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ATVS All-Time Team: Running Backs

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The one where Poseur doubts Billy Cannon's resume

This is the one we've been working up to. Hell, the whole exercise of the All-time Team really comes down to being able to compare one position group against each other: the running backs. We've got a Heisman winner, an NFL Hall of Famer, the biggest recruit in LSU history, and then the most hyped. This is a spectacular group of talent and we can talk about DBU until we're blue in the face, but the historic studs have carried the rock.

GOLDEN CENTURY TEAM

RB Billy Cannon (1958 and 1959 All-American, 1959 Heisman Trophy). He had this punt return you may have heard about. You can ask an Ole Miss fan about it. Cannon is a legend, and as the only Heisman winner in program history, he's a shoo in for this team. But here's an uncomfortable truth: in Cannon's best year, he rushed for 686 yards on 115 carries. That did lead the SEC in yards, average, and points but... man, that does not really hold up to modern standards. Billy Cannon rushed for 1867 yards and 19 TD on 359 carries... Jacob Hester had 1780 yards and 20 TD's on 364 carries. Just sayin'.

RB Dalton Hilliard (1985 All-SEC, graduated as LSU's all-time leading rusher). Topped Charles Alexander by 15 yards to end up with 4,050 on his career. He did take 27 more carries to do it, but to give credit, he was a better receiver than Alexander. He is still the LSU all-time leader in yards from scrimmage, narrowly edging on Kevin Faulk.

RB Jimmy Taylor (1957 All-American, NFL Hall of Fame). The only player not named Jim Brown to lead the league in rushing when Jim Brown was in the NFL. He led the SEC in rushing in 1957 with 762, or as I like to say, more yards than Billy Cannon. Jimmy Taylor is the patron saint of LSU fullbacks, and probably the greatest fullback in football history. Not LSU history, all of football.

RB Charles Alexander (1977 and 1978 All-American, Heisman finalist, graduated with 27 LSU records). Alexander graduated as the LSU all-time leading rusher for both the season and a career. Hilliard and Faulk edged out his career, but his single season mark stood until last year. He had two 1,000 yard rushing seasons and was the best back in LSU history between Cannon and Faulk. He's still the modern back by which we measure players.

OTHER NOMINEES

RB Jerry Stovall (1962 All-American, 2nd in the Heisman balloting). He made the team as a defensive back, which was just silly. Then again, we haven't been above playing with positional eligibility, so I get where the desire comes from. He only topped 400 yards rushing once, and that was when he went for 405 yards in 1961. He's a great 60-minute man, but he gets squeezed out by competing at our two most loaded position groups. Sorry, Jerry.

TB Harvey Williams (1990 All-SEC). I don't want to gum up the works and throw too many nominees in the pool given the stiff competition at the position, but Harvey still ranks fifth all-time in career rushing yards. He was 47 yards away, or counting bowl game stats, from consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.

HB Steve Van Buren (Graduated as LSU's all-time leading rusher). In 1943, he had six games of 100-yards rushing. That stood as the LSU program record until 1977, when Charles Alexander had 10, which was the record until last year. He rushed for 847 yards in 1944, which stood as the program record until 1976, when Terry Robiskie topped it.

Let's give credit: the Golden Century Team got it right. I could make an argument for Van Buren for historic reasons and Stovall on the grounds that guys who do everything well get underrated against guys who do one thing well... but the weakest guy on the ballot is Dalton Hilliard, and he was awesome. So, my ballot is the same as the Golden Century Team. Bring on the Golden era...

PAUL

USC may draw the #RBU moniker, but LSU maintains quite the legacy at this position as you've already illustrated. Billy Cannon, Charles Alexander, Jimmy Taylor and Jerry Stovall aren't just LSU legends, they are football legends. I'd put that foursome up against any other schools and feel good about it, and they all pre-date the 80's, much less the ensuing offensive explosion of the 90s and oughts.

Nominees

Leonard Fournette - 1st Team All-American, All-SEC, Football God

Fournette already ranks 4th on the all-time LSU rushing list and barring tragedy, will likely rank 1st by the end of the upcoming season while not breaking the 800 carry mark like the 3 players currently ahead of him. The guy is a tour de force on the football field. The fact that he doesn't have a "Heisman Finalist" plaudit is only a sign of an incompetent media rather than any dealing with his actual accomplishments. Fournette needs 15 rushing TDs to break Kevin Faulk's all-time rushing TD record. He needs 18 TDs from scrimmage to break Faulk and Hilliard's all-time record. Am I prospecting here? Sure. But the odds fall heavily in favor of him doing this rather than not.

Kevin Faulk

LSU football royalty. Kevin Faulk will now and forever be associated with the return of LSU to the glory ages. He is the "it recruit" that finally stayed home. He's the guy that helped "Bring Back the Magic." He's the one that made us all believe again. In many ways, his legend will live on larger than even his immense on field accomplishments. Faulk is LSU's all-time leading rusher and TD scorer. Faulk would probably be the best back in school history if not for that special no. 7.

Jeremy Hill

I'll go at this one with gusto. Other backs had longer careers, but I'm not sure they had better careers. Hill was immensely special. He left LSU with more rushing yards than Billy Cannon or Jacob Hester. He's still the all-time leader in YPC, even above Fournette. He only played two seasons at LSU and still ranks 12th all-time in rushing. Some might say Hill benefitted from playing with the best LSU passing attack in the past decade, but you could also argue they benefitted from having him. It was often Hill that would bury opponents deep into games, and he capped his career by dropping 2 bills on an Iowa squad that ranked 6th in total defense.

Joseph Addai

You may be surprised to see this name, but did you know he's 6th all-time on the LSU rushing leaders list? Which means he was top 5 until last season. Which means up until Fournette showed up, he was one of the 5 most productive running backs in LSU history. It feels as if his career was segmented and not all-too memorable, but then you start looking at the numbers. He was really a workhorse. He amassed nearly 500 carries, something only a handful of backs in LSU history have done (Toefield, Williams, Robiskie, Alexander, Hilliard, Faulk and soon Fournette). This while splitting some time at FB, playing across multiple HCs, with different QBs and sharing carries. Addai shouldn't be on the team, but he's an honorable mention.

Look, I could bat around other names here. Charles Scott certainly had his run, and he's probably my biggest omission, but did he really feel like one of the best backs in LSU history? I know, I know, neither did Addai, but Addai has better overall numbers and his inclusion was more to highlight what little regard is held for his abilities. I guarantee if you asked 100 fans to compile a list of best backs in the Miles era, Scott would go ahead of Addai on most of them. I get the TDs argument, but Addai's career was a steady ascension while Scott was a precipitous climb and fall.

Toefield was an okay player, but his rate stats aren't great and he's fallen behind pretty much every starting RB that came after him in terms of overall yardage. Rondell Mealey suffers from playing in the shadows of Faulk. Justin Vincent was a one year wonder. Domanick Davis was never really "the man." Hester gets the heart and soul award, but there are simply better players, even if Hester holds a mythic quality.

I'm pretty torn here. If we had to pick 4:

Cannon

Alexander

Faulk

Fournette

My number 5 would be a claymation celebrity death match between Dalton Hilliard and Jeremy Hill.

POSEUR

I think you have the right four. Fournette is going to end this season, barring disaster, as the greatest running back in LSU history. Cannon's name is literally on the stadium, and for a long stretch, he was the only player to have his number retired. Alexander owned the LSU record book. And Faulk is arguably the single most important player in LSU history, turning the tide away from the Dark Ages and into the current Golden Age.

Jeremy Hill is very much like the modern day version of Jim Taylor, and not just stylistically, though both were physical runners who seemed to seek out contact in order to administer more pain. Both had short careers, and both put up amazing numbers. Both went on to successful NFL careers, and both are overshadowed by a transcendent talent which showed up the following season. And, as you point out, Hill had higher yards per carry than Fournette, and Taylor had more total yards in a season than Cannon's best year.

Your Claymation death match is likely short a player.

I really want to be a contrarian here and argue against Cannon, whose raw numbers are not as great you'd think, but as a guy who has continually argued about context it would be hypocritical to make that argument. Cannon did lead the SEC in rushing and was top five for three straight years. Those were huge totals for the time period. I could make a case for Taylor, who I love, and especially Hilliard, who was just friggin' amazing.

But there's really no room for Dalton Hilliard. His numbers are slightly worse than Alexander's, though definitely in the same ballpark. He's not Fournette, because no one is. And he doesn't have the raw totals nor the historical import of Kevin Faulk. The only logical person you could put Hilliard ahead of is Billy Cannon, and if we did that, y'all would literally murder me. Also, Cannon does have that Heisman Trophy, the most legendary play in LSU history, a national title, and a movie loosely based on his legend.

And THAT'S the weakest of the four candidates. When Billy Cannon is arguably the fourth best guy, well... the other three are unimpeachably great.

As this is the final installment, any thoughts on the all-time team as a whole?

PAUL

We spread this out, it's hard to dig deep on some guy and arguments. But we mostly trended young here. It's hard not to be captive to your own eras.

Or is this just further testament that we're truly living in the golden era? It'd be interesting to ask others to try this exercise. I say others, because our knowledge of LSU history undoubtedly informed our opinions, whereas if we were creating, say, Ohio State's All-Time team, we'd probably go much more numbers based.

I mean, of fuckin' course I feel good about the team. I got 50% of the vote. We made some firm decisions and only had to pitch one to the humanoids. I'm most skeptical of our QB choice, but not in the "Bert Jones isn't a good choice" sense so much as a "would Jamarcus have been a better choice" type, you know?

There's a couple of old timers that are sorely omitted. I'll let you handle addressing that. But after that, I wanna know, who do you think will be replaced in the next three years?

POSEUR

Honestly, I think we ended up with pretty decent balance. The team is split roughly 50-50 between the modern era and the first century. This makes sense for several reasons: our memories, recency bias, better statistical records for modern football, and the fact LSU has simply been better these past twenty years.

Who's most likely to fall off? Clearly, old-timers that I had to work overtime to stuff onto the team like Ken Kavanaugh and Pinky Rohm are most vulnerable. I hate to say it, but Kevin Mawae will likely fall off the team if it is done in twenty years by people who didn't live through the Hallman Era. He and Clayton were two of the primary beneficiaries of "you just had to be there" recollections. I also think Corey Webster is going to slide off this team in a few years. Heck, maybe one, to make room for Jamal Adams.

This is when I make one final adjustment to the team to make up for our modern biases. Guys who do everything well will always be underrated compared to specialists who do one thing great. We can look at the statistical record and, say, see gaudy sack totals, while the run-stuffer slowly gets forgotten. So, in order to combat this, and our modern bias, I'm adding two players to the team as 60-minute men, a kind of player we haven't seen for nearly half a century.

Jerry Stovall was a Heisman finalist going both ways at running back and defensive back. He didn't have the numbers at either position to compete with the specialists, but the mere fact he could play at an elite level on both sides of the ball is testament to his greatness. He's in.

Furthermore, Gus Tinsley is the first truly great player in LSU history (unless we want to count Doc Fenton). He was a two time All-American at end on both sides of the football. Also, the 1930's teams are sorely underrepresented on our All-Time team, and this slightly makes up for it. I'm not leaving a two-time All-American off the team just because we didn't keep good records back when he played. He's in as well, as the final member of the ATVS All-Time Team:

QB Bert Jones
RB Leonard Fournette
RB Billy Cannon
RB Charles Alexander
RB Kevin Faulk
OT Andrew Whitworth
OT Kevin Mawae
OG Eric Andolsek
OG Alan Faneca
C Ben Wilkerson
TE Ken Kavanaugh
WR Josh Reed
WR Wendell Davis
WR Michael Clayton
K David Browndyke
KR Odell Beckham, Jr.


DE Gabe Northern
DT Glenn Dorsey
DT Booger McFarland
DE Marcus Spears
LB Bradie James
LB Al Richardson
LB Michael Brooks
LB Warren Capone
DB Patrick Peterson
DB Tyrann Mathieu
DB Tommy Casanova
DB Chris Williams
DB Corey Webster
P Donnie Jones
PR Pinky Rohm

RB/DB Jerry Stovall
E Gus Tinsley