Going Deep: Is Leonard Fournette A Good Bet?
After a phenomenal rookie season, many fantasy owners eagerly took Leonard Fournette in the early rounds last year hoping he would build upon his previous success. The decision did not pay off for fantasy owners, to say the least, with Fournette only appearing in eight games and averaging 3.3 YPC. Now Fournette enters a make or break year, and for fantasy owners that means we have to make a decision on whether Fournette busts again, or bounces back in tremendous fashion.
|Season||Games||Rush Att||Rush Yards||YPC||Targets||Rec||Rec Yards||Yards Per Rec||Scrimmage Yards/G||Total TDs|
Many people will look at the fact that Fournette has not even averaged 4.0 YPC in either of his first two seasons in the league and come to the conclusion that Fournette isn’t talented. But make no mistake, Fournette is a top 10 talent at the running back position when he’s healthy. As you can see from the table, Fournette had an impressive 103.23 scrimmage yards per game in 2017, which ranked seventh in the NFL. In Fournette’s injury-plagued season last year, that number dipped to 78 yards per game, which was only 35th in the NFL. But if Fournette can stay healthier and out of trouble, we should see him bounce back to his 2017 performance.
In 2017, we also saw Fournette rank as the seventh-best running back in yards created (420) and the tenth best running back in evaded tackles (74). Let’s take a look at a couple plays from his rookie year that showcases his talent as a runner.
In the clip above from the 2017 NFL season, we see Fournette showcasing a little bit of his elusiveness, putting a spin move on the Rams #98, avoiding the tackle, and turning it into a nice 15 yard gain.
In this clip from 2017, we see Fournette embrace the contact from the Steelers Mike Mitchell, waving Mitchell on to see if he can tackle him. This mentality to not shy away from contact may be part of the reason that 64.2% of his yards came after contact last year.
But perhaps the most potential growth from Fournette’s talent comes from his impressive pass-catching ability. He has caught 58 passes in 21 games (pace of 44 passes per season in each of the last two years) and has only had 4 career drops to his name. As I recently pointed out in my article called “Proposing The Mixon Formula“, having dual-threat running backs is vital for fantasy in this pass-heavy era of the NFL, and Fournette has proven to be reliable both on the ground and through the air. The only reason Fournette did not make the list of candidates for the “Mixon Formula” for the upcoming season was that he only played in eight games last year, but make no mistake he is capable of being a top 10 pass-catching back this season.
In terms of his situation, Fournette is in a pretty good spot for the upcoming year. The Jaguars finally got rid of quarterback Blake Bortles, and have brought in Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. Let’s take a quick look at Bortles career numbers in comparison to Nick Foles.
|Name||Starts/Games||Comp||Pass Att||Comp %||Pass Yards||Pass Yards||Pass TD||Int||Rush Att|
|Blake Bortles||73/75||1561||2632||59.3%||235.3 per game||6.7 per attempt||103||75||3.7 per game|
|Nick Foles||44/54||974||1581||61.6%||206.8 per game||7.1 per attempt||68||33||2.3 per game|
From these statistics, it’s clear that Foles is a better passer than Bortles with a higher completion percentage, passing yards per attempt, and touchdown to interception ratio. With improved quarterback play, the Jaguars offense will be much better at sustaining drives, scoring touchdowns, and having fewer stacked boxes for Fournette to deal with.
Besides a change in QB play, the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line made some changes as well this year with the addition of right tackle Jawaan Taylor via the NFL Draft, and the return of starting left tackle Cam Robinson. Considering last year the Jaguars were forced to play Ereck Flowers and Josh Walker for a large chunk of the season, the offensive line should improve.
The final major changes of the Jaguars offense occurred at running back this past offseason. The Jaguars drafted running back Ryquell Armstead in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft and added veteran back Alfred Blue via free agency to replace TJ Yeldon and Carlos Hyde in the offseason. Blue is obviously no major threat to Fournette’s workload, with Blue averaging only 3.6 YPC over the course of 673 carries (73 games), as well as ranking low in a majority of advanced statistics. Armstead projects to be a player similar to Alex Collins, where he’s solid on the ground but is a non-factor in the passing game, catching only 29 passes in four college seasons. This will have a significant impact on Armstead’s potential playing time for the Jaguars because new coordinator John DeFilippo loves having effective pass-catching running backs for his offense.
The Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator this year in John DeFilippo, who has a tendency to put an emphasis on the passing game. But before we look at how DeFilippo uses his running backs, let’s take a little look into how the Jaguars used them the last two years in order to build a basic understanding of what kind of opportunity their backs have had in the past.
|Team||Games||RB Carries||YPC||Total RB Rush Yards||RB Targets||RB Rec||Yards Per Rec||Rec Yards||TDs|
Notes: In 2017, the Jaguars gave work out of the backfield to Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, TJ Yeldon, Corey Grant, and Tommy Bohanon. In 2018, the Jaguars gave work out of the backfield to Leonard Fournette, TJ Yeldon, Carlos Hyde, Jamaal Charles, Corey Grant, David Williams, Brandon Wilds, and Tommy Bohanon.
The Jaguars have utilized their halfbacks a ton over the last two years, with nearly 1000 touches (979) going to their running backs. Their backs averaged almost 150 yards from scrimmage (145.1) and nearly a touchdown a game (0.94) over this stretch, making them one of the better running teams in the league.
Now let’s examine how DeFilippo’s offenses have historically impacted his running backs numbers.
|Team||Games||RB Carries||YPC||Total Rush Yards||RB Targets||RB Rec||Yards Per Rec||Rec Yards||TDs|
Notes: In 2015, the Browns gave work out of the backfield to Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Robert Turbin, Shaun Draughn, and Glenn Winston. In 2018, the Vikings gave work out of the backfield to Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Roc Thomas, CJ Ham, and Mike Boone.
Looking at DeFilippo’s two years as a play-caller, he’s definitely been reluctant to run the ball, getting all his backs around 24 touches a game (23.58). While it’s difficult to say if he did that because he lacked running back talent (the most talented RB he has ever had, Dalvin Cook, played through most of 2018 injured), or if that’s how he runs his offense in general, his past history does raise some concern about whether the Jaguars will continue to feed their running backs as they have in the past.
Last season was a disaster for Fournette, as he dealt with injury and suspension throughout the year. As a talent, Fournette will play more to the ability of his 2017 self, and if he plays 16 games I would say he’s very likely to catch 50 or more passes with TJ Yeldon gone. DeFilippo’s past makes Fournette’s workload a bit of a question mark, but perhaps he has learned from his mistakes stating in the offseason: “I’m going to call it what it is, he’s going to be a major reason where our offense goes and I’m not going to sugarcoat that. Leonard Fournette needs to be a big part of this offense. The harder he works, which he is right now, I think that’s going to not only be good for our offense but good for our team.” Overall, I’m a fan of Fournette at his current ADP and think he should be a strong play in standard as well as PPR formats.
(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)