674 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for an additional 97 yards. Johnson is mobile but like Finley, could stand to improve his deep ball throwing and accuracy all around. 

With Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier also in the quarterback room, it'll be interesting to see if both Finley and Johnson are on the roster in the fall. If both show immense improvement and can't edge out Brennan, then does one consider a transfer? Stranger things have happened. 

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Boutte exploded onto the SEC scene in the final three weeks of the season when both Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert opted out of the season. The freshman totaled 527 yards and four touchdowns in those final three games, including an SEC record 308 yards against Ole Miss. 

Entering his sophomore season, Boutte is the clear cut No. 1 option for the Tigers at receiver. He'll have more competition for targets with five new freshmen as well as potential development from Koy Moore and Jaray Jenkins to further complement the group. 

On the defensive line, Roy and Ojulari will be extremely important to an improved defense. LSU is returning all of its starters from a season ago, including Glen Logan and Neil Farrell on the interior, which will make for an interesting rotation. Roy really came on late in the season as his reps improved while Ojulari figures to be an every down player because of his constant pressure on the quarterback.

Ed Orgeron has constantly talked about how he views Ojulari as a future All-American and that only comes with him earning more snaps. He's already the most talented pass rusher on the roster after a four sack freshman season and will make for a dominant force alongside Andre Anthony and Ali Gaye.

As for Ricks, he earned a third team All-American bid following a great freshman campaign that included four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. In man coverage during his freshman campaign, Ricks graded as an 84.2 on PFF, which was second best in the country.

It could be argued that because of the poor play from the secondary this season, Ricks grading out as one of the best in man coverage is as impressive as any stat in this freshman class. Ricks' development will likely hinder on adding muscle and continuing to improve his technique in zone coverage. 

All sx of these sophomores will be critical in getting LSU back into championship contention. That all starts with this offseason of development, one that should hopefully be a bit more traditional than the last one.