With the NFL Draft looming, many Cincinnati Bengals fans are pondering which prospects will be drafted by the Bengals. One name that has come up as a possible first round pick for the Bengals is LSU running back Leonard Fournette. He is a bigger running back with good speed, who some feel could be the “best player available” when the Bengals are on the clock with the ninth overall selection.
Interestingly, the Bengals already have a bigger back on their roster, in Jeremy Hill, who shares more than a couple traits with Fournette. Both Hill and Fournette were highly acclaimed high school running backs who took their talents to LSU. They both dominated the SEC before leaving school early for the NFL. Since both running backs hail from the same college, and both are considered “big” backs, it’s worth asking: is Fournette just another Jeremy Hill, or is Fournette truly special?
As a redshirt freshman, Hill led the Tigers in rushing (beating out future NFL running backs Alfred Blue and Spencer Ware), carrying the ball 142 times for a 5.3 yards per carry average. As a true freshman, Fournette also led the Tigers in rushing, carrying the ball 187 times (in one more game) with a similar 5.5 yards per carry average. Their production in their first seasons was similar.
In his second season, his final year with LSU, Hill bumped his average up to 6.9 yards per carry, scoring 16 touchdowns. Fournette had a similar 6.5 average over his second and third seasons, averaging 15 touchdowns per season over that span (although 2016 was injury-shortened). Both took a big step forward after their first year, scoring many touchdowns and cranking out significant yardage.
Both Hill and Fournette are a little over six feet tall, and weigh in around 230 pounds. Both play with a big, physical style of running, and had the ability to play all three downs in college, although neither saw much action in the passing game.
Their scouting reports also share some similarities, such as good size, and quick feet. Neither one was especially elusive or shifty in college, relying on a powerful, aggressive style. Although Hill was a little better at getting yards after contact with that style, while Fournette was more about making the big hit on defenseless defensive backs as he got tackled.
With so many similarities, it may make one wonder why Hill was seen as a mid second to mid third round prospect, while Fournette is viewed as a top 10 talent. That leads us to the differences between Fournette and Hill. Both players were quite adept at running through the open holes that the big linemen at LSU paved for them, but both vision and balance were knocks on Hill’s game. Fournette doesn’t seem to have these limitations. Fournette also has better overall speed, with faster top speed, and the ability to get to that speed more quickly.
So that leads to the obvious question, after seeing what Hill has done, or failed to do, during the last two seasons, would you be willing to take a chance on Fournette with a first round pick? Does Fournette’s vision, balance, and speed make the difference to enable him to be more like Adrian Peterson and less like Hill? Or is Fournette an over-rated runner, who will be yet another running back who fails to make the transition from SEC to NFL without large running lanes to pave way for him?
Ultimately, I think Fournette likely falls somewhere in between Peterson and Hill in terms of ability and likelihood to succeed. He should have the attributes to make him better than Hill, but seems to lack the elusiveness to truly make him special in the NFL.
That’s what I think; what do you think? Would you like to see the Bengals draft Fournette with the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft?