Eclipsing 1,000 yards and rushing for 10 touchdowns would be a stellar freshman season for most running backs. However, Leonard Fournette arrived at LSU last season amid fanfare not typical of most college running backs.
The 5-star prospect out of New Orleans was hyped as a Heisman candidate before ever practicing with the Tigers, let alone taking a snap in purple and gold. Perhaps the expectations set for Fournette were unrealistic. Otherwise, a 1,034-yard, 10-touchdown campaign would be a resounding success.
Talk of Leonard Fournette this offseason is less about how impressive he looked as a freshman, and more on how much he’s improving as a sophomore. So says LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who told ESPN 104.5 in Baton Rouge the running back is the most improved Tiger of the spring.
Given the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Leonard Fournette was a beast in his freshman season, reports of such marked improvement suggest he’s in for a monstrous sophomore campaign. Dare I say, Heisman caliber?
OK, perhaps I should pump the brakes on that talk. While the immediate outlook for running backs chasing the Heisman in 2015 is promising, what with Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Fournette all in the mix, a decade-plus of precedent says it’s still a quarterback’s award.
Moreover, renewing the Heisman chatter for Leonard Fournette is again setting the bar perhaps unattainably high on him yet again.
Maybe he wants it that way. Fournette didn’t exactly downplay the hype in 2014, after all, striking the Heisman pose after his first collegiate touchdown.
It should be noted his impression of the most iconic stance in college football came after a routine carry against Sam Houston State — not exactly a redux of Desmond Howard’s Heisman following a return against rival Ohio State.
Still, Fournette’s “Heisman moment” coming against an FCS opponent was somewhat fitting. His regular-season touchdowns were scored against the Bearkats, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M. For those keeping score, that’s an FCS opponent, a Sun Belt team (ULM), FBS’ most perennial downtrodden program (NMSU), a basketball school (Kentucky) and one of the nation’s most porous defenses (A&M).
That said, the hype following Leonard Fournette is much more justified now than a year ago, when he was still just a prospect with zero collegiate experience. His two best games for the Tigers were their last two: 146 yards on 19 carries with a score vs. Texas A&M, and 143 yards on just 11 carries with two touchdowns in the Music City Bowl loss vs. Notre Dame.
Certainly, 289 yards and three touchdowns against two prominent programs is the kind of stat line worthy of Heisman voters’ attention. But if Leonard Fournette — or any running back — is to steal the award back from quarterbacks, he needs a potentially historic season.
LSU in the Les Miles era rarely leans on just one ball-carrier; certainly not to the extent one of the Tigers’ backs reaches that illustrious 2,000-yard mark. That might be the benchmark a running back needs to contend for the Heisman, and LSU typically operates through rusher-by-committee.
Darrel Williams seems the likeliest candidate to share duties with Leonard Fournette in 2015. Cameron’s distribution of carries might be the biggest deterrent to Fournette’s Heisman chances — though if the sophomore is as improved as his offensive coordinator says, it’ll be hard to not put the ball in his hands every down.