Now that Leonard Fournette has been back at practice for a full two days, we can stop agonizing over how severe his injury is and return to our regularly scheduled programming of fantasizing over just how good he is.
There’s no doubting Fournette’s talent. There’s a reason he was near the top of almost every preseason Heisman Trophy watch list. But is he first pick in the NFL Draft good?
Thanks to some chance appearances at LSU’s practice Tuesday afternoon, this is a question worth asking. Both the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears — teams that if the season ended today would have top 5 picks in the NFL Draft — sent representatives to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to watch the Tigers on the practice field.
And while there’s no shortage of draft-eligible talent on the Tigers’ roster, Fournette is undoubtedly the main attraction. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. grades Fournette as the No. 1 draft-eligible player in college football, and draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him second behind Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett.
Grades are one thing. But every other factor points against any team, especially the Browns and Bears, picking Fournette No. 1.
First, there’s the matter of history. The last running back selected No. 1 was Penn State product Ki-Jana Carter back in 1995. Before that, it was Bo Jackson in ’86 and George Rogers in ’81. The last Hall of Fame running back was picked first overall was 1978.
Beyond that, there’s the matter of positional depth. This year’s class of running backs potentially boasts Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. And those are just the juniors. Teams in need of running backs will be able to wait, which doesn’t bode well for Fournette.
And then there’s the matter of the Browns and Bears. Neither of them are particularly flawed at running back. The Browns, despite being winless, rank No. 6 in the NFL in yards per carry, and the Bears rank just above league average in that category. If anything, the Browns’ flaws lie on defense and the Bears’ are rooted in their 26 players either on injured reserve or listed as injured.
There is one argument in favor of Fournette going at the top of the draft, though, and that’s Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’s rookie running back has been arguably the most effective back in football through six games, and this is a year after Todd Gurley dominated his rookie year. The transition period for a running back is much shorter than for, say, a quarterback. Meaning teams that think they’re just a year away from being in the playoffs might want to take a flyer on Fournette’s ability.
All of this is to say that the Bears and Browns probably weren’t specifically scouting Fournette. But the way the NFL is run, he wouldn’t be a bad investment.
Well wasn’t that a segue?
In a less-than-shocking turn of events, three-quarters of you voted in favor of Fournette.
Though the 25 percent of you who agreed with my hot take that LSU shouldn’t mess with a good thing and should keep Guice as the feature back have my heart, the jury has spoken. The most-talented running back in college football will serve as the starting running back on our LSU fantasy team here at the Bayou Bengal Briefing.
Wide receiver Wednesday
In today’s football landscape, positions are fluid. So, trigger warning: We’re going to be talking about a tight end on a wide receiver Wednesday.
And there’s good reason to do so. Evan Engram is Chad Kelly’s favorite target, and the most reliable target in the SEC. He leads the conference in receiving yards and yards per game, and he ranks second in the conference in both receptions per game and touchdowns.
Engram is dangerous because he’s a matchup nightmare. Ole Miss normally lines up Engram as an H-back, or a hybrid fullback/tight end, or in the slot as an extra wide receiver. This matches up Engram with linebackers he can outrun, nickelbacks he can body up against and safeties he can outreach.
But LSU matches up pretty well with Engram. As I’ve mentioned many, many times, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda likes to play his best cover corner Tre’Davious White in the nickel, meaning White will often match up against Engram. Even when it’s not White, it’ll probably be Jamal Adams, who might just be the best safety in college football.
The main thing to watch out for with Engram is how well he runs a seam route. You wouldn’t think running in a straight line is that hard, but Engram has made it into an art form. Be cautious any time you see LSU drop back into a zone coverage. Engram has a knack for finding holes in zones, and Kelly is quick with the trigger in getting him the ball.
With Rickey Jefferson out with a broken leg, the deep men in LSU’s secondary will have to be extra diligent to not let Engram slide through. If they aren’t, the results could be disastrous.
Today in Tom Herman news
The Houston Cougars are working on an extension and a raise to keep Tom Herman as their coach for even longer, says Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.
What does this mean for LSU? Very little. Herman was already given a raise last offseason and no amount of money at Houston’s disposal will be equal to the amount of money LSU, Texas, Oregon or Notre Dame will be able to throw at Herman.
But it might mean that LSU will have to act fast. An extension for Herman could mean an even bigger buyout for a school looking to hire him away from Houston. Again, money probably won’t be an object for Herman’s suitors, but it might be enough of a distraction for Houston to retain him for one more year.
Still, these are just discussions. For the Herman Heads among you, there really isn’t much to be afraid of just yet.
The caption contest
On Tuesday on our Facebook page, we ran a caption contest to see who could come up with the best guesses for what the people in this photo might’ve been saying.
Here are some of your best answers:
“You hear dem Gators been sayin’ they gonna whoop us? Yeah, I think that’s funny too…” — Kelly Devine
“Etling: Bro, darn ball slipped right out of my hands. Good thing you were underneath it.” — Pat Fontenot
“Just imagine how open you’ll be once Fournette comes back!”— Chris Googe
“When did Lane Kiffin start calling the plays?” — John Bryan
“Dude, did you see the look on Cam’s face? Priceless!” — Iris Trippe
And, my personal favorite…
“Etling: Maybe they’ll start calling us “The Dynamic Duo,” if we connect like that the rest of the season.”
“Dupre: I’m Batman.” — Bobby-Kim Karrick
Thanks to all of you who commented on this week’s post. Be sure to like our Facebook page to compete in future caption contests and get all of the LSU content that SEC Country has to offer.
Arbitrary Analysis, part 3
In honor of Ed Orgeron’s upcoming coaching reunion against his former team, this week on the Briefing I’ve been counting down the top 5 best and most memorable players from Orgeron’s tenure with Ole Miss. On Monday, I revealed No. 5, and Tuesday I discussed No. 4. Today, I’m unveiling the most controversial player on the countdown, in more ways than one.
No. 3: Greg Hardy
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: Greg Hardy might just be the least likable person in sports. A recent Sporting News poll ranked Hardy the fourth-most hated NFL player ever, ahead of the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Ray Lewis. The things that Hardy has been accused of doing, caught doing and convicted of doing are utterly indefensible, and if he never plays football again, that would be too soon.
That said, he’s really good at football.
Hardy was pretty much unstoppable in ’07, Orgeron’s last year at Ole Miss. He finished the year with 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for losses, 3 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. And that’s not even mentioning his 2 touchdown catches. His performance garnered him a first-team All-SEC nod from both the coaches and the AP polls.
Does his play on the field condone his actions off of it? Of course not. But were his days in an Ole Miss uniform memorable? Yes. Yes, they were.
Overheard at practice
Practice on Tuesday wasn’t only notable for the scouts on hand. It also marked the returns of offensive lineman Josh Boutte, Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby, as well as tight end Foster Moreau.
But it was also a great time to listen to some guys talk trash. Most notably, the running backs had a lot of fun with the camera crews on hand to document practice.
After Fournette completed a drill at a little less than full speed, his teammates started chanting things along the lines of “You’re rusty! You’re rusty!” Always a lover of attention, Guice on multiple occasions called the cameras over to him and monologued about how great the running backs are. And after Darrel Williams tripped and fell over a tackling dummy in a noncontact drill, he was razzed constantly by his position mates.
“You’re about to go viral, man,” one player screamed, pointing at the cameras fixed on Williams.
Another looked at the reporters and said, “You better not show that,” quickly followed by the response, “No, you really should,” from a teammate who apparently liked seeing Williams embarrassed.
For a group of guys about to play the biggest game of their season, they’re awfully loose. Which might just be exactly what LSU needs this weekend.