OSU, LSU undefeated thanks to elite running backs
Ohio State and LSU remain unbeaten this year, predominantly on the back of their ground attacks. The Buckeyes blew out Penn State to remain the No. 1 team in the nation, while the Tigers won a close one against the Gators. Both teams have running backs who can take over games and that’s exactly what happened in their respective contests last weekend. Fournette’s +4.3 grade was impressive, but it pales in comparison to the +5.7 grade Ezekiel Elliott recorded. Such high grades are rare from running backs — especially against good opposition.
Overall this year, Elliott and Fournette rank first and second respectively in our running back rankings. As a pure runner, few can challenge Leonard Fournette’s claim to be the top rusher in the nation. On the ground, Fournette holds the top grade (+17 .4), with top-five rankings in both yards after contact per attempt (4.36) and broken tackles (41). Those numbers support Fournette’s Heisman claim.
Although Elliott isn’t the runner that Fournette is, his overall game might be better. Elliott’s +12.6 rushing grade is some way behind Fournette’s, but with an average of 4.14 yards after contact per attempt and 28 broken tackles, he’s still ranks inside the top five. It’s the little things that stand out about Elliott’s game. He is the only running back to have played 50 percent of snaps with a perfect pass-blocking efficiency rating. Elliott is perfect on his 50 pass blocks. With a 100 percent completion percentage when targeted in the passing game, Elliott is a reliable weapon out of the backfield too. Fournette, meanwhile, is less of a receiving threat but has still broken four tackles on just six receptions (although he does have a drop).
Overall there isn’t much to separate these two backs — Fournette is the better pure runner, but Elliott has more elements to his game. The Heisman debate will likely rage well into the season.