How Arden Key's absence could impact LSU's pass rush
The news that Arden Key is stepping away from football, at least temporarily, sent shockwaves throughout the college football world this afternoon. If Key indeed doesn’t return in time for the start of the 2017 season, it’s a huge blow to the LSU Tigers’ defense, with Key recently named Pro Football Focus’ top returning player in the SEC. Just how big a loss will he be for the Tigers? Let’s take a look at where the news leaves LSU’s pass rush.
Key racked up 12 sacks, 13 hits and 29 hurries on 291 pass-rushing snaps last season, good enough to average a pressure once every 5.4 pass-rushing attempts. One of the top pass-rushers in the nation, the loss of Key alone would be huge for an LSU team that has realistic ambitions of challenging for an SEC Championship, and a place in the College Football Playoff, but when you consider that they are already losing Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux, there should be serious concern about where the LSU pass rush is going to come from in 2017.
Adding those four together (Key, Bower, Neal and Godchaux), LSU is losing 27 sacks, 29 hits and 72 total QB pressures from their 2016 defense on the edge and the defensive interior. Making matters worse, with linebacker Duke Riley contributing as a blitzer last year, and now on his way to the NFL, this LSU defense doesn’t return any players who had more than one sack, or seven total QB pressures, in 2016.
Key is the biggest loss, though, and while he wasn’t a force against the run in the first two seasons of his college career, he did provide 30 percent of the LSU pass rush last year, and there really isn’t much to get excited about as a replacement for him if he doesn’t come back in time for the start of the 2017 season. This could be the type of blow that sinks LSU’s season before it even begins.