By: Dan Dankert
Leonard Fournette is the best running back in a very deep running back class. It was only a few years ago that NFL executives came to the conclusion that running backs were replaceable and refused to use a first round draft pick on them. In both 2013 and 2014 there wasn’t a single running back picked in the first round. In the 2013 draft Giovanni Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, and Eddie Lacy were all drafted in the second round and to a point reminded teams what a great running back can bring to an already dynamic offense. Since then we have seen running backs go earlier and earlier. Last year we saw Ezekiel Elliot go at the #4 spot to Dallas and pay off big for the Cowboys. I fully expect Fournette to go similarly high as he is already a great running back who can make an instant impact right off the bat.
I have watched about 4 games worth of tape on Fournette and some things really jumped out at me. First of all the man is a lot faster than I expected. At the combine he came in at 240 lbs and he ran a 4.51 40 yard dash which was excellent for his weight. I was expecting high 4.5’s or even low 4.6’s but his time was a pleasant surprise. This actually showed pretty consistent with his game film. He was never truly outrunning defensive backs, but he was fast enough to keep them from closing down on him when it was a race to the end zone. I was expecting Lacy-like speed where defensive backs catch up to him in the open field but Fournette’s speed was much better than Lacy’s.
The second thing that stuck out to me was his raw power. Fournette is a violent runner. He isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and obliterate defensive backs. In the Ole Miss game from this year, he was running along the sideline and the safety came up to try and tackle him and Fournette dropped his shoulder and the safety didn’t stand a chance. If it weren’t for Fournette stepping out of bounds, he would have scored on the play, it didn’t even look like Fournette lost any momentum from the hit.
In these four games I watched Fournette used a bevy of moves to keep defenders off him. His stiff arm seemed to be his best move, he often used this in the secondary when defensive backs are closing him down from the side. He also has a nasty spin move that he used several times when running between tackles on safeties who were flying up the running lane. It wasn’t Braxton Miller spin move good, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it from such a large runner like Fournette.
As much as I like Fournette, and I really like Fournette, I do have a few problems with drafting him as a top 5 pick. First of all, I have my doubts that he will have a long and successful career. We already know that running backs have short careers and after seeing Eddie Lacy struggle with weight and maintaining his speed, I think Fournette will also have similar troubles. If he stays at 240 lbs I have serious doubts that Fournette will be able to keep his high end speed. Lacy had a 4.57 40 coming out of college, gained some weight and now I would be surprised if he run sub 4.70.
Fournette also seemed to be a bit shaky catching the ball out of the backfield. His hands are okay, but he isn’t one of those multipurpose running backs who excel at both running and catching like a David Johnson or Marshall Faulk.
Ultimately if Fournette gets on a team that has a strong offensive line look for him to abuse defenses. When he gets to the second level it’s brutal, he has the speed to fly past linebackers, and the strength to annihilate safeties. The question isn’t will Fournette be great, it’s how long can Fournette maintain that level of play, because once his athletic skills begin to fade, his usefulness drops considerably and quickly. I expect a few pro bowl caliber seasons out of Fournette, but ultimately he won’t be in hall of fame contention just because he won’t be able to maintain his greatness.
I actually think Fournette will have a very productive but very short career. Between his weight, and his violent running style, I don’t think his body will hold up both in terms of injuries and his ability to maintain a high level of performance.
Very respectable speed for a running back, and given his size its very impressive.
Thunderous runner. I saw several comparisons to a sledgehammer.
Good, but not great vision.
Not great in this category, but for his size it’s more than respectable. His spin move is sick, but his juking ability is lacking.
Overall Grade: A-
A pro-bowl caliber player coming out of college, but likely Fournette has reached his peak in terms of skill and likely won’t be able to maintain his peak for more than a few seasons. If drafted by a team with a good offensive line, look for Fournette to rack up yards in droves.
Eddie Lacy, they seem to be made from the same general mold, but I think Fournette is a much better version of Lacy.