The one position on LSU’s defense coach Brian Kelly believed had stability was defensive tackle.
Since the team’s victory in the ReliaQuest Bowl, that spot has taken on plenty of water with no viable options.
LSU, which had already lost Mekhi Wingo to the 2024 NFL Draft and three other reserves to the NCAA transfer portal, suffered another blow to their experienced depth when redshirt sophomore Maason Smith declared for the NFL Draft.
“To Tiger Nation, thank you for being the most passionate fan base in America,” Smith wrote on his social media platforms. “Through the good and bad, thank you for embracing me and allowing me to live out my dreams in the BEST atmosphere in college football.”
The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Smith was listed among the Top 50 NFL Draft prospects by The Athletic going into the 2023 season but the native of Houma, who was coming an ACL injury in 2022, never reached those expectations. After missing the team’s opening game with Florida State because of an NCAA suspension, Smith ranked 14th with 28 tackles to go with 4 ½ TFLs and 6 ½ sacks – including one in the final moments to help the Tigers cement their 35-31 bowl win over Wisconsin.
Smith arrived at LSU in the spring of 2021 as the nation’s No. 1 defensive line prospect signed by then head coach Ed Orgeron. He was named to the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team, and earned a spot on the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America team with 19 tackles, 5 ½ TFLs and four sacks in nine games – four of which he started.
Smith looked to carry over the momentum from his freshman season and promptly suffered a season-ending knee injury while celebrating a teammates’ tackle on the first series of the season against Florida State.
Smith concluded his 22-game career (17 starts) with 47 tackles, 9 ½ tackles and 6 ½ sacks.
LSU’s now lost Wingo and Smith to the ’24 NFL Draft. The Tigers also won’t have back Jordan Jefferson who exhausted his eligibility, while Fitzgerald West, Tygee Hill and Bryce Langston all entered the transfer portal.
The Tigers return redshirt senior Jacobian Guillory and seniors Paris Shand and Jalen Lee.
Kelly signed high school player De’Myrion Johnson of Westgate and former Georgia signee, Shone Washington of East Mississippi Community College, in December. The Tigers also have a commitment from the state’s top prospect in defensive tackle Dominick McKinley of Acadiana, who makes his official visit to LSU this weekend and will sign in February.