The age of the redshirt is rapidly going the way of the Dodo bird, as true freshmen are being counted on more and more to not only contribute, but to shine.
At no other position is that more pronounced than at running back. Michael Dyer, Marcus Lattimore, Isaiah Crowell, Alex Collins, T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley have all made a major impact for their teams since 2010.
LSU running back signee Leonard Fournette may be the next in line.
The 5-star recruit was the No. 2 prospect in the country, according to 247Sports, in the class of 2014. The 6'1", 226-pounder had 7,630 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns on the ground during his four-year high school career in New Orleans, and he has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson.
"[Fournette] possesses great power and speed and vision, and catches the ball well in the back field," head coach Les Miles said in quotes released by LSU. "Certainly a person with very high character."
So what should LSU fans expect from Fournette in his first season in Baton Rouge?
|LSU 2013 Rushing Statistics|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||5||58||0||11.60|
|CFBStats.com / Highlighted players are returning in 2014|
Jeremy Hill rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns last season for the Tigers but left early to the NFL. His departure, along with Alfred Blue's decision not to apply for another year of eligibility, leaves a gaping hole on LSU's depth chart at running back.
That leaves Fournette, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard as the three primary candidates vying for playing time at running back in Baton Rouge.
Hill expects production to increase from the new-look Tiger backfield.
I'm going out on a limb right now LSU will have 2 one thousand yard rushers next season now which 2 I don't know but it will happen— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) February 10, 2014
Lofty expectations, no doubt. If Hill's prediction is going to come true, Fournette will likely be one of those two.
He has the size to take the punishment between the tackles right away and the speed to be dangerous in space. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is Fournette picking up LSU's offensive system once he sets foot on campus.
That will be what holds Fournette back initially.
The last remaining piece of the puzzle for nearly all freshmen running backs is the ability to diagnose where pressure is coming from and protect the quarterback in passing situations. That's why Fournette will likely start as a reserve—or a "1B" to Magee—and evolve into more of a feature-back role as the season progresses.
By the time the leaves begin to change color, expect Fournette to be the No. 1 running back in Baton Rouge.
But how about that 1,000-yard mark? That's too much.
Hill didn't emerge as LSU's feature back until midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2012, finishing the year with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns. Expect a similar stat line from Fournette, and for LSU to employ a running back-by-committee approach early as he gets his feet wet in the college game.
Once it clicks, Fournette will become a superstar in the SEC. LSU's offense is predicated on establishing the run, and they'll be able to establish it early and often with Fournette taking the majority of the handoffs.
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