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Why so many top WR recruits choose LSU despite it being a power-running program

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Les Miles' Tigers would be content to run the ball 60 times a game if they could. So how do they bring in so many future pros?

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Godfrey: Bud, I'm a five-star wide receiver recruit from the state of Louisiana.

Bud: You are?

Godfrey: Yeah, I'm really good, too. Right now I'm watching LSU run the vaunted Leonard Fournette Until You Surrender offense, and I'm wondering why I shouldn't play for a pass-happy power like TCU or Baylor, or a more vertically inclined SEC program.

Bud: So you're really good?

Godfrey: Oh yeah. I'm like a Julio Jones android.

Bud: You're playing for LSU.

Godfrey: That's often true, and that surprises some people.

SMU's Chad Morris and Baylor's Art Briles, both former Texas high school coaches, claim air raid and up-tempo concepts found success in Texas because they appealed to athletes who would play wide receiver. Back when Texas was still adherent to the two-back running style of most professional teams, receivers were largely relegated to blocking. Briles and Morris said kids suited for the position began to lose interest in the sport at an early age and opt for basketball instead.

And yet today, at the height of the spread era, programs like LSU are producing the best receivers in the nation while riding a running back to wins.

Bud: Right, but Louisiana and Texas are very different places in recruiting and culture.

Godfrey: Occasionally I'll talk to a colleague who covers the NFL or an NFL fan who doesn't follow college, and they'll point to Odell Beckham Jr. or Rueben Randle or Dwayne Bowe or Jarvis Landry with the assumption that LSU must be some kind of power passing program. Or that Les Miles is running some kind of WR U. Which is insane to think, but I guess it ... isn't?

Bud: It might seem strange that so many highly rated receiver prospects would end up in an offense that doesn't feature that position, but it's a pretty easy two-point answer.

First, LSU is extremely good at recruiting its own very talented state. Geography matters much more than fans of schools in regions without talent want to admit.

Second, it's all about the NFL. I'm sure they'd like to catch more balls, but recruits know LSU has had 12 receivers drafted in the last 10 drafts, including three first-rounders and two seconds. That's as good as any school in America.

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Godfrey: So let's take the case of Malachi Dupre, a New Orleans native and a five-star receiver prospect in the 2014 class. Some services had him as the best receiver in the country. In his freshman season, he caught 14 passes for 312 yards and five TDs. Halfway through 2015, he's caught 18 balls for 311 yards and 4 TDs, including two receptions for 50-plus yards in Saturday's win over Florida.

Dupre is on pace to double his steady production, yet you can't help but wonder what he'd be like in an offense that throws more. LSU is dead last in the SEC in pass attempts (18.2) and yards (135.5) per game.

Bud: Well, they do have that running back.

Godfrey: Sure. If you have Fournette, you do that, and you do that every week until someone can stop it. But short of the Zach Mettenberger years, when has LSU been an attractive place for a wide receiver who wants to feature prominently?

And yet they produce NFL star after NFL star. During Beckham's final year, LSU was tied for 12th in the SEC with 25 attempts a game, and that was with Mettenberger, arguably the best pure passer to play at LSU in decades.

Bud: For comparison's sake, Baylor had four NFL receivers since 2010 and none between 1994 and 2009. These kids haven't seen as much success from Baylor receivers in getting to the league, and their parents haven't either. In time, Baylor could get there, but it is going to take a bit.

And I'd add this: other than getting noticed, how does catching 20 extra bubble screens or pop passes help me prep for the NFL? I guess it helps me show off my run-after-catch skills? Much of what these spread receivers are doing does not translate to the league.

Godfrey: We've seen fierce condemnation of the spread and tempo offense by NFL scouts as it relates to quarterbacks. I don't think that will ever bleed over to the receiver position, but I have had defensive coordinators tell me that the more options an offense has for targets, the less frequent each player gets to work on reception technique and ball security.

Bud: I do think there is some bleed-over to the receiver position. Receivers in the NFL do not have the same space to work with that the college spread creates. The arguments about gimmick stuff and receivers in those systems not having to make contested catches or read coverages? They aren't just totally made up, despite how much some in the media want to talk like the spread is so progressive without sacrificing development.

Godfrey: I think the assumption is that top high school prospects are looking at offenses like Baylor or Auburn as enticing. Yet top receiver after top receiver shows up in Baton Rouge. Guys like Randle, Dupre, and ODB are all homegrowns, but surely that's not the sole reason they go to run block for Les ... is it?

Bud: Well I'd take issue with Auburn, since it is a spread option attack and no receiver has caught 50 passes since Gus Malzahn returned as head coach. Aside from recent NFL success, if I'm recruiting for the Tigers against a Baylor, I'm telling the kid he doesn't want to play against terrible defense in the Big 12 because it doesn't prepare him for the league, and I'm pointing out that all these "gimmick" -- whether you like the term, I'm using it -- offenses are not turning huge catch numbers into huge NFL dollars.

Look at the current top 10 in receiving yards per game in the NFL. DeAndre Hopkins was recruited to a pre-Chad Morris Clemson. Julio Jones played at Alabama. Keenan Allen played at a pre-Sonny Dykes Cal. Others played for pro-style offenses at Pitt, Georgia and Miami. The closest thing to a spread product in the top 10 might be Demaryius Thomas, who was recruited by Cowboys and Bills head coach Chan Gailey but played in Paul Johnson's running spread.


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Godfrey: Schematics aside, we're still talking about Louisiana and LSU. When people ask me about Miles' longevity with the Tigers, I always end up talking about Frank Wilson, Miles' top recruiter. I'm not sure there's a coach alive who can recruit the city of New Orleans better. The second best coach in the country at working in Louisiana is Ed Orgeron, and he's on the same staff.

Bud: Wilson is a beast down there. Of course, a lot of people could probably recruit to LSU well, given that there are no other Power Five programs in that state, but yeah, he is special.

Godfrey: I just looked up Julio Jones' stat line for his sophomore year at Alabama: 43 catches, 596 yards, four TDs. Dupre's in good company, I guess.