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Better Know a Freshman: Leonard Fournette

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Leonard Fournette is the most highly regarded recruit in LSU history. How long before he steps into the spotlight?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." - Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Expectations are a weighty thing. Set the bar too high and remain in a state of perpetual disappointment. Set the bar too low and continually undervalue the measure of one's contributions. When it comes to HS football recruits, opinions seem to wildly swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. One party argues for the no doubt, can't miss superstars, while the other cautiously reminds of the high number of busts, and relatively low possibility of greatness.

When said recruit is roundly recognized as not just the best amongst his peers, but perhaps the best amongst all peers, those swing oscillate even wider. Expectations are tricky and with Leonard Fournette come many.

Background

Diehard recruiting fans first heard the name Leonard Fournette in 2010. It's rare that a recruit blows up onto the scene as a freshman in high school. Even rarer that the name sticks. Fournette ran for 200 yards in six consecutive games. Those were the first six games of his freshman year. People took notice. Oh boy did they.

Fournette grew up in the 7th ward of New Orleans, perhaps staring the worst odds in the face without blinking. However many obstacles were stacked up, Fournette toppled them all. Recruiting hype buzzed louder and louder as Fournette crammed his trophy case full of honors. All-District here and All-State there. Gatorade Player of the Year, All-American, Offensive Player of the Year. The recruiting letters stacked up. Every single school in the country took a shot.

The superlatives began to come. "The next Adrian Peterson" proved most oft repeated. It's the type of success and adulation that's crumbled so many young athletes. Not Leonard Fournette. He just kept working. Fournette handled business on the field, the track and in the classroom. He took trips to FSU, Alabama, Texas, USC, then Alabama twice more. The list narrowed pretty quickly. Thanks to all the suitors, but this is a tried and true LSU/Bama war. December 6th, Fournette and family packed up and headed to Baton Rouge for his first official visit. Reports were quiet but optimistic. A week later they headed to Tuscaloosa. Most reports stayed quiet, though a few trickled in that Fournette stayed only a matter of hours in Tuscaloosa before turning around and heading back to New Orleans. Then, radio silence.

Fournette opted to make his decision at the Under Armour All-American game. Fans sat idly by as rumors swirled. Could he really leave behind Louisiana? Could he really go to... Alabama? The week of the game only brought about more. Certain beat writers used his story to peddle their own nonsense. The rumors reached all-time high levels of stupidity.  The day of the game wore on. The game of itself carried lofty expectations. Could LSU land five 5-stars in the span of three hours? Speedy Noil announced for A&M. Disappointment one. Gerald Willis picked Florida. That's two. Tony Brown to Bama, and now everything's turning up ugly.

Jamal Adams gave a brief respite, using his cute little niece to announce his decision to come to LSU. Yet, the real person everyone was waiting for was Leonard Fournette. ESPN, of course, reserved his decision until the end.

"So um... I'm gonna take my talent... for the next three of four years... the University of..." /Fournette fumbles into a bag.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

"The boot, baby. LSU."

Let it be said, that Baton Rouge would likely have burned down that evening if he concluded that sentence with... "Alabama. Roll Tide, baby." Instead, fans breathed a sigh or relief. Leonard picked LSU, just as we thought he would. Despite a month remaining until signing day, he never turned back, kept his eyes forward and showed up to his signing ceremony decked out in LSU gear.

Fournette ranks as 5-star with a .9996 rating on the 247 Composite rankings. Only Ronald Powell (.9999), Jadeveon Clowney (1.0000), and Robert Nkemdiche (1.0000) have ever posted a higher rating. Despite finishing no. 2 in the final top 247, Fournette was named the 247 Composite National Player of the Year.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

Tale of the Tape

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 224 pounds
Short Shuttle: 4.3 seconds
Powerball: 38.5"
Vertical Leap: 29.9"

Fournette's testing times don't blow you away. Outside of the powerball, there's no standout measurement. Typically, this may cause me to question his overall athleticism. However, the tape and his many accomplishments are too great for me to be concerned that at one event in 2013 he didn't blow the doors off the place in his testing.

Film Study

Strengths: Power, Vision, Footwork, Receiving

Weaknesses: Pass Blocking

Strengths

Power: At 6'1", 226 pounds, naturally you'd expect a powerful back. Power announces itself in many ways through running backs. Some backs simply slower their shoulder and deliver a boom. Some utilize their thick lower halves to simply run through would be tacklers. Fournette is not as much a guy that's going to plow straight ahead and run people over. It's not that he's incapable, it's that he runs with a style that better preserves his body. Instead, Fournette excels by running right through arms. Watch :29 and see how easily he runs through arm tacklers like you or I would a swarm of gnats. He sorts through all the trash, runs through arm tackles and breaks free. If you gonna come at Leonard, come correct. Again at :55 he runs through contact with such ease. 2:50 is a clip I will reference in each skill because it's really the denouement of running back play. Also, watch how easily he destroys this sled.

Vision: Great running backs find ways to make big plays. Yes, they work in tandem with good blocking up front, but you can quickly tell the difference in a superior back because he's often able to do so much more with so much less. Jeremy Hill excelled in this way. Fournette, similarly, is able to see the tiny creases and run through the contact, which leads to lots of big runs. Again, that 2:50 clip is outstanding reference. 1:31 you see how he follows blockers and hits paydirt. Fournette has an almost innate, scientific ability to understand exactly where he needs to go to accomplish what he needs to accomplish.

Footwork: If I had to pick a singular trait that stands out for Fournette, it's absolutely his insane footwork. Guys that are 226 should not be nimble and able to quickly cut and move in and out. I really don't know of any one that compares. He's not a dancer, either. Fournette is always trying to get downhill and going. His insane footwork allows him to make single, powerful cuts that make defenders look foolish and send him into open space. :19 gives you a good taste of it. Same with 1:05. Look at 1:13. One simple jump cut, but it puts him on the sideline and off to the races. You see it over and over and over again. Especially impressive because he maintains this skill even in a massive pack of humanity. Just check out this clip at :27. He can operate in tight quarters. Just watch 2:50 and be impressed all over again. And this:

Receiving: Yet another dimension to his game is that he's a competent receiver. He shows good hands and looks comfortable running the standard set of RB routes. I LOVE the route he runs at :46. That's the type of stuff you see from upperclassmen in college. It's using all his skills at once. He can also do damage with RAC.

Weaknesses

Pass Blocking: There's simply no tape of him doing it. He's got all the physical tools, but if there's a learning curve for Leonard, it'll be in picking up the pass blocking schemes.

Summary

Leonard Fournette can do everything. I'm not sure if he's Adrian Peterson. Skills wise, he's not all that similar. Peterson was a very underdeveloped receiver and an entirely next level athlete, running a 10.33 100M. The fastest time I can find for Leonard is a 10.67. Still a very strong time, but hardly the insanity that is 10.33. Peterson was always more of a give me the rock and I go straight ahead type. It's not that he doesn't make great cuts, but his style is more Earl Campbell. He's brutal and punishing downhill to go with his strong moves. Fournette is different.

Fournette almost plays a smaller back game. He's elusive. He makes people miss. He can catch. What makes him unique is that he's doing this capably at 226 pounds. There is no comparison. Fournette may not be the overall elite-level athlete that Peterson is (who is), but he's got more than enough athleticism. LeSean McCoy might be a comparable player, though I think McCoy dances more than he should, something Fournette doesn't fall prey too. He's also more naturally powerful.

Let's pause for a minute and let the "let's not expect too much" folks to get their grievances out.

Done?

The sky is the limit. Kenny Hilliard started waving his hand above his head and saying "no ceilings" during his freshman season. That's pretty much where we are with Leonard Fournette. Here's the deal with the expectations, if Fournette were any less of a human being, I might be more cautious. But he's not. When he won the Quarterback Club of New Orleans Prep Player of the Year award, he took the podium and handed the award off to a hard-working and lightly recruited athlete named Eugene Wells.

"I’d like to thank you all again for picking me Prep Player of the Year,’’ Fournette said thumping the heart area of his chest in reference to earlier recognition as a Prep Player of the Week. "But I feel like I’ve seen (Wells) grow as a young man, so I feel like Eugene Wells deserves this.’’

Who even is this kid? Can he possibly be actually only 19? Fournette will wear number 7 at LSU. Not to honor Patrick Peterson, nor Tyrann Mathieu. No, he will wear it in honor of his roots in the 7th Ward. He's a remarkably grounded, focused, dedicated young man. This is why I'm unafraid to foist lofty expectations upon Leonard Fournette. Because no expectation I could have for him would be any greater than the ones he carries for himself.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Leonard Fournette might just be all three.

High End: Heisman winner, top 10 NFL draft pick.

Low End: 2-3 year starter at LSU.

Realistic: The only question I have about Fournette is how soon the greatness starts. LSU's RB depth chart is pretty thin, but they do return two veterans with big-game experience. I think most suspect Fournette to be eased into that load, splitting carries throughout the year. I have expected the same. Until recently.

Fournette will be our starting running back by year's end. He will topple 1,000 yards and probably double-digit TDs, fairly easily. He will emerge as one of the best players on the team in a matter of weeks. Do not be surprised if he puts up monster numbers on Wisconsin. In fact, don't be surprised about anything Leonard Fournette does. Just sit back and savor it. Because this is rare. Leonard Fournette is rare.