Leonard Fournette leaves the LSU Tigers as the consensus choice to be the first running back selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. During the past two seasons, he has averaged almost 150 rushing yards per game with 30 touchdowns in 19 games. He is known for big hits and long runs, putting up some prolific production in the highly regarded SEC.
Facts and Measurables:
Position: Running back
40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds
Vertical jump: 28.5"
Arm length: 31 5/8"
Weight: 240 pounds
Hands: 9 1/4"
Leonard Fournette Stats
If the reports are accurate, Fournette is somebody that the Bengals are interested in, , and few will argue the Bengals need to improve their running back situation. With Jeremy Hill struggling, Giovani Bernard coming off a major ACL injury, and Rex Burkhead leaving as a free agent, the position is a solid question mark heading into the 2017 NFL season. With the general high regard for Fournette, and the Bengals’ likely selection of a running back early in the draft, let’s look at some video and break down Fournette and his fit—or lack thereof—with Cincinnati.
This first clip is vintage Fournette, and as good of a video as any to start off with. It’s a highlight type of run from Fournette, with which many fans are familiar. Fournette has more than a few of these in his inventory. One important thing to notice is that he runs 60 yards untouched. He gets great blocking to open a nice running lane, and then uses his impressive game speed to outrun the defensive backs to turn a big run into a touchdown. Pretty much every one of his ‘wow’ clips have these same these characteristics - great blocking leaving him untouched, and great speed to outrun the defense.
(Note: If you can’t see the above GIF, please click the links in each paragraph or, view this article directly on CincyJungle.com. If you can see the GIF above, then you can ignore the in-text hyperlinks throughout the article.)
That first clip highlights his speed. These next few look at his power. As a bigger running back, power is an attribute you look for. He is a destroyer of defensive backs, and on this play you see him plow through several of them. In much of his film, he seems to look for contact and readily plows through smaller defensive backs. That won’t be as easy to do at the NFL level.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this popular clip of him lighting up a small, true freshman defensive back for Ole Miss. After making a wide open catch, and getting a full head of steam, he aims for the small defender and absolutely lights him up. It’s plays like this that get fans excited about his power running.
I also felt compelled to show this video, where he drags Mississippi State’s freshman linebacker a few yards, driving for the touchdown. The reason I felt compelled to show it is because it’s somewhat of an outlier. The vast majority of his highlight power runs are against smaller defensive backs, and rarely against defenders in the front seven.
This play below is reminiscent of most of Fournette’s matchups against defensive linemen and linebackers. When he tries to run through a defender in the front seven, he usually gets shut down. On many of his runs he tends to run to contact, but unless it’s against a defensive back, he often loses the battle. That is why it’s believed Fournette needs a fullback to fulfill his potential, and, it’s a reason why he may not be a great fit for the Bengals, who used fullback Ryan Hewitt on only 20.24 percent of offensive plays in 2016. This is so much the case that Fournette modestly gave his team MVP award after a LSU-Aubrun game in 2015 to his fullback, John David Moore. It was a nice move by Fournette but also goes along with the point.
What to like:
What team wouldn’t want a big back with good speed? When given good blocking, he can generate highlight reel material by turning 15 yard runs into long touchdowns, and can deliver big hits on smaller defenders, which has many fans and analysts pegging him as a top pick in this year’s draft. He projects to be a guy who can step in and be an NFL starter from day one. He also has surprising speed for his size (Combine 40-time: 4.51 seconds; weight: 240 pounds).
What to hope was better:
Almost all of his production is dependent on getting good blocking, as the bulk of his big plays are on runs where he is virtually untouched by the defense. When the blocking isn’t there, he struggles mightily, because he’s not a naturally elusive runner who can make defenders miss in the open field. He tends to run to contact, which not only adds extra wear and tear on his already injured frame, but sometimes comes at the detriment of missing open running lanes. His straight-line speed and power combination is second to none in this year’s draft, but his lack of elusiveness and questionable vision could hinder his upside in the NFL if he lands on a team that doesn’t possess good blocking.
For a player who rushed 300 times as a sophomore, and was averaging more than 22 carries per game as a junior before missing time due to injury, his nagging injuries caught up to him last season. During the final three games of his shortened seven game junior season, he averaged only a 3.8 yards per carry average. That was following talk during his sophomore season that he should sit out during his junior year as he proved all he needed to in 2015.
As a Bengals’ running back:
Fournette is essentially a faster version of Jeremy Hill. Both are big, power running backs from LSU who can carry the ball 20+ times a game, push for a touchdown, offer little as a receiver, and lack great vision or elusiveness in the open field. Fournette’s speed would be big upgrade over Hill, and if the Bengals were to select Fournette, it would essentially mean that the team is ready to move on from Hill.
Fournette is not a patient runner who will wait long for blocking to develop, but seems to anxiously hit the hole fast, like a bat out of hell. He would fit best in a power running scheme with Ryan Hewitt playing the role of a lead blocking fullback. If the blocking is there, he could take it to the house. But if the blocking isn’t there, he will likely get stopped for no gain. Being so dependent on good blocking to succeed, one would have to wonder how well Fournette would do behind the Bengals’ makeshift offensive line that just lost Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency.
Do you want the Bengals to draft Leonard Fournette?
This poll is closed
Absolutely at #9 overall if he is still on the board.
Yes, but not in the first round... So, no.
I’ll pass. SEC running backs struggle in the NFL.