Leonard Fournette made it official Monday: He’s turning pro.
LSU’s star junior running back announced he’s leaving school early and will enter the 2017 NFL draft. It was the expected move for the New Orleans native, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite who was hampered by a lingering left ankle sprain.
The Advocate reported last week that LSU’s coaching staff expected Fournette and safety Jamal Adams — both projected as first-round selections — to leave early. Adams has not made an announcement. Fournette announced his decision on Twitter, saying he plans to play in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville on Dec. 31 in Orlando, Florida.
Fournette, the top recruit in the nation in the Class of 2014, leaves LSU with a slew of school records, but he fell short of a host of goals. He went 0-3 against Alabama, didn’t win a Southeastern Conference division or conference championship and did not claim college football’s top individual prize, the Heisman.
"When I decided to attend LSU and major in Human Resources, I also had hopes of winning a national championship," Fournette wrote in his goodbye letter. "Things did not go as I planned, but when I consider the passion and commitment of the LSU fans, coaches and my teammates, I am still very grateful for my experience here."
LSU running back Leonard Fournette is "day (to) day," and middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith…
He came the closest to the Heisman last year, leading the nation in rushing yards per game (162.8), but he was not a finalist after a late-season slide. He did set a host of single-season rushing marks, blowing through Charles Alexander’s yardage record (1,953), topping LaBrandon Toefield’s touchdowns mark (22) and becoming the first player in school history to have three consecutive 200-yard games.
He’ll likely set career marks for yards per carry and rushing yards per game. Fournette has averaged 6.19 yards per rush, well ahead of Charles Scott’s record of 5.46, and he has averaged more than 119 rushing yards per game, easily outpacing Kevin Faulk’s 111.2-yard average. He’s third in total touchdowns at 40, six behind Faulk’s mark.
Most expected that last record to fall during what was set to be a Heisman-worthy 2016 season for the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder, but an injury during the second week of preseason camp sent his junior year into a tailspin. He suffered a bone bruise and high and low sprains to his left ankle during a collision with linebacker Donnie Alexander, and it never fully healed, Fournette said.
He missed four games and only played in a limited role in a fifth. Fournette has 843 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
LSU is in no rush to hire an offensive coordinator or a special teams coordinator, coach Ed …
"This has been a very trying season, but I have continued to fight to play to the best of my ability," he wrote in the letter. "Each day I study and work and rehab with my coaches, trainers and teammates so that I can return to the field for the bowl game and help our team bring another victory home."
Fournette is projected as a top-15 pick in the draft, set for April 27-29 in Philadelphia. He's likely the top running back in the class.
"He’s among the handful of blue-chip prospects," said Rob Rang, NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com. "He’s my personal top-rated offensive player. He possesses the combo of size, speed and power that the NFL hasn’t seen in a draft since Adrian Peterson."
To LSU fans, he'll be remembered most for his brutal body blows and stunning breakaway dashes. Fournette called his 228-yard outing against Auburn last year his most memorable performance — and the one he rewatches with his daughter, Lyric. He flashed his physicality in that one, bowling over linebackers and out-running defensive backs on the way to a performance that made him the Heisman favorite a month into the season.
A 31-yard performance against Alabama later in the year sent his stock spiraling, and he never recovered, missing out on attending the Heisman ceremony in New York. During the meeting this year with the top-ranked Crimson Tide, Fournette ran for just 35 yards, struggling again against the nation's No. 1 rushing defense.
No team held him down like Alabama, the blemish on his memorable, three-year run. He averaged 2.54 yards per carry in three meetings with the Tide and scored just one touchdown.
This year's outing against Alabama came just two weeks after he ran for 284 yards against Ole Miss to break the school's single-game record. His backup, Derrius Guice, reset the mark with 285 in the regular-season finale at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night.
LSU's backfield will remain in more than capable hands with Guice, an electric sophomore from Baton Rouge's Catholic High. He piled up 254 yards at Arkansas this season, and he's on pace to break the career per-carry record that Fournette will set this season. Guice is averaging 8.1 yards per carry through two seasons.
But Fournette will have his own place in LSU lore — one without championships or major awards but filled with hard hits and dominant runs.
"I make this announcement now," Fournette wrote in his letter, "so that there will not be speculation and distractions while we prepare (for the bowl game). I want everyone to know that I forever treasure my experience as a Tiger."
Leonard Fournette missed four of LSU's 11 games this season, but he’ll likely break two career school marks:
Yards per carry
Yards per game
Leonard Fournette broke or tied several LSU and Southeastern Conference single-season and single-game records during his breakout sophomore season in 2015:
Previous record holder
Fournette had …
200-yard rushing games
100-yard rushing games
Consecutive 200-yard rushing games
Overall TDs in a game