Coming into his freshman season as LSU, it was almost impossible for Tigers running back Leonard Fournette to live up to the hype.
He had the No. 1 overall recruiting ranking in the class of 2014 on his shoulders, head coach Les Miles had compared him to former NBA superstar Michael Jordan at SEC media days, his running back mate, Terrence Magee, had compared him to Adrian Peterson and Fournette himself said he planned on becoming the first true freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Well, he didn't turn into MJ or win the Heisman Trophy, but he did have a much better year than Peterson—one that progressed quickly as the New Orleans native adjusted to life as a college football player.
That doesn't mean he won't win the Heisman Trophy in the future, though.
He's listed tied for third with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin on the Heisman odds board at 15-2 according to Odds Shark, and he will undoubtedly be the focal point of an LSU offense that will be run-based by desire and necessity.
What should LSU fans realistically expect from their super-sophomore running back?
Only a Small Jump in Overall Production
Fournette looked the part of a superstar last year, rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while splitting carries with Magee and Kenny Hilliard. With his two partners in the backfield now gone, it should be "The Leonard Fournette Show" in Baton Rouge.
But who will be the supporting actors?
LSU is at its best when it has a stable of running backs to take pressure off one another and keep one another fresh. Fournette will be leading that corps this year and will have sophomore Darrel Williams joining him along with incoming freshmen Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette.
Is Fournette capable of putting up Melvin Gordon-type video game numbers and breaking the 2,000-yard mark on the ground? Absolutely.
If he does, though, it will likely be an indication that something went terribly wrong at LSU. It would suggest that either the rest of the running backs couldn't supply the support LSU needs at running back or worse—that the passing game has remained more of a myth despite the best efforts from Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to make it work.
Don't get me wrong; Fournette can and likely will be better. And as Emily Dixon of LSUSports.net notes, he's doing everything he can to improve during the offseason:
While 2,000 rushing yards would be nice, it's not what LSU needs. LSU needs around 1,500 from Fournette as the No. 1 running back. That would further solidify Fournette as a star and suggest LSU has fixed its problems, which would go a long way toward the Tigers returning to SEC West contention in 2015.
There's No 'I' in 'Team'
From the Heisman Trophy plans before the season to the Heisman pose following his first career touchdown versus Sam Houston State in September, Fournette got labeled—perhaps unfairly—as a me-first player during his freshman campaign on the Bayou.
That's not the most uncommon thing in the world. The de-recruitment process that takes place from the moment a top-tier prospect signs on the dotted line is perhaps a coach's toughest job, and nobody talks about it.
His priorities have seemingly changed this offseason, as Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com notes:
That's the right approach, and Fournette has to keep that mindset throughout the season—even if he does jump squarely in the Heisman mix this fall.
More than 400 Receiving Yards
While Fournette's accolades on the ground wowed college football fans, it was his ability in pass protection and as a receiving threat that earned him more snaps as the 2014 season progressed.
Expect him to be more than just a threat as a receiver in 2015. He showed flashes of what he's capable of last season, catching seven passes for 127 yards and showing off soft hands—particularly in the win over Ole Miss, in which he caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 40-yarder up the seam in the first quarter.
Not only can Fournette act as a safety valve for the eventual winner of the quarterback competition, but he can also split out wide and create matchup problems for opposing defenses. This is something LSU tinkered with last year, as Ross Dellenger of The Advocate noted in November 2014:
Expect more of this.
LSU desperately needs to find a way for its quarterbacks to get in a groove on short and intermediate routes, and using Fournette as a receiver not only in the flat but also over the middle and on bubble screens is a perfect way to do it.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.