Nobody is really surprised by Derrius Guice’s decision to leave LSU early for the NFL – least of all Tigers fans, who have seen it happen over and over again with elite running backs.
While it’s far from unusual to see top running backs depart early for the pro ranks, the trend has hit the Tigers particularly hard. In the past decade, no LSU running back to lead the Tigers in rushing has remained with the program for all four years. Even players who weren’t even starters have sometimes left LSU with eligibility remaining.
Guice is following in the familiar path of Stevan Ridley, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Jeremy Hill and Leonard Fournette, all of whom left Baton Rouge with one year (or, in Hill’s case, two years) of eligibility left to go.
Running backs’ careers have a notoriously short shelf life. The physical pounding of the position and the risk of career-altering injuries naturally encourage top prospects to go for the NFL at the first opportunity and start earning serious money. Still, there are exceptions – think Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia this season, or Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb, or Alabama’s Damien Harris after his Wednesday decision to return to Tuscaloosa.
Not so at LSU. The only four-year running backs at the school this decade (since 2010) have been part-time players such as Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard or, more recently, Darrel Williams.
Here’s a breakdown of top rushers for the Tigers during that span.
2010: Stevan Ridley, 1,147 yards. A junior who had played sparingly his first two years, Ridley entered the draft and joined the New England Patriots in the third round.
2011: Michael Ford, 756 yards. An elite recruit, Ford had one really strong season and this was it, helping the Tigers to the BCS championship game. After a disappointing junior year in 2012, he entered the draft early but was not selected.
2012: Jeremy Hill, 755 yards. Hill, who redshirted in 2011, leaped over Ford and Spencer Ware on the depth chart to rush for 12 touchdowns. He was even better in 2013, but left after his redshirt sophomore campaign for the draft. The Cincinnati Bengals selected him in the second round.
2012 (bonus): The Tigers also lost Ware after the 2012 season, even though his performance had slipped sharply from his sophomore campaign (707 yards in 2011 to 367 in 2012, with only 3.9 yards per carry). The Seattle Seahawks selected Ware in the sixth round.
2013: Hill, 1,401 yards.
2014: Leonard Fournette, 1,034 yards. Fournette was a super prospect coming in and didn’t disappoint as a freshman. He was even better as a sophomore, then endured an injury-plagued junior season and entered the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected him fourth overall in 2017.
2015: Fournette, 1,953 yards.
2016: Derrius Guice, 1,387 yards. While Fournette missed some action, Guice moved into the starting lineup with explosive results, scoring 15 touchdowns and averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He followed up with a strong junior season before declaring for the draft.
By contrast, in the eight years before 2010 – a period that included two national championships – no LSU rushing leader (Domanick Davis, Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard, Joseph Addai, Jacob Hester and Charles Scott) departed early for the draft. Broussard, though, did eventually transfer to Missouri Southern.
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