Leonard Fournette was labeled as a can’t miss running back prospect coming out of LSU when he was selected number 4 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was billed as a feature back with the ability to command a high amount of carries, having the ability to find the end zone and wear defenses down; just as he had done at LSU. Fournette showed flashes of this in his rookie season but had some setbacks along the way. Before I get too far into Fournette’s numbers, I want to play a game of guess that player. The table below reflects the player’s stats his first 2 years in the NFL:
Player A: 401 rush att, 1479 yd, 3.7 ypc, 14 TD, 58 rec, 487 yd, 2 TD
Player B: 455 rush att, 1513 yd, 3.33 ypc, 14 TD, 86 rec, 683 yd, 2 TD
Obviously, this game would be pointless if one of these players wasn’t Leonard Fournette. Fournette is player A. The more shocking part of this game is who player B is. Player B is none other than NFL mega-bust Trent Richardson (drafted 3rd overall in 2012). As you can see, the players put up nearly identical numbers-especially considering Fournette has missed a total of 11 games due to injury in his first 2 years while T Rich only missed one. Richardson had better numbers (due to the fact that he was healthy) but was less efficient. Richardson, while healthy for year 2, was also in and out of the lineup frequently due to being traded mid-season to the Colts from the Browns. We all know what happened to Trent Richardson in year 3: he was just as putrid as his first 2 seasons and was out of the league by seasons end. Here is hoping that Fournette doesn’t meet the same fate.
To an extent, Fournette lived up to his pedigree in year 1, averaging 20.6 rushing attempts per game and scoring 9 touchdowns while adding 36 catches for 302 yards and an additional score. Those numbers look fine if you are just box-score glancing, but when you dig deeper it shows that Fournette was not efficient with his touches (averaging an atrocious 3.9 yards per carry) and he did not stay healthy missing 3 games due to injury. The inefficiency and injuries continued to mount on Fournette in year 2 as he averaged a horrendous 3.3 yards per carry and missed 8 games due to injury or suspension. Not only has Fournette not lived up to his 4th overall selection on the field, he has run into problems off the field as well. The combination of these caused the Jaguars to void the remaining guarantees on Fournette’s contract-not exactly a ringing endorsement for their high draft pick.
Enough of the bashing: there are some positives/silver linings. While there is no arguing that Fournette underperformed in his first two years, he also had to deal with stacked boxes and anemic quarterback play from Blake Bortles. Now that Blake Bortles is thankfully no longer his QB and the Jags upgraded (in theory) to Nick Foles, Fournette should have an easier time finding running lanes. Furthermore, Fournette has apparently seen the light and dedicated himself to getting in better shape this offseason and recently stated that he is in a “much better place” than he was last year. These are all great to hear going into the 2019 season, but I need to see it. Fournette has all the potential in the world, but for whatever reason injuries have plagued him-even during his days at LSU. Hopefully his new dedication to football and being in better shape will help Fournette fend off injury.
As for Fournette’s fantasy outlook in 2019-it is very bright if he can stay healthy. The Jags had somewhat of a lost season last year mostly due to Fournette’s missed time and ineffectiveness. Fournette has the ability to be a locked in RB1 if he can stay healthy. According to Fantasy Pros, Fournette currently has an ADP of 21 overall and RB13. Fournette has the ability to obliterate his ADP if the Jags can get improved QB play and Fournette can stay healthy. Fournette is certainly someone to target at any point in the second round especially if you have already taken a stud running back with your first selection. However, there is certainly risk in this selection because of the above described injury history. As for competition in the backfield: there doesn’t appear to be much. The Jags sent backup running back Alfred Blue to IR, leaving Ryquell Armstead (the Jags’ 5th round pick out of Temple) as the primary backup. The only other running backs on the active roster are Tyler Ervin and Devine Ozigbo. Armstead is the handcuff to own. This is shaping up as a truly make or break year for the uber talented Fournette. If he falters, expect the Jags to move on or at least be coming up with a plan B at the end of the season.
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