What's Leonard Fournette's Fantasy Football Outlook in 2017?
When the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, comparisons to the Dallas Cowboys' selection of Ezekiel Elliott at the same slot just one year prior were obvious.
In terms of fantasy football, Elliott finished as the second-best fantasy running back in both standard and PPR formats.
Can Fournette have a similar impact for your fantasy football team in 2017?
Average Draft Position
Using Fantasy Football Calculator's Average Draft Position (ADP) data, we can see how much 2016's apparent running back renaissance has driven up the price for Fournette and other rookie backs.
Currently in standard leagues, Fournette is flying off the board in the second round with an ADP of 2.06 -- he's being drafted as the RB10.
In all, Fournette, Joe Mixon (3.09), Christian McCaffrey (3.11), and Dalvin Cook (4.09) all have ADPs inside the first five rounds. Last year, the only rookie drafted in that range was Elliott (1.06).
At LSU, Fournette posted excellent numbers, which would point to him performing at a high level in the NFL, considering his opponents in the SEC.
Fournette posted career statistics of 616 carries, 3,830 rushing yards, and 40 touchdowns in college. He also had 41 receptions, 526 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
In 2015, Fournette carried the ball 300 times, racking up 1,953 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. He finished sixth in Heisman voting that season.
Fournette isn't simply a big bruising running back who had a high number of carries with a good yards per carry number, though.
According to Bill Bender of Sporting News, 59 of Fournette's 300 carries went for more than 10 yards -- nearly 20 percent!
Unfortunately for Fournette, before the start of his 2016 campaign, he suffered an ankle injury that required him to be in a walking boot. This ankle injury appeared to bother him the entire season, but don't let his depressed final-year numbers deter you.
At the NFL Draft Combine, Fournette measured at 6'0" and 240 pounds.
He only participated in two events, registering a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and a lackluster 28.5-inch vertical jump. MockDraftable puts Fournette's 40-yard-dash time in the 65th percentile for running backs, and his vertical jump is in the lowest possible percentile. It's the second-worst vertical jump by a running back at the combine since 2000.
But when using PlayerProfiler's metric Speed Score, which factors a player's weight into their 40-yard dash, Fournette posted a 96th-percentile score. But after Fournette received some criticism for his weight, he appeared to dedicate himself to showing an improved physique at LSU's Pro Day, where ESPN reported that Fournette measured in at 228 pounds.
And Tom Coughlin, executive vice president of football operations, has been speaking highly of Fournette this summer, describing him as "powerful" and "strong." Coughlin also said that Fournette had "better hands than I ever thought."
The Jacksonville Running Backs
Yeldon posted 130 carries for 465 rushing yards, and 1 rushing touchdown (plus 50 receptions on 68 targets for 312 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown). Ivory, meanwhile, managed 117 carries, 439 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns (with 20 receptions on 28 targets for 186 receiving yards).
Yeldon appeared to be the favored running back for target opportunities in the passing game last season, but neither Yeldon nor Ivory is a third-down scatback by any means -- both could challenge Fournette for carries. That is why hearing Coughlin giving high praise to Fournette for his work in the receiving game is critical for his rookie season.
Both Yeldon and Ivory were poor running back options last season. We need look no further than our signature metric Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP shows a player's contribution to their team's chance of scoring. By adding down and distance to the box score, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influences the outcome of games.
In 2016, the league-average Rushing NEP per carry for running backs was -0.02, and the Success Rate (the percentage of carries that increased NEP) was 40.14%.
Here are Yeldon's and Ivory's marks (ranks are among the 42 backs with at least 100 carries).
|Player||Rushing NEP||Rank||Rush NEP/Carry||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
It's always important to add more context to rushing, though. Not every team has the same passing game to take pressure off of the run, and not every offensive line is equal. As a team, Jacksonville running backs posted the fifth-worst Rushing Success Rate in the league last year, while ProFootballFocus ranked the Jaguars' 22nd in the NFL.
Coming into 2017, PFF ranked Jacksonville as the 13th-best offensive line, primarily because of center Brandon Linder, the highest-graded player on the line from last season. But tackle Branden Albert decided to retire suddenly at the start of training camp, leaving a hole on the offensive line.
Coach Doug Marrone, prior to the retirement of Albert, talked about incoming second-round rookie Cam Robinson working exclusively at the left tackle position. And now Robinson will need to step up his play to anchor that position for the Jaguars in 2017. A more experienced group that retained a majority of starters should see improvements in 2017.
Doug Marrone took over as head coach of the Jaguars in early 2017 after Gus Bradley was fired in December. Marrone stepped in as interim coach during the season and had previously served as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach from 2015 through 2016 -- and before that, head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2013 to 2014.
Last season, the Jaguars finished 3-13 and ran the ball on 38.51% of their plays. A poor record meant the Jaguars were behind in games and were forced to abandon the run game, lowering the chances for any running back to get carries. In 2015, it was more of the same, as the Jaguars only had a 36.84% run percentage.
In 2014 in Buffalo, Marrone's offense rushed on 40.98% of plays, and in 2013 he called run plays 51.12% of the time for the 6-10 Bills.
In 2017, look for the Jaguars try to change the way their offense flows, specifically for it to flow through the running back position. Marrone said in the offseason, "For me, I like to run the ball every play." And according to Michael DiRocco, ESPN the Jaguars will be employing a fullback for the first time since 2014.
Plus, they drafted this Fournette guy in the top five. All signs point to a increase in the number of carries at the running back position for the Jaguars.
Fournette is an elite talent with the size needed for a high volume of carries and snaps within the Jaguars offense. Todd Gurley last year proved that, even with poor metrics, a heavy enough workload can still get you to RB2 numbers in fantasy football.
So the floor for Fournette could be considered near Gurley 2016 levels: a running back with high volume in a low-level offense. But we are not drafting for floor. Like it or not, the Jaguars offensive line is ranked higher than the Los Angeles Rams' offensive line by PFF, and Fournette is a elite-level talent like Gurley.
Utilizing PlayerProfiler's College Dominator metric, which looks at the percentage of the running back's total team yards and touchdowns in college, Fournette has an 82nd-percentile score. Any value over 40% is considered excellent, and Fournette is right there.
Here at numberFire, we project Fournette to finish as the RB16 in fantasy football next season. These are all easily beatable predictions for an elite talent like Fournette. Any improvement within the Jaguars should make these numbers look like Fournette's floor.
With an ADP as the RB10, Fournette is going in the range of a low RB1 to high RB2 with upside.
Signs point to this value being the closer to the low end for Fournette. He is currently being drafted around his floor for positional value, though will cost you high draft capital to acquire him.
With this in mind, Fournette is a player who can perform on the football field and with a change in game philosophy for the 2017 Jaguars, giving him a legitimate chance at being a high upside play.
Draft Fournette comfortably, knowing you will have a strong RB2 floor and enjoy his high ceiling in an improving Jaguars offense.