You don’t have to look very far to find Leonard Fournette detractors.
When he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the biggest knocks against him were that the team was going to be a bottom feeder and the oft-injured Chris Thompson was going to steal his passing-game work. Now he’s a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and people still have it out for Fournette. Before going any further, let’s get one thing cleared up right now: Fournette is a better running back than Ronald Jones.
You can choose not to believe it, but it’s the truth. Fournette brings with him to Tampa Bay more pedigree and a better resume than Jones. Fournette has proven he can be a workhorse running back to some degree of success. Jones never really saw workhorse usage because he could never play his way out of a timeshare with Peyton Barber.
Taking a closer look at last year’s numbers, Fournette proved to be the more consistent rusher. Both players played in 16 games last year, but Fournette averaged 4.0 yards a carry or more in eight games while Jones did it in just five appearances. Additionally, Jones fumbled three times last season while Fournette has fumbled just three times in his three-year career.
Fournette also faced stacked boxes a little more frequently than Jones did. The former Jaguar had eight or more defenders in the box on 31.7 percent of his snaps in 2019 opposed to Jones, who faced eight or more defenders in the box on 26.16 percent of his. If you look a little further into Fournette’s 8+D% numbers, you may see why he never realized his true potential in Jacksonville. In 2018, Fournette had a 35.34 percent 8+D% and an absurd 48.51 percent total in 2017. Those numbers ranked top-5 each season.
On a revamped Buccaneers team with offensive stars like Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay runners will likely see less attention from opposing defenses.
Neither running back profiles as an elite passing down back, although Fournette did bring in 76 receptions last season. A recent roster move by the team also points to Tampa Bay likely leaning on Fournette in those situations.
On Friday, the Bucs cut RB Dare Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale was a standout special-teamer and the projected third-down back earlier in training camp. The timing of the release, less than two days after the team added Fournette, is a potential sign they are comfortable with Fournette assuming that role. A recent report by Mike Garafolo from NFL Network indicates that LeSean McCoy will see more work because of Ogunbowale’s departure. McCoy doesn’t play special teams, however, which could make it harder to dress him along with Fournette, Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn on a weekly basis.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians’ most recent comment about Jones being “our guy” doesn’t strike me as anything more than coachspeak. Although Fournette may need some time to get up to speed, when he does expect him to be the lead back in Tampa Bay and someone who will finish the season as an RB2 in most 12-team leagues.
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