Greg Cosell's NFL draft preview: Leonard Fournette looks different than most other backs

Shutdown Corner

LSU running back Leonard Fournette is fun to watch. He looks different than other backs in this and most drafts.

No back in this draft runs with more power, violence and determination than Fournette. You just don’t see many backs who run like Fournette.  In Fournette, an NFL team will be getting a volume runner who can be the foundation of a run-first offense.

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Let’s take a look at Fournette’s strengths and weaknesses (because there are a few of those, too):

Leonard Fournette is expected to be the top running back selected in this year’s draft. (AP)
Leonard Fournette is expected to be the top running back selected in this year’s draft. (AP)

STRENGTHS

This 35-yard run by Fournette tells you everything you need to know about what he brings as a runner.

It came in the bowl game against Texas Tech at the end of the 2015 season. Let’s take a look (the video is here):

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That rushing attempt speaks to the difference between running with physicality and toughness (which a lot of backs do), and running with natural power and explosion through contact. Fournette has the latter traits. Fournette is a violent, punishing runner. On this play he ran through a defender in the hole, and barely broke stride as he got into the open field. He’s an explosive, downhill runner with outstanding burst and the speed to out-flank the defense to the perimeter. He’s a slasher with excellent balance and body control to make defenders miss at the third level of the defense. It was evident throughout his college career, and it’s all encapsulated in that run.

There’s a lot to like about Fournette, who has a definitive style. He is a straight line size-speed-power I-formation downhill runner with short-area burst and long speed. Fournette is naturally powerful with the strength and explosion to run through tackles. He’s a decisive, urgent, attacking, punishing, contact runner more than a shifty, elusive runner. He’s more of a hammer than a loose-hipped change-of-direction runner.

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What stands out watching Fournette’s tape is his ability to make quick cuts and accelerate. It’s especially impressive considering he’s 240 pounds. His 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash was faster than Dalvin Cook’s 10-yard split, and Fournette is 30 pounds heavier than Cook. He’s a velocity runner who gets up to speed very quickly.

This touchdown against Ole Miss shows off Fournette’s burst through the hole and his speed to hit a long home run.

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It isn’t just physical skills with Fournette, either. He has some good traits as a running back, such as his ability to show patience to sort out blocks at the point of attack, or set up blocks with just enough patience. He’s physical, tough and competitive, and a finisher who always looked to punish filling safeties and cornerbacks. Here’s one example of Fournette punishing a defensive back downfield, and running through contact.

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He embraces the physical part of the game. That’s what you want from a foundation back. Fournette looks like the type of back you can build an offense around.

WEAKNESSES

There are a few things that you’d like to see Fournette do better in the pros. He’s not as much of a patience-vision runner as you’d like. Fournette isn’t explosive laterally, and not much of a cutback runner. He has a strong tendency to keep runs directed at the designed point of attack. There’s a question as to how Fournette will handle quick penetration into the backfield at the NFL level.

Fournette also needs to improve tempo and timing when the point of attack is undefined. While at times he showed willingness and physical toughness in blitz pick up, he’s not as willing a pass blocker as he needs to be at the NFL level. So while Fournette is a very good prospect, he has some areas to work on, like any other player coming to the pros.

TRANSITION TO NFL

Fournette is the most explosive downhill runner in this draft. He is a true I-formation back you can line up 8 yards behind the quarterback in both one-back and two-back sets. And he has the mentality I like for a foundation runner. He has the size, of course, to handle a heavy workload, but also the nasty mindset that foundation backs must have.

And because he has the burst and speed to hit a home run any play, he forces defenses to play with gap integrity play after play.

An NFL team can set its offense through Fournette. He’ll be picked high in the first round, and whichever team drafts him knows exactly what it is getting.

More NFL draft breakdowns from Greg Cosell
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes and Cal QB Davis Webb

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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