Running back Leonard Fournette is arguably the top uncommitted offensive player in the 2014 recruiting class. The St. Augustine High School (New Orleans, La.) star is a versatile weapon out of the offensive backfield, and his skill set has brought college scouts to the bayou in droves during the past few seasons.
He rushed for 5,828 yards and 72 touchdowns during his first three high school seasons. Fournette, a 6'1", 225-pound freight train, is enjoying another dominant campaign this fall.
Against defending national champion John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.) this month, he carried the ball 36 times for 262 yards. Fournette added a late 27-yard touchdown reception that made the difference in a thrilling 29-28 victory broadcast on ESPN.
He is listed as the nation's No. 1 running back and No. 2 overall player in 247Sports composite rankings.
Naturally, his collegiate offer list is lengthy. Fournette's options include Auburn, Florida State, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
While there are several schools in the mix, 247Sports pinpoints four programs as preferred options for the playmaker. Fournette is heavily considering LSU, Alabama, USC and Michigan.
It remains unknown when the 5-star prospect will take official visits, but he anticipates going to each campus, along with Miami, his father confirmed to NOLA.com writer Andrew Lopez.
With those five schools in mind, let's examine which situation would be the ideal fit for Fournette. Most expect him to contend for immediate playing time wherever he lands, so each team stands to add a high-impact freshman.
The flirtation between Fournette and the Michigan Wolverines hit a rough patch in July, when the running back unexpectedly didn't show up in Ann Arbor for the Wolverines' Barbecue at the Big House recruiting event. Although the program is still hoping to host him for an official visit, the no-show was a significant missed opportunity for Michigan to pitch its program in the presence of several top commits.
The Wolverines are currently without a running back prospect in this recruiting cycle. Current go-to back Fitzgerald Toussaint is a redshirt senior.
Fournette would bolster an already impressive Michigan class and walk onto campus as a favorite to start during his freshman season, splitting time with promising freshman Derrick Green. Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers, listed as the nation's No. 3 overall prospect in 247Sports composite rankings, told mlive.com writer Kyle Meinke that he's making an effort to join forces with Fournette.
Derrick is one of the best young running backs in the country and with him taking reps along with Leonard they could be the best 1-2 punch in the country. The best part is that it would preserve him more because he's not gonna have to take on the whole load by himself. He'll get a blow and we won't lose productivity on the field. Getting those breaks will allow him to have a longer career than most running backs. It's a win-win. Plus Leonard really understands how big a Michigan degree would be for him so I feel good about him.
The Miami Hurricanes emerged late as an under-the radar candidate among Fournette's favorites. He recently told Advocate reporter Ted Lewis the program has always been under consideration.
“I’ve been liking them," Fournette explained. "I just haven’t said much about it."
The Hurricanes already boast 4-star running back commit Joseph Yearby. The Miami Central High School standout is considerably smaller than Fournette, standing at 5'9", 190 pounds.
A commitment from Fournette would signal a significant step for Al Golden's squad, as he aims to return the program to its glory of last decade. The Hurricanes currently hold the nation's fifth-best 2014 class in 247Sports composite rankings.
Sophomore running back Duke Johnson ranks among the ACC's top ball-carriers, so Fournette wouldn't be expected to shoulder the load immediately.
Due to proximity and personal ties, the LSU Tigers are viewed as slight favorites to secure a commitment from Fournette. He attended camp in Baton Rouge this summer and former St. Augustine teammate Trai Turner is currently a sophomore guard on LSU.
Led by head coach Les Miles, the Tigers have assembled an excellent 2014 recruiting class. Louisiana's high school football talent level may be at an all-time high and LSU has done an excellent job capitalizing on the situation.
A pledge from Fournette would take this class to another level and could ultimately convince fellow uncommitted Louisiana stars to join the Tigers. No player means more to LSU's current recruiting efforts than Fournette.
Sophomore Jeremy Hill has emerged as the central figure in LSU's rushing attack, while upperclassmen Alfred Blue, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard contribute in limited capacities. The group gets the job done in a variety of ways, but no single player in the bunch can rival Fournette's skill set.
The New Orleans star can certainly feel the pressure to commit to his home-state squad, where he'd have plenty of local support.
The USC Trojans have quickly become an unknown commodity in the recruiting spectrum, as uncertainty swirls around the future of the program. The early-season dismissal of head coach Lane Kiffin has resulted in mixed reaction from recruits and the program is expected to pursue big-name coaching candidates.
Regardless of who is patrolling the Trojans sideline, the allure of Los Angeles is always a selling point. Throw in the fact that Reggie Bush and LenDale White were national stars during Fournette's childhood and there's an understandable draw to USC.
He visited campus for a camp in June, according to reignoftroy.com.
Since Fournette plans to unveil his intentions in early January, the Trojans' spot among is favorites would seem contingent on the university's ability to quickly gain stability by hiring a new head coach. Despite suffering through significant offensive struggles through the air, USC's rushing attack has been effective in 2013.
Sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Justin Davis have combined for 960 rushing yards and nine scores, with each averaging more than five yards per carry. The Trojans' 2014 recruiting class doesn't currently include a running back.
The 2014 USC offensive scheme remains a complete mystery, but you can be sure any new coach would view Fournette as a key component of the new attack.
Fournette would break the hearts of Louisianans everywhere if he took his talents up north to Tuscaloosa. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban welcomed the running back to campus in August, according to AL.com.
Alabama's sales pitch is pretty obvious. Running backs have flourished with the program under Saban.
Mark Ingram rushed his way to the Heisman Trophy in 2009, before being selected in the first round by the New Orleans Saints in 2009. Trent Richardson followed up as SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 and went No. 3 overall in the 2011 draft to the Cleveland Browns.
The Green Bay Packers plucked Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round this year, months after he earned MVP honors in the 2012 SEC Championship Game. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon currently carries the torch in Tuscaloosa, tallying more than 1,600 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns during his short college career.
Based on recent history, it seems a commitment to Alabama is Fournette's most obvious path to national stardom, Heisman Trophy contention and NFL draft fortunes. He would be next in a long line of explosive Crimson Tide running backs.
Ultimately, it appears Fournette's recruiting process comes down to yet another battle between Alabama and LSU. The SEC rivals have become the most familiar with Fournette throughout his recruitment, and each offers tremendous opportunities.
Which program is the best fit for top-ranked RB Leonard Fournette?
Yeldon projects as a high 2015 draft pick and Fournette could take on a supplementary role in Alabama's offense initially before starting as a sophomore. That process of succession has worked incredibly well for the Crimson Tide during Saban's reign.
Fournette would have to pass up an opportunity to play the role of hometown hero at LSU. Tigers fans have clamored over this recruit for years, and Miles understands the importance of keeping players of his caliber in the state.
Alabama has assembled the nation's best 2014 recruiting class so far, but a commitment from Fournette could vault LSU into similar standing. After plenty of deliberation, Fournette will find the best immediate opportunity as the member of the Tigers.
LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could make him a focal point, as the team transitions from a Zach Mettenberger-led attack. He'd arrive on campus known as the guy who'd rather knock off the national champs than join them.