John Emery Jr.’s return brings back needed experience to LSU’s running back room

LSU landed a transfer running back last week, but he’s hardly a stranger to the program. John Emery Jr. is back after exploring his options in the portal. For a moment, Emery looked destined for UCLA. But with LSU needing numbers and experience at running back, a return made sense for the Destrehan, Louisiana, native.

Emery, who will be coming off a torn ACL, is set for his sixth year of college football. He was a five-star and the top-ranked running back in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports and ESPN.

Emery made a strong early impression. There wasn’t much opportunity in 2019 with the talent LSU had at the skill positions, but when he got his chances, he made the most of them.

As a true freshman, Emery ranked fourth among SEC RBs with 35+ carries in PFF’s elusive rating. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire off to the NFL, there was a hope Emery would be LSU’s next feature back.

Following his freshmen year, Emery underwent LASIK eye surgery, correcting vision in an eye that was considered legally blind. The news led to even more speculation of an Emery breakout.

As a sophomore, he sat in the top 10 in yards after contact per attempt. But it was a weird year. LSU lacked direction as a program during the pandemic years, and Emery was in and out of the lineup.

In 2021, LSU was still searching for a running back to claim the feature role. Emery was as good a candidate as any, but the NCAA declared him academically ineligible for the entire year.

By this point, Emery had also dealt with nagging lower-body injuries throughout his career. The suspension lingered into the first two games of 2022, but Emery finally made his return.

He struggled to find consistency, but Emery came up with big plays against Auburn and Alabama. Both wins LSU needed to capture the SEC West title. His impact was limited, but you could argue the Tigers wouldn’t have won the division without him.

Emery returned for a fifth year in 2023. He was still trying to get his grades straightened out and missed spring practice to do so. Emery got back to football and had a tough time cracking the lineup, getting just 23 carries in seven games last year. He looked good in the Auburn contest with a season-best 91 total yards and a touchdown.

Emery’s year came to a close when he tore his ACL against Florida.

That brings us to the present day. It’s unclear what contribution Emery can make to LSU in 2024. First, it’s a matter of health. The ACL tear was in November and Emery’s struggled with injuries before. It’s rare to see a player have a true breakout campaign this late in his career, but that’s not what LSU needs or expects from Emery.

Prior to Emery’s return, Josh Williams was the lone experienced back on this roster. Emery has 249 career touches for 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns. That’s more than any other LSU back in all three categories.

Also of note: Emery and Williams are the last two players from the 2019 national title team to remain with LSU.

Having two veteran backs like that will be useful to a group that’s looking for a young back to step up. There’s hope that will be Kaleb Jackson, who looked good in the limited time he got last year. Maybe it’s true freshman Caden Durham, who might be one of the fastest backs in the SEC.

If Emery can get back, be a leader in the room, and make a solid contribution here and there, this year will be a success. It’s been a long and winding road to get here.

Emery’s given a lot to LSU over the years and that’s the veteran presence needed in this room right now.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire