Philosophers have wondered for ages, what will LALJ be like? Life after Lamar Jackson is scary. The most electric and dominant CFF QB of the forward pass era, Jackson now takes his talents to the NFL, and Jawon “Puma” Pass has the unenviable task of replacing him. Full disclosure, if you asked me last year around this time how I thought this transition would go, I would have said very poorly. Here we are in spring of 2018 and I have swung with the pendulum, and I’m now both excited and optimistic. I’ve attempted to sever my expectations for Pass to replicate what Jackson was able to do and just looked at him as his own man, playing in a new season. What we can learn from Jackson’s tenure is that this offense can support a juggernaut at QB. Pass has been praised by his teammates and the staff all spring for the way that he has commanded the offense. We will get to it in a little bit, but he has a better, more experienced supporting staff than what Jackson had surrounding him. Pass was recently timed with a sub 4.6 40-yard-dash and logged a 35-inch vertical jump. His explosiveness translates well to the field, and he is a developing passer. Behind him, rFR Malik Cunningham is an undersized and electric runner. Cunningham threw for 2,915 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for another 1,015 yards and 19 scores as a senior. If he was called upon in 2018, then I think the offense would change pretty considerably and the pass catchers would take a hit. The offensive line should be better this season and that should help the probability that Pass can stay healthy and this offense can more optimally function. Keep an eye on massive SO OT project, Meckhi Becton.
The pass catchers have taken a lot of criticism from various groups over the past few months. The WR trio of Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins combined for 147-2321-20 receiving in 2017. The production isn’t what caused the ridicule for this group, it was the drops. According to Pro Football Focus, the talented trio dropped 18 balls on 165 catchable passes. That drop rate of 9.16 is actually right about the national average last season, according to the same source. If you are wanting individual drops rates – Smith 10.45, Fitzpatrick 15.09, and Dawkins 6.67. While Fitzpatrick’s numbers are the most glaring, in fairness, he also made a bunch of catches that very few players are talented enough to make. Assuming these three stay healthy, I believe the fourth wide receiver that will factor in will be Tutu Atwell. The 5’9” and 155-pound true freshman just ran a 4.33 40 yard dash and was an incredible dual-threat QB in Miami, Florida last season. The aforementioned trio can all run well and have plenty of size, but Atwell’s contrast in size and skill is attractive to me. There is a chance that Smith, Fitzpatrick, and Dawkins could all go to the NFL next season and that would mean Atwell could be much more valuable as a CFF asset in 2019. As far as 2018 goes, I’m not sure who the WR1 will be. Smith makes sense on the surface due to his role in 2016 and 2017, but we now have a new QB which can change things. I believe all three players have value in both CFF and Devy leagues. Cole Hikutini was extremely valuable as a CFF TE in 2016 as he finished with 50-668-8 receiving. There wasn’t much productivity from the TE spot in 2017, but that could change in 2018. Well, maybe. I was pretty excited about the signing of former Eastern Michigan and JUCO TE, Nigel Kilby. At 6’8” and 250 pounds, the matchup problem he presents is very apparent. He was announced as a signee for Louisville in the early signing period but not in February. He isn’t listed on the official roster either so I’m guessing he didn’t make the grades and may not be a part of the team this fall. I’m really not sure who they go with if he isn’t on the team.
The RB room has a lot of diversity in their skill sets. Unfortunately, they have been shorthanded this spring. This excerpt from the Courier-Journal gives a nice breakdown of the landscape, as of April 4, 2018:
“Dae Williams posted on social media over the weekend a picture of him in a walking boot on his left foot. The football program posts online blog updates after each spring practice, and Williams has not appeared on the field in any of them.
A team spokesman declined to discuss injuries when asked about Williams’ status Tuesday. When spring practice began, head coach Bobby Petrino did not list Williams among injured players.
Outside of Williams, Louisville is inexperienced at running back. Sophomore Colin Wilson is still limited by a torn ACL he suffered against Murray State last year. The team moved Malik Staples from linebacker to running back in the offseason. The only other scholarship running back is Trey Smith, though fullback Tobias Little can also earn carries out of the backfield.”
Trey Smith seemed like the RB1 in the most recent scrimmage. Tobias Little is a very interesting player as he is one of the strongest players on the team and I’ve heard Bobby Petrino say that he can catch. I’m not very interested in this group from a CFF standpoint right now.
Last year’s defense was terrible. I believe that there is reason for optimism this fall. They played a good bit of youth last season and they are now a year older. They are now eating the fruit from the worst coaching swap in CFB history, DC Todd Grantham for Peter Sirmon. Sirmon was unceremoniously canned and now another retread, Brian VanGorder, takes over. I like the talent, but I don’t care for BVG. The players that interest me on their defense are both linebackers. LB Dorian Etheridge led the team in tackles last season as true freshman. Robert Hicks will be a true freshman LB this season who enrolled early and I think he could be a really good player as well. This LB group could be pretty good for the next few years as there are several other talented players on the roster. Jonathan Greenard is a good player that only started five games last season but had 15.5 TFL and seven sacks. I’m looking forward to seeing how this secondary holds up against the pass and whether or not teams will still be able to bully the DL on the ground. If they aren’t better on the DL then they will be another nice fade against teams that can run and a favorable matchup to start RBs against in CFF.