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Leonard Fournette: Leaving Early and Loving LSU

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Whether Leonard Fournette wants to leave LSU early or not is irrelevant: he has no choice.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Florio, over at Pro Football Talk, penned a piece today about how Leonard Fournette should sit out his junior season to preserve himself for the NFL. This is his argument:

Fournette is ready to play in the NFL, but he can’t play in the NFL until 2017. Unless the rule changes before April (it won’t), Fournette can’t get in to the NFL before 2017. So if he’s ready to play in the NFL and if he has maxed out his draft value, why should he continue to assume the risk of injury while playing for compensation that doesn’t come close to matching Fournette’s value?

Michael Bonnette, LSU's SID, fired back this tweet in response:

To which Florio had this to say:

There's a myriad of issues with the proposition of Leonard Fournette opting to bypass his junior season and sit on the shelf until the 2017 NFL Draft. Namely, how would the NFL punish that decision? The NFL has proven to have its own set of moral standards, which casually disregard violence against womenstumble around penalties regarding cheating in its own games, and having a Byzantine dedication to whiting out anything that may impact their glorious bottom line.

We just watched La'El Collins fall from 1st round talent to entirely undrafted, seemingly solely because of a relationship he had with a woman from his past. There was no arrest, and even the open admission he's not believed to be a suspect. Yet, 32 NFL franchises thought he was too much of a risk of the investment of any sort of draft pick, even a late round pick, among players likely cut before the season? This seems outrageous, considering the team with the top pick just spent it on a player with a grab bag of actual, known character issues.

In a league that plays by its own unwritten rules, do we honestly think it would reward Fournette for bypassing a year of its free-of-charge developmental league? Do we honestly think Fournette wouldn't suddenly be strapped with the dreaded "character concerns" label, despite quite literally everything we know about him proving the contrary? I'm certain we'd suddenly hear draftniks and "sources" who then say there are "concerns" about Fournette's intentions, whether he truly "loves the game" and so forth. Other writers don't believe Fournette would be penalized much, but it's a risk he'd absolutely be running.

Even beyond this, NFL teams are growing less and less keen on investing big dollars in college RBs. Especially when their pro production turns out like Trent Richardson, a top-three pick just three years ago, who is now a free agent. Would they want to spend top-10-pick money on a guy who would then be a year and a half away from playing actual, live football?

I agree with Florio that it's a shame Fournette will spend the next year and a half making LSU boatloads of cash without seeing so much as a dime of it. I disagree that Fournette has any other realistic option. Sitting out is not one of them. Not unless he's willing to miss out on upfront cash that comes from being a high pick.

It's unfortunate that it's a bit of a lose-lose proposition. Fournette will spend the next year and a half risking the type of serious injury that prevented Marcus Lattimore from making millions of dollars in the NFL. Arguing the probability of this recurring is irrelevant. If there's a .0001% chance of it recurring, it remains a real risk.

Even if he's able to successfully dodge the significant injury bullet (statistically, likely that he does), he'll put a serious amount of wear and tear on his body, exhibited by his early season usage in 2015. Fournette has carried the rock an average of 24.3 times in 2015. Fournette has at least 22 collegiate games remaining, so somewhere around 535 more carries. This isn't even counting snaps where he's a receiver, a pass blocker, or a dummy on a play action pass, which introduce further wear and tear. Yeah, he's doing all that for free.

"It's not all about the money."

Yes, yes it is. We have no "normal" model to compare to what football players do to themselves to endure the possibility of making a living at their profession of choice.** As an English student at LSU, part of your curriculum isn't to repeatedly run into stacks of books while other books are being thrown at you. Even if it were, by the way, tearing your ACL or MCL or Achilles or whatever career-ending leg injury you can dream of, wouldn't put a single dent into your earning potential. This is not true for football players, who can only prove their earning potential by routinely risking their earning potential.

**And make no mistake, any kid playing football at the D1 level is clearly aiming at having football be his profession of choice, wisely or not.

The counterpoint by Bonnette here entirely misses the mark. Bonnette is essentially arguing that this is insulting to Leonard because anyone who opted to make this decision would be a player that a) didn't love his university and b) didn't have character.

This paints Fournette into an unfair box. If Leonard Fournette opts to sit out his junior season in an effort to preserve his body for when he can actually monetize his absurd abilities, it wouldn't be any indication of his lack of love for LSU nor a lack of character. It wouldn't mean that he's "scared" or "stupid" or anything insulting in any way whatsoever, and suggesting so only disparages a player who has been nothing but an outstanding representative of the state of Louisiana and LSU.

Ultimately, this is Leonard Fournette's decision and Leonard Fournette's decision, alone; but let's be clear that he really doesn't have any options.