Leonard Fournette is the most electrifying player in college football right now, and it’s not even close.
Two weeks ago against Auburn, LSU’s sophomore running back ran for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 19 carries — the most by a Tiger rusher in under 20 carries and the fifth most in program history.
The next week against Syracuse, he rushed for a career-high 244 yards, becoming the first player in LSU history to record back-to-back 200-yard games. He also had an 87-yard touchdown called back because of a false-start.
He’s averaging video-game numbers: 210.3 yards per game, the most in the FBS by over 40 yards. These numbers alone are scary-good, and when you take a look at the actual highlights of some of these plays you start to get a better sense of just how unstoppable a force Fournette is. He seems to simultaneously have the speed and jukes of a speedy tailback, and the physicality to literally run defenders over a power back.
Out of high school, he was hailed by LSU teammates as the next Adrian Peterson, and after an up-and-down freshman campaign, Fournette has come into his own and then some.
Here he is dropping an Auburn defender en route to a 40-yard score.
And this — just watch for yourself.
At just 20-years-old, Fournette already looks ready to take on NFL defences. According to long-time NFL scout Gil Brandt, he’s already a definite first round pick.
The problem is that, due to the archaic three-year rule, Fournette has to wait until after the 2017 season (his third year of NCAA eligibility) to declare for the draft. Fournette is on pace to have one of the best seasons in NCAA history and, as Brandt said, “is ready to play.”
At the moment, Fournette’s draft stock is already extremely high, but it could still grow this season. Michael Weinreb posited the following hypothetical at Vice Sports imagine Fournette wins the Heisman Trophy, breaks the all-time rushing records, and carries LSU to a National Championship? His draft stock couldn’t possibly grow any higher and he’d have nothing left to prove at the college level. But with one more year before he can declare for the draft, should he sit out the year to protect himself and his value?
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote that he thinks Fournette should “definitely” take next season off unless the NFL changes its policies (which it won’t) or the NCAA starts paying its players for their talents (which it won’t). After all, the possibility of an injury could cost Fournette millions of dollars.
The situation calls to mind the 2013 no. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, who many thought should sit out the season for the same reasons as Fournette. Clowney ended up playing, but was frequently double- and triple-teamed and many speculated that he didn’t exert himself fully to protect himself for the pros. Given Fournette’s position and the fact that he’s a workhorse back, another year with a ton of carries will also likely affect his legs in the longterm.
As Weinreb wrote, the NFL’s three-year rule can be interpreted as an effort to preserve NCAA football and keep it as its own entity. The one-and-done rule in basketball has completely changed the landscape of college basketball, but it’s hard to compare the leap from college to the pros in the two sports simply because the NFL is far more physical. By and large, three years is the right amount of time for college football players to grow physically and ready themselves for the pros. But there ought to be an exception — let’s call it the Clowney Rule — that allows the special cases, the athletic freaks like Fournette, to go to the NFL after two years.
Fans will call Fournette selfish if he doesn’t play next season, and so he probably will. But here’s another hypothetical: imagine he tears his ACL on the first play of scrimmage and never makes the pros. This happened to Marcus Lattimore just a few years ago. Who, then, would be to blame, other than the NCAA for not paying its players, and the NFL for its archaic rule?