Making the Case for 1.01: Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette

As the 2017 NFL Draft unfolds, Fantasy analysts slurp cup after cup of coffee, re-arranging their dynasty rookie rankings like guest bedroom furniture. Many factors inform these rankings. Landing  spot, college production, NFL combine measurable, film analysis and intangibles are all considered and weighted to varying degrees, depending on the philosophy of the analyst. The over analysis is enough to give your average dynasty owner a headache.

In 2016, things were easy for the owner of the 1.01 rookie pick. Ezekiel Elliot stood head and shoulders above the rest of the class after a strong final college season and impressive combine – and become an absolute slam-dunk when Dallas, flush with offensive line talent (“The Legion of Room”), drafted him with the #4 overall pick. It hasn’t been quite that simple of a decision with the 2017 class. It did, however, get a bit easier this weekend.

Former LSU RB Leonard Fournette is now your 1.01 pick in dynasty rookie drafts, thanks to the owner of what is almost certainly the best mustache in professional sports as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shad Khan. By taking Fournette with the 4th overall pick, Khan made him the only clear workhorse RB, and offensive focal point of the skill position players selected in the 2017 NFL draft. It’s clear:
Shad Khan, Owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are building around Fournette as the focal point for their offense.

The Blake Bortles experiment is over. With the #4 overall pick, the Jags could have gone back to the well at QB, but instead focused their draft around building up a power running game led by Fournette – much like the Titans did last year with the Murray/Henry tandem. It all starts with their moves in the offseason to bolster the defense, adding CB AJ Bouye, DE Calais Campbell and S Barry Church and winning free agency for the second year straight. A strong defense puts the Jags in a better position to compete (or stay competitive) in the AFC South, and as a result, see more favorable gamescripts. They really believe in Fournette.

After selecting Fournette in the 1st, the Jaguars moved on to bolster their offensive line, selecting Alabama OT Cam Robinson in the 2nd round. He is expected to immediately compete at left tackle.

Next up, Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook in the 4th round.  The Jags added a burner to help keep defenses honest with the threat of the deep ball. Fournette has faced plenty of stacked boxes in his time at LSU, but the addition of some speed to the Jacksonville WR group is very welcome. With Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and now Westbrook, Jacksonville has a fairly strong WR corps, and should help Fournette avoid getting Toddy Gurley’d in his first few seasons.

It’s well-known that Fournette’s best runs came out of the I-Formation at LSU. But, Jacksonville doesn’t have a fullback! Ahem.

Every move that Jacksonville made in free agency and the draft shows their hand. They are building this team around Leonard Fournette as a workhorse RB.

But can he produce? Yes, yes he can: Leonard Fournette is good at football.

Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 LSU SEC FR RB 13 187 1034 5.5 10 7 127 18.1 0 194 1161 6 10
*2015 LSU SEC SO RB 12 300 1953 6.5 22 19 253 13.3 1 319 2206 6.9 23
2016 LSU SEC JR RB 7 129 843 6.5 8 15 146 9.7 0 144 989 6.9 8
Career LSU 616 3830 6.2 40 41 526 12.8 1 657 4356 6.6 4

Source: Sports-Reference.com

While his 2016 campaign was hampered due to a nagging ankle injury, Fournette posted a legendary 2015 season. In addition to nearly 2,000 yards rushing, Fournette caught 19 passes, scored 23 TDs and managed a 6.5 yard-per-carry average. This equated to a 38.8 percent college dominator rating, when, coupled with his elite speed score, placed him in pretty elite company, per PlayerProfiler.com.

Leonard Fournette - Player Profiler

Source: PlayerProfiler.com

Fournette has an incredible height/weight adjusted speed score –  in the 96th percentile – thanks to  running a 4.51 40 at 240 pounds. While he passed on the agility drills at the combine, what we do know about him in terms of metrics profile paints an impressive picture. He is often criticized as being simply a 2 down back, but it’s likely that Fournette is an underrated asset in the passing game, as evidenced by his 11.9% college target share (82nd percentile), and LSU being less willing to throw to their RBs. Derrius Guice is often talked on #DraftTwitter as a 3-down feature back, but he has fewer receptions in two years (14) than Fournette had in 2016. It seems like we’re at that point where we’ve been analyzing Fournette for so long – he’s been a top devy pick for some time, now – that we’re seeing more warts than there really are.

On film, Leonard Fournette plays faster than his size, and looks every bit the bruising power back. He falls forward after contact, frequently gaining extra yards. Once he gets up to speed, he is tough to bring down, and makes good use of his stiff arm to punish defenders. This man is a freight train. See for yourself:

Leonard Fournette has a strong chance to jump into the top 5 dynasty RBs pretty quickly. DLF’s Ryan McDowell lists him at RB6 on his list post-draft, and a few strong games early on this season could jump him even higher.

But what about the other rookie prospects?

Fournette is safer bet than the other rookie prospects in 1.01 consideration.

Corey Davis
On paper, Corey Davis looks very promising as a prospect.  Strong college production, high draft capital (#5 overall, one pick after Fournette and the first WR off the board) and a prime landing spot with Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans will make him the #1 pick on many dynasty owners boards. However, there are a few risks in drafting Davis.

Exotic Smashmouth: In 2016, the Titans beefed up their o-line by drafting OT Jack Conklin in the first round, and stacking their backfield by trading for RB DeMarco Murray and drafting athletic freak Derrick Henry. This is a run-first team, which lowers the ceiling of all pass catchers – Davis included. There’s also the small-school factor, which draws questions of the strength of competition that he faced playing at Western Michigan. Last but not least, Davis was a no-show at the NFL combine due to an ankle injury, leaving us with no data on his agility, explosiveness and speed, making it harder to reliably project him as a prospect.

Christian McCaffrey
The uber-productive Stanford RB has been a riser throughout the draft process despite sitting out his bowl game and declining personal workouts. Let’s run down the list:

Incredible combine metrics: Check.
Elite college production: Check.
Versatility: Check.
Draft Capital: Check.
Landing Spot: Uhh…

McCaffrey’s less than ideal landing spot is somewhat concerning. Carolina historically has not funneled many passes to the RB position, and the Panthers have brought his usage into even more question by doubling down by drafting a somewhat redundant swiss-army-knife hybrid RB/WR – Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel- in the early 2nd round. Carolina will have to basically reinvent its entire offensive philosophy  in order to get the most out of McCaffrey.

The other three players in the 2017 class most often placed into consideration for the top pick – Mike Williams, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon – are all squarely in Tier Two for me for the following reasons:

Mike Williams likely profiles as the #2 WR in Los Angeles Chargers offense behind Keenan Allen, limiting his upside. Philip Rivers has a lot of mouths to feed: Allen, Williams, Tyrell Williams, Melvin Gordon, Hunter Henry, and old man Antonio Gates.

Dalvin Cook slipped to Round 2, and had a horrendous NFL combine, putting his athleticism into question. The Minnesota Vikings also had one of the worst offensive lines in football last year, and recently signed RB Latavius Murray to a decent-sized contract, muddying the waters for Cook to attain a workhorse-level role.

Joe Mixon also slipped to Round 2 – most likely due to off-field concerns – and apparently was only on the draft radar for 4/32 NFL teams, which continues to raise red flags for his long-term place in the league. He also landed in a crowded Cincinnati Bengals backfield alongside Jeremy Hill (whom he should supplant) and Gio Bernard, who could siphon off receptions from Mixon. And Cincinnati’s O-Line lost a ton of talent in free agency. Yuck.

Simply put – Leonard Fournette is the safest player in whom to invest your 1.01 dynasty rookie pick – and can be a foundational player for your dynasty team for years to come.

Leonard Fournette – no matter what.

 

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