Inside the numbers: Fournettes amazing start
So, was Fournette's early domination projected when he came out of high school? Although he was not the No. 1 overall player in the 2014 class, he was the No. 1 running back prospect and No. 4 overall. That means there were three others projected higher than him, though, and so far only one has a case to be mentioned in the same discussion.
Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett posted an SEC freshman record of 11.5 sacks last season, despite playing half the season with torn ligaments in his hand. Garrett was the No. 2 player in that 2014 class. At No. 1 was Da'Shawn Hand, who is one of only three five-stars from the 2014 class not to be listed on his team's two-deep headed into this weekend. No. 3 was Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who missed the majority of his freshman season with an injury and has been solid in four games as a starter for the Wolverines this year.
It's also interesting to note that the three players ranked immediately behind Fournette in the 2014 class have also made big, early splashes in college football. At No. 5 was Virginia safety Quin Blanding, who led all FBS freshmen in tackles with 123. No. 6 was USC's do-everything playmaker, Adoree' Jackson, and No. 7 was Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, who has already started 10 games for the Aggies and thrown for 2,274 yards and 27 touchdowns in his short career.
During the course of the 2014 class rankings, Fournette had been as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 6. Although those are lofty rankings, what the 6-foot-1, 230-pound back has done through 16 games of his college career is certainly cause for argument that he should have been No. 1 in that 2014 class.
Running backs ranked in the top five in the years before Fournette
Fournette was only the eighth running back to be ranked in the top five of the Rivals100 since 2002, when Rivals' rankings started. The position has been devalued since the start of the century and the rankings have reflected that, with just three running backs ranked in the top five since 2008.
Some of those running backs ranked in the top five have panned out as projected, while others have fallen short. Adrian Peterson was the No. 1 overall player in the 2004 class and he is arguably the NFL's top back right now. Class of 2003's No. 2 player, Reggie Bush, and 2006's No. 3 player, Chris Wells, had outstanding college careers, were first-round draft picks and played several good seasons in the NFL.
On the flip side, there are those who did not live up to their lofty rankings. Lorenzo Booker carved out a decent career at Florida State and was a third-round draft pick, but did not play to his No. 3 ranking in the 2003 class. Joe McKnight was the No. 2 player in the 2007 class, was drafted in the fourth round and is now out of the NFL. Class of 2009's No. 1 overall player, Bryce Brown, was a seventh-round draft pick after transferring from Tennessee to Kansas State. Meanwhile, Johnathan Gray, the No. 5 player in the 2012 class, has finally earned the No. 1 tailback job in his last season at Texas.
Percentage of 2014 five-stars starting this week
The 2014 class is starting to take over college football, and one of the most impressive statistics is the number of five-stars from that class who are first-teamers early in the second year with their programs. Of the 33 prospects rated five-stars in that class, 24 are listed as starters on their team's depth chart for this weekend, while another six are in the two-deep.
The running back group had an unusually high number of seven five-stars in 2014, and five have already ascended to be their team's lead back: Fournette, Auburn's Racean Thomas, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, North Carolina's Elijah Hood and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd. The other two - Sony Michel at Georgia and Joe Mixon at Oklahoma - are second-teamers who have already seen significant action this season.
Defensive back was another deep position in that class, and five out of the six are now starters, though John Smith, now JuJu Smith-Schuster, has flipped to offense and is starting at wide receiver. The lone non-starter is Tony Brown at Alabama, though Brown did start two games as a freshman and is currently behind another 2014 five-star, Marlon Humphrey, on the depth chart.
Very few of the five-stars from the 2014 class are in jeopardy of turning out to be busts, but one of them is the No. 1 player that year, Da'Shawn Hand, who currently sits third on the Crimson Tide's depth chart. The only other five-stars from 2014 who are not in their team's two-deep are Miami defensive end Chad Thomas and Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough.
Spots between Fournette and perceived Heisman No. 2, Nick Chubb, in the 2014 rankings
If Fournette is the clear frontrunner for the 2015 Heisman Trophy, Georgia running back Nick Chubb has solidified top contender status. Chubb fell just outside the five-star rankings, though, at No. 35 nationally in the 2014 class. Bulldogs fans have been indignant that Chubb was not a five-star on Rivals, and his production thus far in his college career bolsters their case.
A 5-foot-11, 220-pound back, Chubb has a very similar yards per carry average (8.4) to Fournette's, though he has fewer overall yards despite playing one additional game. Georgia's wins have been of the blowout variety this fall, whereas LSU has played more competitive games, requiring their starters to be on the field deeper into the game.
Chubb is the reason why another five-star running back from the 2014 class, Sony Michel, is not starting. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Michel has not fallen short of expectations -- he is averaging seven yards per carry and scored four touchdowns already this season -- but Chubb has simply proven to be the better back and kept Michel from climbing any further up the depth chart.
Midwest Recruiting Analyst
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