Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Texas Bowl: Whither Fournette?

Last night, Leonard Fournette did what was expected of him and ran all over the Texas Tech (simulated) defense for 212 yards, five touchdowns and an MVP Award. (the linked article reports, incorrectly, that Fournette only scored 4 Touchdowns)

While watching him play I had the following thought.

At this point I can't see any harm in Fournette taking next year off. Would still go 1st round 2017.

I then followed that up with this.

That said, if he did sit out LSU fans would have a fit. And players should want to play. Would be unorthodox for sure.

Whether or not you think Fournette should forego his Sophomore season, to avoid injury, and then enter the NFL draft somewhat depends on your fandom.  There are a lot of fans of other SEC schools that think this is a fine idea. LSU fans on the other hand....

Being removed from the situation I'm going to try and offer some analysis that, I hope, you will find unbiased and meaningful. If not, well, it's a big Internet after all.

Why Fournette should sit out next year:

As previously stated, I don't think he has anything to learn on the field to prepare him for the NFL. He's got speed, quickness to the hole, and power. Much of that is because he's a physical freak, and some is because he's in possession of good football instincts. When you package the two up it makes for a formidable running back who, barring injury, should be a productive back in the NFL.

Fournette reminds me of a bigger, faster, Adrian Peterson. If you look at the two during their college years the build is very similar.  Everything that Adrian did in college, Fournette does better. Of course he can get into the league, get enthralled by the money, and wash out, or he could get injured but, if he can avoid that I don't think he's going to fail because of his football skill.

It's also a fact that Fournette is going to graduate into a different NFL now than Peterson (and others) did a decade or so ago. The running back shelf-life is much shorter now and most teams are choosing to wait deeper in the draft to select a back, and platoon without having a "featured" back at all. Call it the "Belicheck" method of running backs.

What this line of thinking ignores is that, when teams DO get a dominating running back, they still feature them prominently. Think Minnesota/Peterson, Arizona/Johnson, Pittsburgh/Bell just to name a few. It's also prudent to point out that New England and Belicheck are much better when LaGarrett Blount is running dominant than when he is not.  So there is still value to having a top back, and teams will pick them high in the draft (See: Todd Gurley) when they come available.

Suggesting Fournette sit out of college football for a year to keep additional tread on the tires is a divergence from history. But in Fournette's case I think there's a case to be made that he has nothing more to learn in the college game, that his game is almost instantly applicable to the NFL, and that he's risking injury should he play another year.

Given today's advanced training regimens it's highly probable that he can latch on with a fitness factory and be in even better shape than he already is come the 2017 draft.  Plus, he will have had a year away from the pounding in an SEC schedule so he'll by physically fresh.  He'll also be free to accept endorsement money, which will help with food plans etc.

Why Fournette shouldn't (and I think won't) sit out next year:

Even suggesting all of the above I think there are a few key factors that drive Fournette to play.

First, he will instantly be inserted as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy should he return. Leonard Fournette wants to be considered one of the all-time great SEC running backs. This year, due to LSU's sub-par (for them) offensive line he struggled in big games against Alabama and Ole Miss. It also didn't help that Cam Cameron was calling the plays.

Next year LSU is expected to have a better O-line and people are hoping that they have a better play-caller and offensive coordinator running things.

Second, if the above is true then LSU will be a favorite to make the College Football Playoff and possibly win the National Championship. It is hard to believe that a competitor at the level of Fournette would not be interested in leading his team to these goals.

Finally, sitting out for a year would be unprecedented, and the NFL is not typically a fan of running against type.

Why press the odds?  Why open yourself to questions regarding intangibles such as "desire" and "heart"? Things NFL draft analysts love to throw around despite having little to no competitive histories themselves?

The fact is that a large part of a players evaluation boils down not just to talent, but something people like to call "a love for the game" and "leadership". Bailing on LSU, in order to avoid injury would make it appear that Fournette is selfish and something less than a competitor, I still think he would go in the first round despite this (his talent level is too high) but those questions would dog his career.

Why even take the chance?

As a fan of college football I hope that Fournette does come back and that he has a good season. I wish, for him, that he stays injury free and we get to see him do even more of what he did this year. As a fan of Les Miles I hope that LSU has a great season with a new Offensive Coordinator calling the shots, that they make the College Football Playoffs and lose to Michigan in the Final. (Homer alert).

Past that, I hope he's drafted high and continues to do great things in the NFL, would that he was drafted by the 49ers that would be all the better.  Of course, Trent Baalke would need to go....but that's another post entirely.

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