D.J. Chark leads LSU players' breakout picks

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Everyone has their candidates to become breakout performers in 2015 -- even LSU's players themselves.

The Tigers are now two-thirds of the way through spring practice, so we asked a handful of LSU players to consider what they've witnessed so far this spring and answer the following question:

"Who is a player that the average fan might not know well yet, but who they'll be talking about this fall?"

The most popular answer? Sophomore receiver D.J. Chark.

"For sure right now, off spring football, it's D.J. Chark," senior safety Jalen Mills said. "He's been playing at a very high level for us. I think he's moved into a starting role. That's what I've been seeing in practice, and he's been playing off the charts right now. Hopefully he keeps it up and makes the team better."

LSU coach Les Miles has credited Chark with at least one touchdown catch after each of the Tigers' three spring scrimmages, which would be a huge step forward from a freshman season where he appeared in six games, but did not record a reception.

Miles said the speedy wideout is playing with improved confidence, and Chark's teammates seem to agree.

"You hear about Travin Dural and Trey Quinn and John Diarse and myself at receiver because we got the bulk of the plays last year," sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre said. "But I feel like D.J. Chark is making full strides and working towards playing time for himself. I feel like he's done a great job this spring. His biggest thing was confidence. It wasn't his physical abilities at all."

Sophomore running back Leonard Fournette said of Chark: "He's a sophomore now with us and stepping up, making big plays. I always knew he had it in him, but you didn't want to put him out there too early. But he's coming along big time."

Here are some other Tigers' picks for 2015 breakout players:

Offensive lineman Vadal Alexander's pick: Weakside linebacker Deion Jones

Alexander offered up several names, including tight end DeSean Smith and the interior linemen -- he named Garrett Brumfield, Josh Boutte, Will Clapp, Andy Dodd and K.J. Malone -- who are competing for starting jobs. His first pick was Jones, though, who is taking over for Kwon Alexander at linebacker.

"He plays extremely fast," Alexander said. "He's really learning how to take on blocks now, because in the SEC you can't run around everybody. You've got to take on people and he's doing a really good job of that. He's the fastest linebacker I've faced since I've been at LSU. He's really talented, sees things fast and he's improving. He's probably had the best spring out of all the linebackers."

Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith's pick: Safety Rickey Jefferson

"He had his moments last year with interceptions and things, but I feel like people might not respect him enough or see him as that type of player yet," Beckwith said. "I feel like he's going to have a breakout-type, a real good year for us. [He can] come up, hit, cover. He's been doing it all. I feel like he's kind of under the radar, but once the season gets started, people will see."

Cornerback Tre'Davious White's pick: Cornerback Russell Gage

"He's making so many plays -- intercepting the ball, breaking the ball up, bringing energy," White said. "He's going to be a great player. He didn't play last year, just trying to adjust to everything and I feel like this year, he's going to be a guy that makes a lot of plays once he gets on the field."

Tight end DeSean Smith's pick: Defensive tackle Greg Gilmore

"Every time I watch Greg, he's busting his butt," Smith said. "He's out there, he's doing real good and I feel like he'll blow up for sure. That's the first name that came to my mind."

Defensive end Lewis Neal's pick: Defensive end Maquedius Bain

"He's had to switch positions, but he's learning and he's still getting better at what he does," Neal said of Bain, who played defensive tackle last season. "Obviously he didn't play a lot last year. We both were in the same boat. But it's that time to come, to step up. So that's a name that nobody knows. That's one person I can name off the defensive line that you will hear."

Neal offered that compliment to his teammate, but he was also quick to note that it's still on Bain and the other players mentioned to truly earn that praise.

The breakout candidates have apparently made strides this spring, but they still have plenty to prove.

"You really can't make a suggestion about whose name will be heard because it's all about that person," Neal said. "I can say that, but what if it comes back to haunt me because they didn't follow through? It's all about your drive and your effort to get there. That's huge credibility if you put that on yourself. … If that person has that drive, they can be all that they want to be."