HOUSTON -- The last time I saw Leonard Fournette in person was when he slaughtered Auburn back in September to the tune of 228 yards rushing and three touchdowns. What held true in Week 3 against Auburn, held true in the Texas Bowl against Texas Tech.
Fournette pounded the Red Raiders with a steady barrage of power and speed that had everyone talking at halftime and after the game. Actually, one comment before the game by ESPN color commentator Brock Huard was the most interesting of the night.
"Fournette reminds me of Lebron James," Huard noted. "And not just in his physical size, but the way his feet point out, and the way he walks and the power he's able to generate."
Indeed, Fournette does have a similar gait to the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, but it is the way he imposes his will over the competition that is more likely to have people comparing him to "King James." When NFL teams look at early round running back prospects, they want to see size and a runner who can either create for himself or break tackles and gain yards after initial contact. Fournette fits into the latter category.
Fournette isn't built to be a creative runner from an elusiveness standpoint. He's like Derrick Henry from Alabama in that regard. Once again against Texas Tech, Fournette showed that he's a little tight in his hips and unable to cut sharply, or change directions with suddenness when he's crowded out on the perimeter. However, we also saw that if he turns the corner in space, he has rare speed for a back his size and he can hit chunk plays for touchdowns.
To LSU's credit, it understands that Fournette has elite power, and an ability to absorb contact and dole out bone-jarring hits. LSU fed Fournette a steady stream of power runs and inside zone plays that allowed him to wear down the Red Raiders, which lead to a huge second half for true sophomore.
Did I mention he took a screen pass 44 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter? Yes, five total touchdowns and 212 yards rushing. Somewhere Auburn linebackers Kris Frost and Casanova McKinzy shook their heads knowingly. Big backs with booming power and long speed will get plenty of attention from NFL evaluators, and Fournette just guaranteed himself to be the most talked about prospect headed into the 2016 season.
More Texas Bowl notes:
Leonard Fournette was definitely the main attraction at the Texas Bowl, and he didn't disappoint with his performance. However, there were several other marquee players involved in this contest. Here are my observations on a few players that stood out:
LSU CB Tre'Davious White: LSU moved him around quite a bit in this contest. He lined up at safety, cornerback and in the slot. His fluidity and mirror skills were easy to spot, but he gave up a few plays down the field against the undersized, speed wide outs from Texas Tech. I love his overall athleticism (he also returns punts), but he has some technique work to clean up.
LSU LB Kendall Beckwith: Beckwith had an outstanding game. He made plays when lined up at inside linebacker and then he also got after the quarterback rushing off the edge. He has the strength to take on blockers and the speed to range sideline to sideline. His combination of size, speed and versatility is very enticing.
LSU LB Deion Jones: The first thing that jumps out about Jones is his closing speed. He made several plays in the alley where he showed an explosive burst. He is a perfect 4-3 WILL linebacker and reminds me a little of his former teammate Kwon Alexander.
LSU OT Jerald Hawkins: I was lukewarm on Hawkins after watching him on tape this morning, but he was much better in this contest (I found out at the game that he was playing through an ankle injury in the games I studied). He is an easy mover in both the run and pass game, and he showed excellent bend and balance. He looked like an NFL starting left tackle.
Texas Tech OT Le'Raven Clark: The first thing I noticed about Clark was his length. He has 36-inch arms and his success largely depends on his ability to keep defenders off his chest. When he does keep his chest clean, he can slide and mirror very effectively. However, if he doesn't land his punch, he has soft edges and he gets beat consistently. LSU's ultra talented freshman (Arden Key) got the better of him in this game. Some scouts view Clark as a high second-round pick, but he didn't play like it against LSU.
Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant: Most evaluators had free-agent grades on Grant entering the Texas Bowl. His lack of size is a major concern. In the spring, scouts measured him at 5-foot-5 1/2 and he weighed 169 pounds. Those dimensions are tough to overcome in a draft room, but Grant is one explosive athlete. He ran right by White for a deep touchdown early in the game and he kept making plays throughout the night. He finished up with 10 catches for 125 yards and three touchdowns. He looked worthy of a late-round pick despite his physical limitations.