Alabama-LSU showcases bullish backs Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry

Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry are among the nation's leaders in rushing yards, touchdowns and yards after contact. USA TODAY Sports

In just a little more than a week, the college football world will descend on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for yet another royal rumble between Alabama and LSU, pitting two hellacious backs -- LSU's Leonard Fournette and Alabama's Derrick Henry.

Fournette leads the nation with 1,352 yards in just seven games and is averaging an incredible 7.7 yards per carry (176 attempts). Henry has 1,044 yards and is averaging 5.8 (180 attempts). Both pummel opponents with vicious strength and can sprint by defenders with track speed.

"If they break the first line of defense they’re a handful for your second-level guys to bring down without being punished," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "They both are super physical guys. I’m not sure that there’s a lot that separates the two, really. They make both of those offenses better with their talent level.”

When it comes to contact, they seemingly shed it with ease. Fournette and Henry rank first and second in the SEC in yards after contact (YAC). Fournette has registered 517 YAC compared to Henry's 439, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Fournette is averaging 73.9 YAC per game and 2.9 YAC per rush. Henry is right behind him with 54.9 YAC per game and 2.4 YAC per carry.

Fournette is averaging a league-high 82.5 YAC per SEC game and 3.4 YAC per carry, while Henry is second in conference play with 64.4 YAC per game and 2.4 YAC per rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Let's take it a step further. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks second in the Power 5 with 616 YAC. Henry has 529 YAC between the tackles, which ranks fourth in the Power 5. Fournette is averaging 88 yards between the tackles per game (6.2 per rush) and Henry is averaging 66.1 yards per game (5.2).

“They can change the game in an instant," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "They probably thrive on the big moment. They’re both good in ball security and everything you want encompassed in a running back they possess.”

Fournette possesses a little more straightaway speed, considering he was also a master kick returner last year with his 625 yards and a touchdown. Believe it or not, Henry is actually bigger, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 242 pounds. Fournette is no twig in his own right, but he comes in at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds.

The fact of the matter is both are exceptional, game-altering backs who will have very bright NFL futures. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has Henry, a junior, listed as his No. 3 running back prospect in next year's draft, while draft expert Todd McShay has Henry second. Fournette isn't on either list because as a sophomore he isn't eligible. But if he were, he'd likely be No. 1 on both.

Here are some nice things folks have said about these two:


Florida coach Jim McElwain: "He's what we call an eraser. He’s a guy that can change the game every time that he touches it. … Every time he touches it he has a chance to finish it [with a touchdown] and change the game and that’s what makes the guy special and what makes him an eraser.”

South Carolina interim coach Shawn Elliott: "He is a strong, physical runner. He doesn't have to be blocked perfectly, he can take on open-field tackles, safeties, linebackers, and he can shed them like no other."

LSU OT Vadal Alexander: “Leonard is a once-in-a-lifetime type of back. He makes us look really good. He’s the type of guy if you give him a seam he takes it the distance. A 5-yard run for a normal back is probably a 50-yard run for him. When I hear the crowd roaring, I know he’s done something pretty special. … I’m in awe of some of the things he does.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban: “He was one of the best running backs that we'd ever seen [in high school]. He certainly hasn’t done anything to disappoint us in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish. I think he’s a phenomenal player and he’s one of the most dominant guys in the country relative to what he does. ... Leonard is very instinctive as a runner, he maximizes the efficiency of each play about as well as anybody."


Tennessee coach Butch Jones: "He has a combination of size and speed and does a very good job of getting his shoulders north and south and then he has finishing speed. He can also make the second-level defender miss as well. ... You've got to get a lot of hats to the football. You have to get 11 individuals around the football. It’s a challenge to bring him down with one individual."

Saban: "Derrick is the kind of guy that gets in a rhythm and the more he carries the ball the better he gets.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt: "It starts with blocking. They block pretty well. They create space for him to get a little momentum going and he’s very difficult to get down once he gets a little head of steam. When he starts breaking vertically, a lot of guys either need to go lower or get out of the way."

Alabama center Ryan Kelly: “There have been a couple of games where in some situations where we’re kind of running the clock down he could have taken a knee or try to juke a guy but instead he lowered his shoulder and brought the boom. He’s the kind of a guy who isn’t going to shy away from contact. He’s a guy who’s just going to keep running hard and harder.”