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CFF Series - LSU RBs... Volume Pig SZN or Nah?
VP takes a look at the LSU RB room headed into 2023
How ‘bout them Tigaz?
- Ed Orgeron, former LSU head coach
LSU Football is without a doubt one of the coolest brands in college football (CFB). Their WRs in particular have been known to make the VolumePigs All-Swag Team on numerous occasions. Although ‘swag’ and ‘drip’ don’t account for any fantasy points in CFF (well, not yet at least), I’ve always felt that it was a good omen for players’ CFF projections.
In 2019, I took a flyer on LSU’s Justin Jefferson in the eighth round of the one CFF league I participated in (shoutout to the Lockeroom Lads Invitational league). Admittedly, I had no idea at the time the scale of volume pig I had just stumbled upon. Remarkably, I was also able to secure the services of WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. off of the waiver wire to round out the Tigers’ receiving corps. That 2019 season was absurd for the Tigers passing offence, and that campaign represents an inflection point in LSU’s CFF tradition.
Prior to the 2019 season, despite numerous elite WRs donning the purple and gold, LSU’s offences did not produce many high level CFF assets at receiver. Then 2019 happened, where QB Joe ‘cool’ Burrow and OC Joe Brady created what is likely the most explosive offence CFB’s ever seen. The WRs (and my Lockeroom Lads Invitational squad) benefited from that immensely. The three WRs I had acquired accounted for a total of 51 receiving TDs, including one Biletnikoff winner (Chase) and one WR catching over 110 passes (Jefferson). Those two torched it all season, and I can’t forget about Marshall, who despite dealing with injuries throughout 2019 was a TD monster, scoring 13 TDs in 12 games — not bad when considering he only went over 100 yards once all season.
Perhaps more importantly though, I would assert that the 2019 version of Justin Jefferson will always be one of the swaggiest CFB players ever (and possibly the 1.01 of VolumePigs’ favourite CFB players of the 2010s). He was smooth, man. Oh and who can forget what he and Burrow did to OU’s charmin soft asses in the CFB playoffs.
Since that season, CFF managers have learned to pay close attention to LSU’s pass catchers.
But once upon a time not so long ago, LSU was known as a bastion for volume pig RBs. We can think of names such as Leonard Fournette, and Derrius Guice, in the last decade alone. What should CFF managers make of the 2023 LSU RB rotation now that Brian Kelly and co. are at the helm? If that’s a question you have, then you’ve come to the right place.
Head coach Brian Kelly (not to be confused with the country music singer Brian Kelley from the band Florida Georgia Line, I know—both of their accents are similar…), joined LSU in the 2022 offseason. His first season in Baton Rouge was a roaring success—with a win over Alabama and a trip to the SEC championship. A crushing defeat at the hand of UGA notwithstanding, the Tigers proved that they could already hang with the big boys under Kelly, leading many to pick them as a dark horse contender to win it all this season.
Prior to joining the SEC, Kelly spent 11 seasons as the CEO of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. While in South Bend, Kelly’s program enjoyed several seasons of success at the RB position. So naturally, CFF managers are wondering what to expect from the RB position. Luckily for ya’ll (read the ya’ll in Kelly’s ‘southern’ accent), I’ve taken the liberty of assessing the track record of Kelly’s teams by the numbers.
Coaching & System
Over the 11 year period that Kelly head coach’d ND (2010-21), the RB1 averaged 174.1 carries, 965.83 yards, 8 rushing TDs, and 24.3 receptions, 205.3 yards and 1.08 receiving TDs per season. Those numbers are equivalent to 16.32 FPG in 1-ppr formats. Of the 11 seasons, there was a 1000-yard rusher in five. Looking at total yards per scrimmage, there were nine players in those 11 seasons that crossed 1000 yards. Notably, Kelly’s last two seasons had a back-to-back 1000-yard rusher in Kyren Williams, who accumulated 1361 and 1438 yards in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
Below are the leading rushers per season at ND during Kelly’s tenure (2016-2019 had rushing QBs). Source: ESPN.
2021: Kyren Williams — 204-1002-14 (car-yds-tds rushing) + 42-359-3 (rec-yds-tds receiving)
2020: Kyren Williams — 211-1125-13 + 35-313-1
2019 Tony Jones — 144-857-6 + 5-104-1
2018 Dexter Williams — 158-995-12 + 16-133-1
2017 Josh Adams — 206-1430-9 + 13-101
2016 Josh Adams — 158-933-5 + 21-193-1
2015 CJ Promise — 156-1032-11 + 26-308-1
2014 Tarean Foslton — 175-889-6 + 18-190-1
2013 Cam McDaniel — 152-705-3 + 6-34
2012 Theo Riddick — 190-917-5 + 36-370-2
2011 Cierre Wood — 217-1102-9 + 27-189
2010 Cierre Wood — 119-603-3 + 20-170-2
You’ll notice that while there are several 1000-yard rushers, there are no RBs who received over 250 carries in a single season. The highest was Wood’s 217 in the 2011 season. Kyren’s 246 total touches leads the way in terms of total volume in a single season.
LSU OC Mike Denbrock, joined with Kelly in 2022. Prior to that, he OC’d Cincinnati from 2017 to 2021. He was with Kelly on the ND staff from 2010 to 2016.
In the 2021 season, Denbrock’s program produced 1000-yard rusher in Jerome Ford, who rushed 215 times for 1319 yards and 19 TDs, and caught 21 passes for 202 yards and a score. In 2019 and 2018 it was Michael Warren who carried the rock 261 times for 1265 yards and 14 TDs plus 21 catches for 153 yards and two scores (2019), and 244 times for 1329 yards and a monstrous 19 TDs plus 25 receptions for 232 yards and a score. Overall, Denrbock’s squads produced three 1000-yard RBs in five seasons at Cincinnati.
In their first year with the Tigers, the lead runner was actually the QB—Jayden Daniels. This is important, because Daniels returns this season and he’s probably going to do a lot of running again. In terms of tailbacks, the leader was Josh Williams, with 97 carries for 532 yards and six TDs. RBs Noah Cain and John Emery carried the rock 76 times. Cain led the backfield with 10 TDs, and Emory scored six times. Cain accrued 409 yards while Emory accrued 375. Four different RBs received over 40 carries on the season.
Logan Diggs — 6’0, 216 (Notre Dame Transfer)
Josh Williams — 5’9, 205
Armoni Goodwin — 5’8, 200
Noah Cain — 5’10, 220
John Emery — 5’10, 220
Logan Diggs — 6’0, 216
2022 FPG: 12.4
Diggs is entering his third season of college football and his first with the Tigers. Last season with the Fighting Irish, he ran 165 times for 821 yards and four TDs. He also caught 10 passes for 211 yards and two more scores. The Louisiana native was stuck in a three-way timeshare at ND, so his move to the crowded backfield at LSU was a curios move. Obviously, there’s the connection with coach Kelly, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll find a featured role here either.
Something to note, Diggs has missed some time this August due to an undisclosed injury.
Josh Williams — 5’9, 205
2022 FPG: 11.2
Williams is one of many Houston natives to find his way to the Bayou. The redshirt senior came into his own last season with the Tigers, rushing 97 times for 532 yards and six scores. He’s been described as dependable in the past by coach Kelly. That’s notable because Kelly typically values seniors with experience in divvying up reps. Here’s a recent quote from him during summer camp:
A collection of experienced backs that have a different style. Each one of them has a little bit different style they can offer. We’ve got one football . . . We’ll figure it out as it goes but my guess is it always ends up coming back to the guys with the most experience rise to the top and end up taking it over.
I expect Williams to be heavy in the rotation with Diggs and at least one other. Something to note, like Diggs, Williams has missed some time this August due to an undisclosed injury.
Armoni Goodwin — 5’8, 200
2022 FPG: 8.9
Goodwin was a strong recruiting win for the former LSU staff over the in-state school Alabama. The Birmingham native is entering his third season with the Tigers. This should be a bigger year for him as his role has steadily increased each season. He rushed 45 times for 267 yards and five scores over seven games last season. His receiving work was minimal, however, only catching four passes for 19 yards on six targets.
He’s missed time in camp this summer due to a mystery injury, so I’m not sure if he’ll be ready to go week one.
Noah Cain — 5’10, 220
2022 FPG: 8.4
Cain had a breakout freshman season with the Penn State Nittany Lions all the way back in 2019—averaging 10.5 FPG over 10 games. Unfortunately, that’d be the high point of his career in the B1G. The former IMG superstar is entering his fifth year of college football after transferring to the Tigers last offseason. His first year in the Purple and Gold saw him carry the rock 76 times for 409 yards and a team-leading 10 TDs. He also caught nine passes for 76 yards. He’s a big back, and — as evidenced by the TDs last season — is often used around the goal line.
His bowling ball build does strike a resemblance to some of the LSU RBs of years past (Clyde Edwards-Helair and Derrius Guice come to mind).
John Emory — 5’10, 220
2022 FPG: 9.4
Emory is an interesting one. On paper, he should have been the leading tailback for the Tigers years ago. I’m sure when he committed to LSU back in 2018 he envisioned that he’d be in the NFL by now. Not so, unfortunately (but maybe fortunately for us?). The former five-star is now entering his fifth year with the Tigers after injuries and academic suspensions have derailed his career on the field. His availability for this upcoming season is currently in limbo due to… you guessed it—academic reasons.
Emory rushed 77 times for 377 yards and six scores in 2022. He also caught 13 passes on 18 targets for 129 yards and two scores.
Fun fact: Emory was once a UGA commit. I wonder if his career would have turned out any differently had he stuck with Kirby? I doubt it—likely he would have transfered back to LSU by now.
While the staff’s prior tendencies suggest that they like to feature one player (more or less… we’ll say they like bellcow-lights), I don’t see that being the case in 2023 for the LSU Tigers. There are too many players that are around the same level of ability for one to get the lion share of carries. It was already a crowded backfield before Diggs joined. And yes—while him transferring shows some preference towards his ability by Kelly, I don’t see Cain, Williams, or Goodwin going away anytime soon (and that’s assuming Emory won’t be available).
Throw in freshman Kaleb Jackson and retuning player Kevontre Bradford after his brief stint at OU, and this room is more more crowded than a pig parade down Bourbon Street. My prognostication on this room is that it will be a committee with Diggs and Williams as the top two on the depth chart, with a third heavily involved. On a semi-interesting note, each RB besides Cain has been missing time in August for one reason or another, which could leave him as the last man standing to open the season. I believe Diggs and Williams are expected to be ready to go come week one, however.
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