Leading up to the NFL Draft April 27, Liz Loza and Brad Evans will survey the landscape, find holes, and mow down questions regarding some of this year’s most talked-about talents. Monday’s “Three-Point Stance” focus: LSU RB Leonard Fournette.
The buzz surrounding Leonard Fournette is near deafening with many draftniks projecting he could be the first running back off the board later this month. Drawing comparisons to everyone from Adrian Peterson to Willis McGahee, what’s your take on the Tigers’ tailback? Why’s he so special?
Liz – BIG and FAST. Destined to appear in a future reboot of the Transformers franchise, Fournette can “roll out” with jaw dropping speed. He clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 seconds at the recent Underwear Olympics, sending metrics mavens into a graph-crafting tizzy.
While at LSU the workhorse averaged 6.5 YPC, leaving crumpled heaps of defenders in his wake. More than a north/south hammer, Fournette has capable hands and can make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. A big-boned power back, the 22-year-old is likely to devour goal line opportunities at the next level.
Brad – Imagine a heavily armored rhinoceros equipped with the quickness and lateral agility of the cartoon Road Runner. That’s Fournette. He’s a rarity, which explains why he’s drawn comparisons to all-timers Peterson and Bo Jackson.
His brutish blend of power, speed and aggressiveness are unrivaled in this year’s fairly loaded RB class. He can rocket around corners, grind his way for tough inside gains and blow up oncoming blitzers. And concerns about his elusiveness are very overblown. The kid owns plenty of jukes. Key stats: 1) He led the nation with 85 forced missed tackles in 2015. 2) He ranked No. 2 behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry in yards after contact in 2015. Drop-offs in those areas last year were largely due to a bad ankle.
Additionally, Fournette’s hands are underrated. Underutilized as a receiver in college, he showed well in pass-catching drills during his Pro Day and at the Combine. He suffered a few drops during his three-year LSU career, but most scouts believe he’ll deliver a consistent 25-30 receptions per season as a pro.
Understanding that all prospects have red flags, how might Fournette struggle at the next level? What potential flaws should fantasy owners stay cognizant of?
Liz – For as much power as the big man has, he’s lacking in wiggle. Dude also gets hit a lot, which raises questions about his long-term effectiveness. Additionally, his running style is rather upright. In fact, he reminds me of Steven Jackson. Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect a full sixteen-game season out of the rookie. Hopefully, however, as his vision improves so will his patience.
Brad – Given his punishing style, pad level will be critical for Fournette to remain healthy. He’s an incredibly violent runner who relishes contact. At times, that mentality has led to various ailments, like the ankle setback he suffered last year. Also, his occasional vision impairments and general impatience are ill fits for zone runs. He’s a classic downhill punisher through and through.
Looking ahead, what’s the most realistic landing spot for Fournette? And what kind of damage could he do there? Provide a fearless forecast for the big man’s rookie outing.
Liz – Trading stripes for spots, Fournette figures to become a Jaguar. The Chris Ivory experiment tanked in 2016, leaving Jacksonville in need of a fresh set of thick legs. Defensive upgrades in tandem with a Blake Bortles’ plateau will keep the Jags backfield busy.
I’d expect Fournette to surpass T.J. Yeldon as the team’s lead back immediately. Assuming fourteen outings in his first year, I’m fearlessly forecasting just over 1,000 rushing yards on 200 carries, plus another 25 grabs for 230(ish) receiving yards for the rookie. Cha-ching.
Brad – Various rumors have made the rounds about Fournette’s future employer. Landing spots from Cleveland to San Francisco to Jacksonville to Carolina are all possibilities. North Florida, though, is his most likely destination.
If he winds up in Jacksonville, he’ll overtake Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon immediately, potentially totaling 20-22 touches per game in his premiere season. The Jags’ offensive line, which ranked No. 27 in run-blocking last year according to Football Outsiders, raises a flag, but the club’s suddenly stout defense should force a ball-control style.
Let’s also not forget volume rushers are few and far between. Recall just eight RBs surpassed 300 total touches in 2016. On workload alone Fournette should finish in range of 1,200-1,400 total yards with 7-9 TDs, a Jordan Howard-like rookie campaign. It’s that level of optimism which explains why he’s gone around pick No. 28 overall in early mocks.