Pick-a-Player: Fournette, Gordon, or Hunt - Footballguys

Footballguys staff and Facebook answer a dilemma at the 1.10 spot

The premise of a Pick-a-Player question is as follows:

  • You need a player at that position and all three are available.
  • The draft is at a stage where these players are usually drafted, and none of their bye weeks are duplicated on your current roster.

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In this case, it is a PPR league, and you are up at Pick 1.10. Would you take Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon III, or Kareem Hunt? Or would you pass on all three?

The Results

And the winner is a split. See the percentages below.

Group
Percentage Picking...
Fournette
Gordon
Hunt
None of the Three
Footballguys Staff
46.7%
26.7%
20.0%
6.7%
Footballguys Facebook
20.9%
39.5%
23.3%
16.3%

The Reasons (from the Staff)

Daniel Simpkins: I will take Leonard Fournette here. Of the backs mentioned, I feel the most confident that his offense will operate through him. Fantasy general managers would like to see the coaching staff utilize Fournette more in the passing game and I think that’s a likely outcome in his second year. Ten more receptions to improve to 46 catches this year seems very realistic and reasonable.

Jason Wood: I'm fine with drafting any of these guys at the end of the first round. They're all in my Top 10 at the position. Realistically, you're not going to get your choice of this trio drafting 10th, you'll be lucky to find one of this group available -- and I would take any of them if they're sitting in the draft pool.

In a perfect world where I do have the choice, it's an easy one -- Kareem Hunt. Hunt led the league in rushing last year, had a great per-rush average, and was productive at the goal-line. The Chiefs offensive line is solid, and there's rampant enthusiasm for the team's potential with Pat Mahomes under center. If Mahomes is better than Alex Smith (Andy Reid is making that bet), the offense will have more opportunities in the red zone, and that means Hunt can match last year's league-leading yardage with a step up in scoring.

Will Grant: Jason said it best - the real answer is "whoever makes it to you at 10." In a Footballguys Mock Draft, I had 1.08 and took Hunt with my first pick. Fournette went right after me at 1.09 and Gordon went at 1.10. Hunt was my target because even with the quarterback change, he's still going to be a big part of the Kansas City offense. If the offense turns up a notch under Mahomes, Hunt benefits as the main thrust of the offense. If the offense struggles, Hunt still contributed well in the short passing game with 53 receptions last season and he'll be the perfect check-down for a young quarterback looking for a safety blanket. I like Hunt's upside this year and I'll probably have him on a lot of my rosters this season.

Matt Waldman: If I have to choose one, I'm going with Fournette. As Matt Bitonti will mention in an upcoming offensive line preview, the Jaguars have upgraded an already decent offensive line at guard. Combine that with an offensive mentality to pound the rock and it's a great pairing between philosophy and players. The Jaguars' defense also complements what the offense is doing. While I fear the long-term stability of Fournette's ankle -- and long-term might be no more than one to three years in Fournette's case -- I'm willing to roll the dice on his short-term upside.

Chad Parsons: I love Leonard Fournette this season. He has shed weight from the pre-draft process and his rookie season where he looked too much like a battering ram than a well-rounded back. The Jaguars' offensive DNA includes feeding Fournette, plus he accrued an underrated 36 receptions in 2017 despite constantly being pulled for T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant on third downs and hurry-up drives. Fournette is one of the few backs in the NFL with double-digit-touchdown and 50-reception upside to finish as the No.1 overall fantasy running back.

Phil Alexander: I have Fournette ranked fifth at running back, which is tied for highest on the staff. The ingredients are there for him to turn in an elite RB1 season. As Matt alluded to, the Jaguars broke the bank for mauling guard Andrew Norwell, who should have a sizable impact on Fournette's rushing efficiency. Last year, when Jacksonville ran the ball in the direction of their guards, the team averaged a paltry 2.85 yards per attempt.

The strength of the Jaguars remains their defense, which will once again supply Fournette with positive game scripts and the resulting chances to rack up yardage and touchdowns throughout most games. Hunt may have a higher ceiling, but Fournette is a rock you can build your roster around.

B.J. VanderWoude: This is a close decision between Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt for me. If given the choice I’d go with Fournette.

If the Chiefs had run it back with the same group this season, my answer would have most likely been Hunt, but I am concerned with the loss of OC Matt Nagy, an inexperienced quarterback in Pat Mahomes (who is more of a pocket passer than Alex Smith), the return of Spencer Ware and the addition of Sammy Watkins. Hunt’s average yards-per-carry was nearly a full yard more than both Melvin Gordon III and Fournette (both of whom averaged 3.8 yards-per-carry) with similar volume. It is somewhat misleading though, as Hunt broke off big plays when his offensive line was in advantageous matchups but struggled with week-to-week consistency. Hunt is a player capable of handling a big workload, he can play on all three downs and was solid in the red zone. His greatest strength is his vision which allows him to quickly create tough angles for defenders beyond the line of scrimmage. Aside from pass protection, he excels in nearly all other skill related categories, but he’s not a transcendent talent and I don’t believe he’s in the same position to succeed that he was a year ago.

Gordon has yet to average 4.0 yards-per-carry in a season, which is troubling and one of the reasons why he comes in third on this list. More specifically, I believe the Chargers will start to work in Austin Ekeler (5.5 yards-per-carry in 2017) more frequently, and potentially look to rookie Justin Jackson in passing situations. When that happens, Gordon’s stats will drop directly in line with his volume of touches. While production is a function of volume for all running backs, Gordon takes that to a new level, as he has yet to prove he has the skill set of a dominant No. 1 running back. Fournette and Hunt both have the upside to be the top fantasy running back, Gordon does not.

Of the three, Fournette is the standout athlete and physical freak. The Jags showed right away that they were not going to be shy about giving him a heavy volume of carries (20 carries per game), and that should only continue this season. As Chad mentioned, Fournette’s receiving line (36-302-1) was a nice surprise last season and went a long way in convincing me that he can build on those numbers and have the overall production to outscore Hunt and Gordon. The Jags still lack a consistent playmaker (or two) at wide receiver and tight end, so they may not have a choice in deploying Fournette in more situations where he can exploit one on one matchups in space. Fournette will continue to see the lions share of red zone opportunities for the Jags, and with their defense providing great field position for the offense, that could easily set him up for 12+ touchdowns.

Fournette has a lot going for him, but more importantly to this conversation, he also has very little going against him. The Jags are essentially returning the same team from 2017, which gives Fournette the type of continuity on offense that Hunt lacks right now. That was enough to give Fournette the edge.

Bob Henry: Gordon is the one that's most likely to be available and he's one that I've taken multiple times at the bottom of the first round and paired up with Dalvin Cook.

All three have huge potential as fantasy RB1s, and if I'm going strictly by PPR projections it's Gordon, Hunt and then Fournette. If I alter that lens slightly to take into account their risk profile and my projections on a points-per-game basis then my focus turns to Fournette.

Honestly, if this situation unfolds in your draft consider yourself extremely lucky because you have a chance to get a back with top-five potential while also grabbing another RB1 or elite WR in the early second.

Fournette is the most intriguing to me because there are a few factors that I absolutely love about him going into his second season.

  1. An elite defense creates a short field and a lot of scoring opportunities for a player of his pedigree.
  2. A more svelte Fournette is a really good thing. I'm not a fan of running backs who "bulk up" in anticipation of a bigger role. I do, however, love it when a player gets more serious about their conditioning and they already have a heavy investment and a major role on their team.
  3. The offensive line should be even better with the addition of Andrew Norwell.
  4. I truly believe Fournette is much more capable in the passing game than most people believe or project.

The big asterisk on Fournette is the foot/ankle and his ability to stay healthy and play through injuries for a full 16 games. I remember being similarly concerned about Le'Veon Bell as a young back with a lingering foot injury, a heavy college workload and a similar transition from being a bigger, heavier back to getting himself into better shape and emerging as one of the best players of his era.

To me, Fournette has a little bit of an edge over these other two for that particular reason. All three are legitimate RB1s, but Fournette is the one who has the highest chance of being the No. 1 running back in fantasy football is his pedigree and opportunity all line up.

Ryan Hester: I'm a little surprised that I'm in the clear minority selecting Gordon here. His passing game involvement gives him the edge for me here. Sure, Los Angeles might work Ekeler in more, but Gordon has shown a level of skill that won't result in him yielding the entirely of the passing game work.

Hunt was great to have on your roster for most of last season, but those who watched closely know that Hunt rarely played on third downs, and didn't play in the two-minute or four-minute drills where hurry-up situations were required.

Fournette's involvement in the passing game was much less than the other two, with only 36 catches and 48 targets last season. Hunt, meanwhile had 53 catches on 63 targets (efficiency that may not be repeated). And Gordon had 58 catches on a whopping 83 targets.

As the guys said, it's a very close call. There could be three drafts today where these guys are selected in a different order each time. So no choice is truly wrong here, but Gordon is my preferred choice.

Devin Knotts: I'm with Ryan. It's Melvin Gordon III for me in PPR due to his ability to catch passes. Gordon really struggled in his first four games, but after this, something clicked where he was phenomenal over his last 12 games. Gordon is not the most talented of this group, but he is the most complete package of opportunity and talent as both a receiver and a runner.

For Hunt, let's not forget his mid-season struggles instead of looking at his overall stats. Hunt went nine straight games without a touchdown last season and during that stretch failed to go over 100 yards in seven straight games. We are dealing with fine margins between these players and the inconsistency of Hunt has me having him second in this list. Not to mention Spencer Ware comes back from injury and will likely get some carries.

Regarding Fournette, I want to see him show that he can be a reliable receiver as he has yet to do that at any level. He has a ton of talent, and between these running backs they are all three extremely close, but while Fournette is likely the most talented runner, finishes third in this list for me due to his lack of production as a receiver.

Maurile Tremblay: Choosing between Gordon and Fournette is difficult. Fournette is the better runner, but Gordon is the more complete back, and he plays in what should be the higher-scoring offense. The expected improvement in Gordon’s offensive line pushes him over the top for me, but it’s close. Hunt is a distant third. He’s the least talented of the three, has the strongest competition for touches, and his entire offense could be in a rebuilding year.

David Dodds: I have Gordon and Fournette nearly equal. As Maurile stated, Gordon is the more complete player, but Fournette is a hammer on a team whose coaches would rather run the ball and play defense than have Blake Bortles pass. In PPR leagues, I am nearly always going to select Gordon as Fournette has been inconsistent as a pass-receiver. Hunt is not in the conversation for me as I think Spencer Ware will have a decent role in this offense.

Andy Hicks: I am going to be an outlier here and pass on all three. I would much rather pick the best receiver on my list from DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas and then take Dalvin Cook or Devonta Freeman on the way back.

Melvin Gordon III is an average back who gets a lot of touches. This century only Ron Dayne, Cedric Benson, and Anthony Thomas have a worse yard-per-carry average than Gordon for players with at least 700 carries. I would much rather take a back who can do more with less as the chances of Gordon continuing to record almost 350 touches a year has to be a hard thing to rely on.

Kareem Hunt was hot and cold last year and has to contend with the return of Spencer Ware. Sure Ware isn’t a big-time threat, but he will take touches away. With a high first-round investment, you don’t know whether Hunt will be lights out like he was at the beginning and end of the year or the one who had a seven-game stretch, with 321 rushing yards at 3.34 yards a carry and zero touchdowns. The change to an inexperienced quarterback in Patrick Mahomes also throws a little more risk into the prospects of Hunt this year.

Leonard Fournette is a more interesting decision. Is he on the Melvin Gordon III pattern of heavy usage getting his production or can he be more than that? He has upside, but just how good is he? Those doubts would cause me to get a little risk elite receiver.