NFL draft profile: No. 2 — LSU RB Leonard Fournette, a generational power runner

LSU RB Leonard Fournette
6-foot-1, 240 pounds

Key stat: Led NCAA in rushing yards per game in 2015 at 168.2. That number fell to 120.4 in an injury-plagued 2016 season. Scored 42 touchdowns (40 rushing, one receiving, one kick return) in 32 college games.

LSU’s Leonard Fournette is a full-grown man who can dish out the punishment as a runner. (AP)
LSU’s Leonard Fournette is a full-grown man who can dish out the punishment as a runner. (AP)

The skinny: Elite prep prospect was USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 and rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 TDs in his high school career. Committed to nearby LSU and was instant contributor as true freshman in 2014 as a runner and kick returner. Rushed 187 times for 1,034 yards despite starting only six games and returned a 100-yard kickoff in the bowl win against Notre Dame. Set school rushing mark in 2015 as sophomore with 1,953 yards and also rushed for 22 TDs. Joined by younger brother, Lanard, on the team.

After being named a team captain following that season, Fournette set sights on the NFL in 2016 after taking out two $10 million disability policies prior to the season. Fournette suffered two separate ankle injuries prior to the season and was forced to miss three games early on — Jacksonville State, Missouri and Southern Mississippi — as the injuries were aggravated. Reportedly planned to skip Florida contest as well but opted to gut through the pain and play following a pregame skirmish between the two teams (including Fournette and Florida DB coach Torrian Gray shoving each other), rushing for 40 yards on 12 carries in a 16-10 loss that would end up being Fournette’s final college game. Ran for 843 yards and eight TDs in his seven games before shutting down his season after signing with an agent and skipping the Tigers’ final regular-season game and their bowl game.

Fournette declared for the 2017 NFL draft following his junior season. He showed up to the NFL scouting combine at 240 pounds, which was heavier than expected, chalking it up to “water weight,” and opted not to perform bench press, shuttle drills or broad jump. He then checked in at 228 pounds at his pro day a few weeks later. Fournette turns 23 in January.

Best-suited destination: Fournette is a bell-cow back who would fit best in a power-run scheme where he can pound the ball 20 times a game and not be asked to handle advanced receiving or pass-blocking assignments right away. Like Adrian Peterson, a player to whom Fournette is occasionally compared, he also could handle kickoffs early in his career, although that might not likely be a long-term duty he’s asked to handle. Among the teams that could be especially interested in Fournette’s services include the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.

Upside: Powerful runner who is a nightmare to tackle. Whips through ankle-tackle attempts, takes defenders head on, can stiff-arm well and has the speed to get to the edge. Ran like a caged tiger against Ole Miss last year, his first game in nearly a month after the ankle injury and took his frustrations out on the Rebels with a stunning 16-carry, 284-yard, three-TD game. There were several incredible runs that game, but this little pass into the flat sums up Fournette’s power and anger as a ballcarrier:

LSU’s Leonard Fournette often has bad intentions with the ball in his hands. (Draftbreakdown.com)
LSU’s Leonard Fournette often has bad intentions with the ball in his hands. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Steam engine that keeps rolling. Gears up to impressive top-end speed for such a big back. Played in 230-pound weight and was able to hit max velocity running downhill. Can make one cut and go. Has outrun safeties to the edge. Strong and fluid hips. Was physically mature enough to play in the NFL the past few seasons. Workload (671 touches past three seasons) is not enormous compared to other workhorse college backs in recent years. Although he was not asked to catch the ball much at LSU, Fournette caught it very naturally and smoothly at his pro day.

Exceptionally built. Has rare speed for his size. Hit the best 20-yard split (2.50 seconds) of any back at the combine and did so at 240 pounds. A rare, once-a-generation talent whose only real hindrance in the NFL might be health, Fournette nonetheless has shown toughness and grit while playing hurt and still remains a better back at 80 percent wellness than most backs are at full health.

Downside: Weight is something NFL teams are keeping close tabs on, and Fournette would be best served to remain closer to the 228 pounds he weighed at his pro day than the 240 he was at the combine. His weight has fluctuated throughout his career. Measured in with the highest body-fat percentage (14.4 percent) of any back at the combine. Vertical jump (28.5 inches) was the second-lowest number among running backs. Body has taken a lot of hits. Not an elusive runner, per se, and often had multiple tacklers collide with him on most of his runs. Faced stacked boxes most of his career, which speaks to his level of success but also indicates that his workload was perhaps heavier and more taxing than his raw carry numbers might indicate.

Shut down two years running against Alabama. Can be game-planned to stop by certain defenses. Occasionally lost balance at times and can be tripped up. Long speed takes a bit to get to top velocity. The offense was more effective last season with Derrius Guice as the lead runner than with Fournette, although Fournette’s injury status and the way teams defended LSU certainly factored into that. Had only 41 college receptions in 32 games. Hasn’t returned kickoffs since 2014. Limited responsibilities as pass protector.

Scouting hot take: “When we went back and watched him the second time through, we couldn’t help but notice how [Derrius] Guice was running as well or better in that same offense. But you can’t tell me [Fournette] isn’t special and isn’t a bit of a unicorn. Guys his size with his athletic skill don’t come up too often.” — AFC college scouting director

Player comp: Adrian Peterson

Expected draft range: Top-12 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
No. 17: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No. 16: North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
No. 15: Washington WR John Ross
No. 14: Clemson WR Mike Williams
No. 13: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
No. 12: Temple LB Haason Reddick
No. 11: Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
No. 10: Alabama TE O.J. Howard
No. 9: Stanford RB-WR-RS Christian McCaffrey
No. 8: Alabama LB Reuben Foster
No. 7: Ohio State S Malik Hooker
No. 6: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen
No. 5: LSU S Jamal Adams
No. 4: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
No. 3: Stanford DL Solomon Thomas

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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