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Player Spotlight: Leonard Fournette

A detailed look at Leonard Fournette's fantasy prospects for 2017 and beyond.

POSITIVES

  • Fournette’s punishing running style can take its toll on modern defenses.
  • His speed for being such a big man is impressive.
  • Fournette is underrated as a pass catcher.

NEGATIVES

  • Tight hips make jump cuts difficult for Fournette.
  • If Fournette does not learn to run with some finesse, he could have a shorter than normal career.
  • Fournette needs to display more patience as a runner.

FOURNETTE FAVORS THE BOLD

Hopes were high for the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the start of the 2016 season. Allen Robinson broke out a year prior and many pegged him as the next great NFL superstar receiver. Blake Bortles appeared to be improving. The team had a fantastic Draft by most analysts’ accounts, snagging Jalen Ramsey at pick five, the talented-but-injured Myles Jack in the second round, and surprise rookie pass rush contributor Yannick Ngakoue in the third round.

Yet for all this positivity, it did not change the outcome of the season. For the sixth time straight, the Jaguars finished with a losing record. After four such seasons under one coach, owner Shahid Kahn had seen enough. Gus Bradley was fired and Assistant Head Coach Doug Marrone was promoted to Interim Head Coach. Marrone was later hired to the position permanently and the Jaguars added an old face to help guide him. Their first Head Coach, Tom Coughlin, was acquired to serve as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Both Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell will report to him, meaning that Coughlin will shape the direction of this franchise. All three were put under contract until only 2019, meaning the time they have to execute their plan and turn this team around is relatively short. Tom Coughlin’s first major Draft day decision reflected this win-now mentality. Jacksonville selected running back Leonard Fournette at four overall. Many scoffed at the move, dismissing it as the Jaguars trying to unsuccessfully duplicate the impact the Cowboys had by taking Ezekiel Elliott at the same draft slot only a year prior. However, the “copycat” move that Jacksonville made should not be dismissed out of hand.

FOURNETTE THE FINISHER

Fournette’s 4.51 forty-yard dash at 240 pounds highlights a speed and build combination that is rare, even among the best of the League’s athletes. His running style is punishing and he is not afraid in the least to take on contact. His feet always are churning, creating power in his lower body that makes many defenders who are trying to make an improper form tackle bounce right off. His pad level is very seldom off the mark, which helps him to win the leverage war against oncoming defenders. Although not asked to do so often in college, Fournette demonstrated good catching ability and can be an asset in the passing game. Additionally, Fournette can take on wheel routes and check-down patterns now and there is room for him to split out and run more complex patterns in the future. Fournette is a perfect counter to the modern NFL’s tendency to play smaller and faster linebackers and defensive backs. Teams that don’t have larger personnel will have a hard time trying to stop the Jaguars from imposing their will on the ground.  

LEONARD COMES UP LITTLE?

Fournette is not without fault. One thing that is notable in his film is his extremely tight hips, which limit his ability to execute effective jump cuts. While this is disappointing, Matt Waldman explained how this is not a death knell to Fournette’s running style. In his Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Waldman highlights how Fournette compensates by both varying his strides and using his speed to change the angle of pursuit from defenders.

Fournette needs to display more patience in his running style. He sometimes misses opportunities for more yards by either cutting back too soon or by not pressing the point of attack for long enough. Game experience and work with his position coach to identify these deficits should go a long way in helping him to get better in this area.

While watching a runner smash defenders is fun, the downside of craving contact is that it can end up shortening a career. Consider Brandon Jacobs, the similarly-framed Giants running back who played in the league from 2005-2013. There was a span of four years that Jacobs was dominant in the league, but taking hit after hit eventually wore him down. During his last two years in the league, he was a shell of himself. If Fournette does not learn to shake some of his defenders and instead takes them on constantly, he could venture down a similar career path.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With an improving defense that has added Calais Campbell, Barry Church, and A.J. Bouye, a change in offensive line philosophy via new Offensive Line Coach Pat Flaherty, and a running back that is capable of taking pressure off of Blake Bortles, the Jaguars may look very smart indeed for taking Fournette. He could be the missing cog that takes the team from being a perennial bottom-dweller to first in the division.   

In redraft leagues, don’t expect Fournette to have the same rookie fantasy impact that Ezekiel Elliott did a year ago. While the Jacksonville offense will rely heavily upon him, it’s safer to count on Fournette as the second or third best runner on your team. At current ADP, he’s going in the late second to early third round. In non-point-per-reception leagues, he’s a good bet to justify making that sort of investment; but in point per reception leagues, it might benefit owners to look at other options available in that same range, such as Brandin Cooks or Travis Kelce.

In dynasty formats, Fournette is in the conversation along with Corey Davis to be the first rookie off the board in rookie drafts. He is one of the more promising running back metric prospects we’ve had come out of college in recent years and promises to turn in quite a few 1,000-plus-yard seasons in the future, perhaps even starting in his rookie year.

2017 PROJECTIONS

MAURILE TREMBLAY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RYD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

16

902

4.16

7

51

384

7.68

2

233.60

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RYD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

15

1,030

4.79

8

30

265

8.83

2

219.50

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Peter Psomas of iSportsWeb has already ranked Fournette among his top ten fantasy backs in fantasy football:

I really love this running back, as I believe he has a chance to be very special early on. Leonard Fournette couldn’t have landed in a better spot as the Jaguars actually ranked in the top ten in terms of yards gained before contact. The offensive line is extremely underrated, and Fournette is athletically gifted as they come. If he can stay healthy and display patience at the line of scrimmage, he could be the steal of your fantasy football draft.

Nick Kostos of CBS Sports took Fournette in a mock draft. He explains his thinking in a video interview:

Most people don't like my Leonard Fournette pick at No. 10 overall, but most people make bad decisions on a regular basis and follow the herd mentality. By August, Fournette will be a consensus first-round pick in standard formats. We all watched Fournette at LSU, right? He's going to be a beast, and he's going to score 10-plus touchdowns this year. … Remember this when Fournette has a 60-yard touchdown run in the first preseason game and his ADP spikes.

Tyler Loechner of Pro Football Focus thinks drafters are too bullish on Fournette and the Jaguars:

Additionally, the Jaguars still have the abjectly terrible Blake Bortles under center. They surely drafted Fournette to take the ball out of Bortles’ hand more often, but the garbage-time king should still keep the scoring potential of this offense handicapped. The 2017 Jaguars wanting to control the tempo of the game with Fournette is akin to the 2017 Jets wants to win the AFC East.”