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Leonard Fournette vs Dalvin Cook: A Simple Scout’s Look at the Top Running Backs
The “Simple Scouting” articles are done with an eye towards simplifying a sometimes complicated scouting process. All clips are courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Over the years, the running back position has gone in and out of fashion where the NFL Draft is concerned. As more NFL teams went to a running back by committee setup, the value of the position dropped in many eyes. However, the past few years may be changing that perception somewhat. In 2015, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon both went inside the top 15, with Gurley having an especially big impact right away. Last year, Ezekiel Elliott was selected fourth overall, and had an amazing rookie season.
The 2017 NFL Draft has some very good depth, with plenty of options for teams looking for role players who can start. It also features two players who could both go very high in round one, in Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. Both appear to be special players who have the look of NFL stars. The question is, which is better? Which one should be taken first? How high can they go? Let’s make a comparison.
Everybody loves the big play, and both of these guys have game-breaking ability in spades. Here, Fournette goes right, gets into the clear and races for the touchdown. A defender chases him, and though he’s slowly gaining, can’t quite catch him.
Fournette is fast. Cook is a rocket. As expected, Cook gets up to top speed faster, and his top gear is something special. Here, Cook gets to the outside, clears a group of defenders, then blows them away down the sideline. By the time he gets to the endzone, they’re just an afterthought.
At 6’1″, 235 pounds, Fournette looks like a tank, and hits like one too. Defenders lining up to make a big hit should be sure to have all their health insurance up to date, because he’s going to deliver as big a shot as he gets. Examples of this abound, but here’s an impressive blow from 2016.
Cook is certainly no slouch, or easy tackle for that matter, but his strength shows up in a different way. He’s more of a slippery runner that defenders have a hard time bringing down because of his leg drive and ability to stay moving. In this clip, Cook encounters a group of defenders at the start of his run, but his leg strength and balance allows him to bounce off, get turned in the right direction, and hit the afterburners.
This is an area where there are questions about Fournette. At his size, quick feet isn’t expected, nor is it required. Still, size won’t always win, especially in the NFL where defenders are all big. A little big of wiggle is necessary to get past the first level, and Fournette’s footwork will be closely monitored. Here are two looks at the same play. In the first, he cuts left, gets outside, and gets the big gain. The second shows the cut from behind, and demonstrates the time it actually takes him to make the move.
Fournette gets a good pickup on the play, but it was a labored cut, that took him multiple steps to make. At the professional level, there’s a good chance he loses yards there. On the flip side, Cook, though notably much more built for quickness, struggles less in making quick moves. He has the ability to smoothly change direction and get up to speed quickly. On the following play, he makes a couple of cuts, weaving through traffic, and finding his way into the open field. Again, we look at it from both angles.
Here, from behind, it’s easier to see that Cook’s cuts are sharper, quicker, and effective, even though defenders are all around him.
Vision and Patience
Good field vision is essential to any good running back, and it’s sometimes hard to recognize in college, where the running lanes are often wide. Fournette has a load of highlight reel plays, but for most of them, there was nothing more required than him to run as fast as possible downhill. Patience was rarely required. Here’s an example a play where he had to use his eyes to find the correct time to turn and run.
It’s not the most difficult read a runner has ever had to make, but he does make the right one. Cook is similar, in that he has a ton of big plays where he made a single cut, then ran. He did have more plays where he showed great patience and vision. Here’s an example. He starts to run, then realizes there’s nowhere to go. He stops, moves right, sees an opening, and plants his foot and moves.
In the tape viewed for this article, receiving was interesting. Fournette was asked to do it much less, but was mostly effective at it. He used good form, and showed good hands the few times he was targeted. Cook was used as a receiver many more times, and had more nice catches, but he also had more drops. This shouldn’t be much of a concern to scouts, though. Cook will likely go to an offense where he’s asked to be a receiver more often anyway.
In addition to the drops, there are concerns over fumbles with Cook. He put the ball on the ground from time to time, and NFL teams are trained to go after the ball. That’s an area he’ll be worked with on no matter who drafts him.
In pass protection, Cook fared slightly better, despite his smaller stature. They should both be fine, and Fournette, because of size, might wind up being more equipped for it as a pro.
After watching film on both players, it’s easy to see why so many analysts are high on both of these running backs. They each have a special skill-set and both should be fantastic players at the next level. If forced to choose one, Cook has the slight edge. He’s a tick faster, has better feet, and can be much more versatile. He fits any scheme, and can succeed for any team. That said, if Fournette were to wind up on my team, well, I’d be fine with that too. They’re both potential top 10 picks, and they’ve earned it, on the stat-book, and on tape.