Taking a running back in the top 10 of the NFL Draft is risky business.
However, LSU’s Leonard Fournette could be the exception in this year’s draft, especially for a team like the Cincinnati Bengals, who desperately need more firepower added to the offense.
Fournette would be off the board for sure by No. 9 if not for an injury-plagued 2016 season, where he missed five games and gained just 843 yards and eight touchdowns on 129 carries (6.5 avg.).
That came after he was among the best players in college football in 2015, racking up 1,953 yards and 22 scores on 300 carries (6.5 avg.) as a sophomore. As a true freshman in 2014, Fournette ran for 1,034 yards and 10 scores on 187 carries (5.5 avg.).
Putting together three seasons like that in the SEC is impressive, and it’s why Fournette is in the discussion for a top-10 pick in a league where those selections are rarely spent on running backs.
Here’s why the Bengals should take Fournette at No. 9:
- The Bengals reportedly want him, so the decision to take him at No. 9, if available, could already be made.
- Fournette is the best running back in this draft, and the Bengals badly need an upgrade at this position.
- Rex Burkhead is now in New England, Jeremy Hill’s contract expires in 2018, and Giovani Bernard is coming off a torn ACL, so you could argue running back is this team’s biggest need in the draft.
- Fournette is the closest thing to an Ezekiel Elliott-type of prospect in this draft, and adding that kind of player would make this a very scary Bengals offense.
- ESPN and NFL.com rank Fournette fourth overall in this draft, so if available at No. 9 in this draft, Fournette would very likely be the best available player.
- Fournette catches a lot of flack for not forcing more missed tackles, but he actually led the nation in missed tackles forced in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus.
Here’s why the Bengals should pass on Fournette at No. 9:
- Fournette is not a truly elite running back, which you have to be to warrant a top-10 selection.
- As many big plays as Fournette makes, he’s still a plower like Jeremy Hill who will find it hard to consistently have good runs in the NFL.
- Fournette missing so much time this past season brings into question how durable he can be in the NFL.
- PFF ranks Fournette as their 23rd-best prospect in this draft, making him a major reach at No. 9 in their eyes.
- He also has had weight and athletic testing concerns, which makes it seem like he thinks he can win off pure talent and not strong work ethic, which every prospect needs to have a productive NFL career.
- Fournette is the kind of back who needs a great offensive line in front of him, something he had every year at LSU, but he won’t have right away in Cincinnati.
- He already has 657 career touches at LSU, so his wear-and-tear level is pretty high entering the pros.
- Fournette has never been a good pass-catcher with just 41 career receptions.
- Scouts are already questioning Fournette’s love for the game, and there’s a growing belief that he’s driven by stardom, not football itself. He recently spent tons of money on shoes, which has been a red flag for some.
- Seeing Fournette skip out on the team’s bowl game is also concerning in terms of how much he loves the game, though NFL prospects skipping bowl games is becoming more popular across college football.
All told, Fournette is probably the pick at No. 9 if he’s on the board, but most mock drafts have him gone by then. He certainly is a prospect who brings a world of potential and risk into the NFL, but I believe the Bengals would love to be the team that takes that chance.