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Leonard Fournette: A High Floor and Hidden Upside - Footballguys

A detailed look at Leonard Fournette's fantasy prospects for 2018.

A Workhorse with a High Floor and No Ceiling

Leonard Fournette is locked into a massive rushing workload on a Jacksonville team that led the NFL in rushing attempts last season. He had 378 touches in 16 games (including playoffs) last season, and there's no reason to expect a lighter workload this season. In an era of running back committees, it's enticing to know your running back is guaranteed a heavy workload. Combine the role with one of the league's best offensive lines, and it's no surprise Fournette is a consensus first-round draft pick in all scoring formats. While his rushing totals are a given, he has elite upside because his role in the passing game may improve. He caught 43 passes last year, but he's capable of more. Plus, he has slimmed down to 223 pounds and increased his quickness, which could lead to higher efficiency and more big plays.

  • Finished RB8 as a rookie
  • The offense returns intact from a season ago
  • Continuity benefits the incumbent starters
  • An already good offensive line improved with the addition of guard Andrew Norwell
  • Fournette has double-digit rushing touchdown upside
  • He's capable of a larger role in the passing game


Jacksonville are Committed to Feeding Fournette

The Jaguars under Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone have a clear blueprint for success:

  1. Play great defense
  2. Run the football
  3. Throw only as much as needed

Coughlin proved his commitment to that vision by drafting Fournette with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 draft. The defense, already elite, became the league's best. And Blake Bortles, no longer forced into suboptimal game scripts, was an effective game manager. Their vision played out to near perfection, and the Jaguars narrowly missed a Super Bowl berth.

Jacksonville led the league with 527 rushing attempts, which gives Fournette -- as the lead ball-carrier -- a huge leg up over other late first-round running backs who play for teams who run much less. Compare the Jaguars 527 rushing attempts against Kansas City (405) or Melvin Gordon (415) and you realize Fournette doesn't need the same monstrous market share as backs like Kareem Hunt and Melvin Gordon do.

Leonard Fournette's Massive Workload (16 Games, includes Postseason)

Timeframe
Gms
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
Trgts
Rec
ReYds
ReTDs
TotYds
TotTDs
PPR FanPts
Regular Season
13
268
1,040
9
48
36
302
1
1,342
10
230.2
Postseason
3
70
242
4
12
7
44
0
286
4
59.6
Total
16
338
1,282
13
60
43
346
1
1,628
14
289.8

All of Jacksonville’s offseason personnel moves point toward Fournette remaining the centerpiece. Backup running back Chris Ivory, who ran the ball 112 times last season, was cut. Corey Grant and T.J. Yeldon will pick up some of Ivory’s workload, but they won't displace Fournette's role. The team didn't add another back in free agency or in the draft. The Jaguars also ways with two of their top wide receivers (Allen Hurns was cut and Allen Robinson was allowed to walk in free agency). Last, but certainly not least, the team added All Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency.

Nothing Offensive About This Line

The Jaguars offensive line was good last year, but it projects as one of the best this season. Footballguy Matt Bitonti ranks the Jaguars line 12th overall:

Rank: 12
Overall: B+

Outlook: All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell arrived via free agency from Carolina and he immediately becomes the Jaguars' best lineman. Left tackle Cam Robinson had an up-and-down rookie season but he did start all 16 games and the playoffs, which was a great experience. Center Brandon Linder is quietly among the league's better pivot players and the right side of A.J. Cann and Jermey Parnell are maulers. Swing tackle Josh Wells provides good depth. The Jaguars' offensive line start the season just outside the elite lines but should join the top 10 once Norwell meshes with his new teammates (about Week 4).

Dropped Weight to Improve Quickness, Stamina, and Durability

Fournette has dropped 11 pounds from his 2017 playing weight and now weighs in at a svelte 223 pounds. "I feel like I play my best at that weight -- 223, 224 -- that's what I played in college," Fournette said. "I don't want to be average. I want to be above average, be the greatest one to play this game. I feel lighter, quicker and I have a lot of my burst." The change is noticeable to observers at training camp, who have noted that Fournette looks more fluid and shifty than in 2017.

Fournette’s slimmed down physique heading into his second season is reminiscent of the physical transformation made by Le'Veon Bell between his first and second seasons. Interestingly, Fournette and Bell’s rookie seasons are eerily similar. Bell exploded for a monster second season in which he made huge strides as a pass catcher. The same is possible for Fournette.

Fournette vs Bell (Rookie Seasons) and Bell's 2nd Year Leap

Rookie Season
Player
Year
Gms
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
Yds/Ru
Tgts
Rec
ReYds
Yds/Re
ReTDs
Ctch%
TotYds
Le'Veon Bell
2013
13
244
860
8
3.5
66
45
399
8.9
0
68.2%
1,259
2017
13
268
1,040
9
3.9
48
36
302
8.4
1
75.0%
1,342
Second Season
Player
Year
Gms
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
Yds/Ru
Tgts
Rec
ReYds
Yds/Re
ReTDs
Ctch%
TotYds
Le'Veon Bell
2014
16
290
1,361
8
4.7
105
83
854
10.3
3
79.0%
2,215
2018
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?

The weight loss should lead to better stamina. Fournette at times looked fatigued in games last season and had to take himself out. It should also lead to a bit less pressure on his ankles, which cost him three full games and parts of other games last season.

Underrated Receiver

Fournette is an underrated receiver, far surpassing expectations as a rookie when he caught 36 passes in 13 games. He looked good doing it too, catching 75% of his targets. In fact, ProFootballFocus graded Fournette’s receiving performance higher than his rushing performance in 2017. With a year of experience under his belt and slimming down to improve his quickness, there's speculation his role in the passing game is set to increase. An increase of one reception per game from last year's average (2.77 catches per game) would equate to 60 catches over a 16-game season. If Fournette does make the incremental improvement as a receiver typical of most second-year running backs, he has a great chance to finish as a top-5 fantasy back.

Projections

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
15.1
295.0
1195
9.5
43.0
361
2.1
3.8
14.5
290.0
1215
12.0
38.0
320
1.5
1.0
16.0
280.0
1175
10.0
45.0
360
1.0
2.0
16.0
323.0
1292
10.5
29.1
231
0.9
3.8

Final Thoughts

Aside from the running backs being drafted at the top of the first round, Leonard Fournette has the highest floor at the position. He averaged 20.6 carries per game as a rookie (third-highest behind only Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott). He is in a run-heavy offense and Jacksonville’s elite defense should again provide positive game scripts. In addition to the high floor that comes with handling 20 carries per game, Fournette has plenty of upside as well. He caught 36 passes in just 13 games as a rookie but could raise that to 50-60 catches thanks to his improved quickness, the natural maturation of second-year players, and improved durability. Fournette is well worth his current cost and should be targeted if you're drafting in the mid- to late part of the first round.


Thoughts from the shark Pool (Footballguys Message Board)

From Shark Pool user matttyl:

"I'm a fan of the weight loss. Leads to being not only a tad quicker, but also helps with his stamina. He was taken out last year all the time for being winded - that might not happen as much down a few pounds."

From Shark Pool user Boston:

"I think his receptions were OK last year considering the offense he played in and that he missed 3 games...48 targets, 36 receptions, 302 yards and 1 TD...add in 3 games (sorry to play that game) and it comes out to 59 targets and 44 receptions...for a rookie on a conservative offense who is seen as being far more of a runner I don't think he's gonna hurt you in that area as long as he does what he should be doing on the ground...obviously he is not a Bell or Johnson or Gurley in that area and that is one of the reasons he is getting drafted after them...he needs to prove he can play 16 games and if he does I really see no scenario where he is not a top 10 RB."

From Shark Pool user Chaka:

"I like him as a volume play. I am just not sure he ever jumps to the Gurley, Bell, Zeke tier. That isn't a knock as few ever do, but I like him a little less than about eight other guys and there a few I have slotted after Fournette that I might prefer rolling the dice on."