CFB Player Bracket: Leonard Fournette vs. Nick Chubb
Two of the top members of the loaded 2014 running back class that has taken over college football, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb, square off in a hotly-contested second-round matchup.
A year ago at this time, both players were coming off strong true freshman seasons with Chubb the better-looking all-around player. Fast forward to now and Chubb is recovering from a season-ending injury while Fournette improved as a sophomore to become the nation’s best runner while positioning himself as a Heisman front-runner heading into 2016.
Chubb’s health and Fournette’s continued improvement are the key storylines in their matchup. Let’s take a look.
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The case for Leonard Fournette
Few players improved as much as Fournette from 2014 to 2015 as the former blue chip recruit added some shiftiness to his already-impressive combination of size, speed, and power. As a true freshman, Fournette was solid, but he was more of a straight-line runner who looked like an overdeveloped 18-year old capable of competing with the older kids in the SEC.
Turn the page to 2015 and Fournette was more nimble and it showed in many of his dominant performances on his way to the top rushing grade in the country. It also showed statistically as he forced a missed tackle once every 3.5 carries last season, a marked improvement from forcing a miss every 6.0 carries as a freshman. Perhaps the best part of Fournette’s game is his ability to maximize yards in tight spaces as he “gets skinny” in the hole and gains what he can even if his run blocking is not up to par. When plays are blocked well, Fournette is a force at the second level and in the open field as he can run through, around or straight past defenders with his impressive physical tools.
Fournette was the Heisman favorite for much of the 2015 season before running into Alabama’s brick wall defense, and it’s unfortunate that his campaign took such a huge hit in a game with so little opportunity to shine due to pristine run defense from the Crimson Tide. Still, Fournette heads into 2016 as the best pure runner in the nation and if he can make similar strides to other parts of his game as he did from 2014 to 2015, it’s scary what he can do as an encore to his outstanding sophomore season.
The case for Nick Chubb
If healthy, Chubb ranks right along the likes of the nation’s best running backs. Tacklers bounced off of him as a freshman as he ranked third in the nation in elusive rating at 113.3 behind only teammate Todd Gurley and Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington. Even more impressive, his overall grade ranked sixth among the nation’s running backs while his run grade ranked 11th. Chubb was on his way to another strong season before injuring his knee in week six against Tennessee so there are some questions about how he will bounce back next season.
Like Fournette, Chubb has a way of making the most of his blocking. He works through his reads well and when the initial point of attack closes, he finds another avenue and crams the ball into the line to pick up yards after contact while keeping the offense on schedule. When Chubb receives a crease, he punishes second-level defenders while showing enough speed to create big plays. Throw in the added element of production in the passing game that Chubb showed as a freshman and he brings a strong all-around game to the best-running-back-in-college-football debate.
The verdict: Leonard Fournette advances
Even though Chubb was the more impressive runner in 2014, Fournette’s development has put him ahead as we move into 2016. Adding some finesse to his battering-ram running style made Fournette nearly unstoppable and similar improvement could lead to a legendary season on the Bayou. With inconsistent quarterback play plaguing both offenses, Chubb and Fournette will shoulder a heavy workload as the focal point of their respective rushing attacks. The matchup is tight between both players, but we’re giving Fournette the nod as he was the nation’s top runner last season and he’s poised to do the same moving forward.
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