LSU running back Leonard Fournette will likely be one of the top backs taken in the NFL draft. But it will have to be in 2017.
Per league rules, a player must be three years removed from high school before he can enter the NFL draft, in part to make sure players are physically prepared to handle the pinnacle of the sport. But could Fournette be an exception at just 20 years old?
Fournette’s stud status cannot be disputed. His 631 yards through the first three games of the season are the most for a tailback in 15 years during that span. He came darned close to breaking LSU’s single-game rushing record last week against Syracuse, which entered the game with the 3rd-best run defense in the country. He was the first LSU halfback to run for 200 yards in consecutive games. He has been named SEC Offensive Player of the Week the past three weeks.
Get the point? The kid’s really good. The problem: Fournette must still play potentially 11 more games this season and the entire 2016 college season before he’d be eligible for the NFL draft. Preservation has to be key for the running back position, which can be known for its short shelf life.
Another season of hits and broken tackles certainly won’t prolong Fournette’s potential career at the professional level.
The risk of an injury that could diminish his draft stock is uncontrollable. This quandary has many analysts and former players debating whether Fournette should sit out the 2016 season, rather than play what would likely be his final collegiate season.
UPDATE: Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk weighed in with his take Wednesday morning on Fournette.
LSU’s sports information director took to Twitter and expressed a strong opinion on the matter.
Fournette tweeted about it, and doesn’t sound like a guy thinking about the NFL.
Here’s what people had to say about this topic before Wednesday:
The New York Times’ Marc Tracy sparked this discussion when he wrote that Fournette is as close to a sure NFL prospect as a sophomore as any junior or senior.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill compared Fournette’s situation to former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive end was a stud during his sophomore season for the Gamecocks (although one enormous hit in the Outback Bowl might have left him over-hyped). He battled injuries throughout his junior season, but was still the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. He ended up missing most of his rookie season with a sports hernia.
Legendary running back Marshall Faulk said on The Dan LeBatard Show that Fournette shouldn’t sit out because it could slow down his progression when he returns to the field.
Michael Weinreb of VICE Sports wrote that everything Fournette does for LSU going forward could diminish his value in the future.
Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel wrote in his mailbag that it would take something worse than a torn ACL to destroy Fournette’s draft stock.
NBC Sports’ Kevin McGuire brought up former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett as an example of someone who challenged the NFL’s rule and ultimately lost.
Fox Sports’ Clay Travis devised an interesting theory as to how Fournette can sit out his senior season while making the NCAA look bad in the process.