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2020 LSU Football Preview: Running Backs

Tigers return a trio of backs all ready to assume bigger roles

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Oklahoma v LSU Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LSU football prides itself on being DBU, but with the number of running backs that have come out of Baton Rouge maybe it’s time we start calling it RBU.

In the 2010s alone LSU sent Stevan Ridley, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue, Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice to the NFL. Clyde Edwards-Helaire joined that group this past April when the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs picked him 32nd overall. The diminutive, do-it-all back leaves a hole in LSU’s offense, especially in the catching the ball out of the backfield department. In Edwards-Healire’s stead, LSU will look to three equally gifted backs to pick up the where he left off.

2020 LSU Running Backs

Player Height/Weight Carries Yards Yards Per Carry Touchdowns Receiving
Player Height/Weight Carries Yards Yards Per Carry Touchdowns Receiving
Chris Curry (Rs. Soph). 6’0”, 215 38 189 4.97 0 3 receptions, 23 yards
Tyrion Davis-Price (Soph.) 6’1”/226 64 295 4.61 6 10 receptions, 74 yards
John Emery (Soph.) 6’0”/203 39 196 5.02 4 6 receptions, 60 yards
Kevontre Bradford 4-star running back

What’s the word when you’re not exactly an unknown commodity but you’re far from proven? That’s how I’d describe the 2020 LSU running backs. The Tigers bring back three running backs who I’m sure could be quality, possible All-SEC caliber running backs but none of them have gotten enough touches to verify those feelings.

Curry is the most veteran of the group; Davis-Price is the leading returning rusher; Emery is the most talented. While there may not yet be one singular great, proven back, the trio should be as good as any LSU’s had.

LSU’s had success with the running back by committee approach. In 2011, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford each had 700 yards, Alfred Blue was right behind them with 539 and Kenny Hilliard ended the year strong and finished with 300 yards.

Jacob Hester may have been the workhorse back in 2007, but Keiland Williams, Trindon Holiday, Charles Scott and Richard Murphy all had between 200 and 400 yards on the ground; and the 2003 team had a 1,000 yard back in Justin Vincent, a 500 yard rusher in Joe Addai, and Alley Broussard and Shyrone Carey both went for over 300 yards.

So while the LSU offense adjusts to life without Joe Burrow and breaks in a new offensive line, expect to see the combination of Curry, Davis-Price and Emery get some work early to 1) ease the transition at quarterback and 2) find out who will emerge as the true No. 1 option.

Curry seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for first back on the field against Texas-San Antonio. He surprised most when he was named the starter for the Peach Bowl in place of an injured Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and impressed with 90 yards on 16 carries. Curry showed good burst through the hole and just ran through Sooner defenders in the limited amount of carries he got. They call him Baby Beast Mode for a reason: he’s built the same as Marshawn Lynch, wears 24 and has Lynch-like power. Was the Peach Bowl a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come? That remains to be seen.

If it’s not Curry, perhaps LSU will turn to one of its two true sophomore backs. Davis-Price outplayed Emery and became LSU’s No. 2 option behind Edwards-Helaire. If Curry has power, then Davis-Price has power to the tenth degree; he gave LSU a much needed between the tackles presence last year and defenders felt all 226 pounds of him.

Or maybe 2020 is the year John Emery shows why he was arguably the best running back in the 2019 recruiting class. Emery, like Leonard Fournette, had a rough go of things to begin his college career. But unlike Fournette, who had the switch flip against Florida in The Swamp in 2014, we didn’t see Emery again after the Gators came to Baton Rouge this past October. There’s more to playing running back than just getting the ball on a handoff and making people miss, and Emery struggled in both pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. But Emery was legally blind in one eye and got LASIK surgery in the offseason, which ought to make a massive difference heading into year two for the former Destrehan star.

Coach O has said Emery and Davis-Price could give LSU a thunder and lightning tandem in the backfield. Orgeron of course coached at USC under Pete Carroll who used Reggie Bush and Lendale White in a similar matter. Perhaps Emery and Davis-Price can be the LSU equivalent.

And then there’s true freshman Tre Bradford. LSU may have had its eyes on bringing in Zachary Evans, the top running back in last year’s class, but Bradford is far from a consolation prize. Bradford’s a four-star, top-15 running back nationally. LSU got in on Bradford late, the Tigers didn’t offer until September of this past year, but it only took one official visit in January for Bradford to commit.

Maybe Bradford carves out a role for himself in 2020, maybe he doesn’t. On the one hand, LSU has three talented but slightly unproven running backs and that could open the door for Bradford to usurp one of those three; on the other hand, LSU has three talented running backs and the depth chart may be too cramped for Bradford to make an impact, at least in the here and now. Either way, there’s three and maybe four really good options for Orgeron and Steve Ensminger to work with. It’s just a matter of seeing which back seizes the opportunity.