Leading up to kickoff on the Ponderosa, TSD is ranking the 10 best returning LSU players. We’ll take a close look at each Tiger, breaking down his career to this point and projecting impact for the 2015 season.
We’ve already profiled:
No. 2 Tre’Davious White
Today we identify and expound upon the player atop our list, sophomore running back Leonard Fournette.
WHAT HE’S DONE SO FAR
For starters Fournette arrived at LSU as arguably the most heralded signee in the history of the program. The St. Augustine product was Scout’s top overall player in the Class of 2014, and he didn’t disappoint in his freshman campaign. Despite splitting time for much of the fall with two senior backs, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, Fournette led the team in carries (187), rushing yards (1,034 yards) and rushing touchdowns (10).
The 1,034 rushing yards eclipsed Justin Vincent’s freshman record at LSU, set in 2003. And consider that the next highest rushing totals from LSU in 2014 were 583 yards (Magee) and six touchdowns (Hilliard). Translation: Fournette, a member of the All-SEC Freshman Team, was the main man in the backfield for an offense that ran the ball on 69.2% of its plays.
Down the stretch Fournette really showed just what he’s capable of as a workhorse. He started six of LSU’s final seven games. During that stretch Fournette had 140 yards and two touchdowns at Florida, 113 yards versus Ole Miss, 146 yards and a touchdown at Texas A&M and 143 yards and two scores in the bowl loss to Notre Dame. For good measure No. 7 also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against the Irish. On the season he had 24 of the Tigers’ 29 kickoff returns for 625 yards (26.0-yard average) and the score in Nashville.
PROJECTING HIS IMPACT IN 2015
So proven and decorated is Fournette that only one question remains for his sophomore follow-up: Just how much of the burden – and ball – will Frank Wilson and Cam Cameron allow him to carry? The LSU staff is always big on sharing the load, allowing multiple backs to get involved, so that may prevent Fournette from being a legitimate Heisman candidate. But he has the stuff to be one of the most dominant forces in the SEC.
In 2015 Fournette, even with Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice in tow, should shoulder as high a percentage of the backfield load as any Tiger since Stevan Ridley in 2010. A natural pass-catcher, he’s also likely to improve on his receiving totals from last fall of seven catches for 127 yards. It is fair to wonder if Fournette will continue to return kicks in his second season, particularly as his role at tailback expands. It’s not a question of aptitude (Fournette showed in the bowl game he’s right for the job). But at LSU there’s never a shortage of game-breaking returners.
The bottom line with a talent like Fournette is LSU’s entering the second of three years it will get with the once-in-generation player. In college terms this is his prime. So expectations will rightly be through the roof both statistically and in terms of his overall impact on the team. No other player will have quite that spotlight, not even the quarterbacks. That’s why Fournette is No. 1.