Time to get excited, y’all! Next up in our draft class Q&A feature is running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the player many Jacksonville Jaguars fans hope to be the savior of this franchise.
Fournette, as we all know by know, is a rare combination of size, strength and speed. He can punish you by running through you, or burn you in the open field. But nobody is perfect, and the most coveted running back in the 2017 class still has a few question marks.
I spoke to Adam Henderson to better understand the knocks on Fournette, and to get a sense of what we should really expect from him. Adam is a staff writer at And The Valley Shook, which is where you can find all things LSU athletics within the SB Nation network.
So, should we all buy into the Fournette hype? According to Adam, the answer is more or less, “HELL YES!”
Check out Adam’s detailed answers to my in-depth questions below.
1. Leonard Fournette was widely regarded as the best running back in the draft, and an immediate impact player. He was drafted accordingly at No. 4 overall. What makes Fournette such a dynamic player and how can he bring that same level of success with him to the pros?
Looking at his tape is one thing, but seeing him in person is something out of this world. It really should not be possible for a guy as (big as) he is to be as fast and agile as he is. He was clocked at nearly 23 miles per hour on a run against Ole Miss, which is insane on a number of levels.
At LSU he made a name for banishing defenders to the upside down simply because he's weighs the same as a linebacker and has the momentum on his side, but he makes cuts like it's as natural as blinking. I know this is cliche, but I don't agree that he's the next Adrian Peterson or Herschel Walker. He's the first Leonard Fournette. His skill set is so diverse and strong in so many areas that I don't think a player with his exact repertoire has ever existed before. Top end speed? Check. Agility? Check. Truck stick? Check. Secure carrying? Check. Decent hands? For a running back, check.
Leonard Fournette's top speed against Ole Miss was 22.9 MPH.— 2017 NFL Draft (@DraftRT) October 24, 2016
Texans rookie WR Will Fuller's top speed this year so far is 21.6 MPH.
2. Following that up, what would you say is Fournette's single greatest attribute, and what is the one thing he needs to improve upon most in the NFL?
Without a doubt the best thing about Fournette is that he has the power and agility to be a three-down back, with his power being his greatest strength because really, how often do players even get the chance to reach their top end speed?
At LSU, though, his bread and butter were powers and isos, or other plays where he had a lead blocker. On those plays, the assignment was simple, go where the lead blocker didn't go and let your blocks develop. This isn't a knock on his football intelligence, it's smart football: the less you have to think about as a runner the less decisive you are, the less decisive you are the more efficient you are as a runner. I think that if you draft a quarterback or running back in the Top-10 you should completely tailor your offense to suit their style of play (hey Titans, what's up?), but either way the only thing I don't grade Fournette as a plus at is reading zone read concepts. Simply because Derrius Guice got the bulk of the zone read plays at LSU (tailored offense) while Fournette ran the "deliberate" runs, but as a No. 4 pick he should probably learn how to properly read those runs and pick the correct hole more often than he doesn't.
3. One knock on Fournette that is common amongst analysts is that he doesn't have the ability to create for himself without a good offensive line. The Jaguars' offensive line is still one of the biggest question marks on this team. Should Jaguars fans be worried, or is this just an overblown concern?
I'd say that Fournette benefited more from having a fullback than he did an offensive line. Really his offensive lines at LSU were always a revolving door due to injuries, so it's not like he had three future Pro Bowlers leading the charge. Saying a running back is only as good as their line applies to a good many running backs, though. Fournette struggled against Alabama because Alabama whipped LSU's ass at the line of scrimmage every year and I personally don't even think there is a single player in the NFL right now (including Marshawn) who could have made something out of nothing against Alabama's defense consistently with that poor of an offensive line. He’ll need help from his offensive line for sure, but his playing ability should not be in question.
4. Fournette is a bulldozer that welcomes contact, which often makes for exciting highlights, but he played in just seven games last season due to an ankle injury. Should his playing style concern fans, and is his durability a question mark at all?
I think it was largely understood among both the media and LSU fans that yes, Fournette was out with an injury, but most of the games that he missed was actually because LSU didn't want to damage his stock and worth by playing him against teams like Missouri and Southern Mississippi if his ankle wasn't 100 percent. If he was a sophomore, not only does he play in the Citrus bowl, but he also plays against Texas A&M. Why not? He was a junior, who if fully rehabbed, is a top five draft pick. Nah, LSU is good, they'll just get reps for Derrius Guice.
Obviously when a player seeks contact, the likelihood of injury is increased and that is scary. But Fournette has never been a guy that does something stupid like lead with his head. He's a very violent runner and I'd rather take my chances with trying to stop a small car than stop him, but he's always been very safe with what he does. Most of his conquests are done with his shoulders and stiff arms.
Hard to argue with this, though, pic.twitter.com/2OuEGU7T6z— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) April 28, 2017
5. How is Fournette in pass protection? He also wasn't used a ton as a receiver in college. Are these areas he'll need to work extensively on in order to be a true three-down back for the Jags, or was his lack of production in the passing game more so due to play-calling?
Actually, oddly enough 2016 opened with "Leonard Fournette: Receiving Option?" Call it Les Miles trying to save his job or call it LSU trying to solidify his draft stock, but LSU tried some passes to Leonard as a consistent form of attack after having occasional success with it. His hands are...a solid work in progress. He's not going to high point a ball any time soon, but he's good with check downs and wheel routes. LSU had well-documented struggles with quarterback play so it's understandable that a running back doesn't put up numbers in the passing game. Enough of an air presence is there to work with, though. His pass protection technique may need some work, but he definitely has the strength to take on blitzers.
At the end of the day, a running back has to rely on help from the offensive line to be successful. Can Jacksonville’s questionable offensive line spring big runs for Fournette? Time will tell, but Fournette possesses a lot of the necessary tools to be a Pro Bowl-type ball carrier in this league.
If you’ve missed any of the previous articles on our rookie Q&A series, here is a recap:
- Marquez Williams, fullback, Miami
- Blair Brown, linebacker, Ohio
- Dawuane Smooth, defensive end, Illinois
- Jalen Myrick, cornerback, Minnesota
Stay tuned for features on Cam Robinson and Dede Westbrook!