Fantasy Football: How Should You Handle a Banged Up Leonard Fournette?
Running back is a brutal position for football. Without fail, things go awry for these players every single season.
They are the ball carriers most at risk of losing the ball and getting blamed for it. They are the skill position whose bodies get put through the meat grinder of the defensive line. They are the players who the rules specifically state are the exceptions to penalty calls designed to protect offensive players.
Fournette pulled his hamstring in Week 1 and was ruled out of the game at the end of the third quarter. While head coach Doug Marrone has been optimistic thus far and stated that the Jaguars’ franchise back would not need to practice this week in order to play Sunday, fantasy players should take this enthusiasm with a grain of salt.
With Fournette banged-up, what will the Jacksonville backfield look like going forward?
No Pain, No Gain: Leonard Fournette
Fournette obviously hasn’t been ruled out for Week 2 by the Jaguars yet -- and his odds of playing seem to be trending up -- but he’s clearly ailing. While his situation is yet uncertain, fantasy players need to figure out what to do with him.
Per Pro Football Reference, Fournette was on the injury report just three times in his rookie season – but each of those injuries was for pesky soft tissue leg injuries (i.e. muscle or ligament strains, as opposed to bone fractures or other “hard tissue” injuries) that can easily come back. I’m no doctor myself, but I do need to share a little bit of research that actual doctors have done regarding these kinds of injuries.
These are gonna be some crunchy numbers, so stay with me.
A study published in 2007 on elite sprinters showed that 20 to 55 percent of hamstring pulls had not fully healed even after six weeks of recovery. Another study published in 2002 indicated that 34 percent of Australian rules football players re-injured their hamstrings within a year of the original injury, and then missed more time with more severe damage than the initial injury.
I’m not trying to scare you here, but… yikes.
Now, this hamstring pull is in no way as worrisome as some sort of ligament tear, but we do have to be cautious of a player who has dealt with recurrent soft-tissue issues since his time in college. Despite officially being on the injury report just three times last season, Fournette was banged up in the week of practice leading up to a game in 11 of their 20 contests last year (including the playoffs).
The table below shows his production in games where he was either not on the injury report prior to the game or got in a full practice by Wednesday, versus those games where he got in a full practice on Friday or not at all.
|Practice Week||Yards Per Carry||Rush TD%||Yards Per Catch||Rec TD%|
For you fantasy mavens, that indicates a difference between 18.8 PPR fantasy points per game on a full week of practice versus 13.5 on a limited week -- a drop of more than 25 percent of his per-game fantasy value and the difference between a top-5 fantasy back and a high-end RB2.
Even if Fournette suits up versus the New England Patriots, there’s a reasonable chance at this point that he’ll be much less effective than you’d want. He should still return some value in season-long leagues if active due to the volume of touches he gets, but he could be risky at his price in DFS formats.
I’ll Back You Up: T.J. Yeldon
Fournette’s primary backup is T.J. Yeldon, who picked up the slack when his teammate went out on Sunday. Once he was the primary back, Yeldon took 13 carries for 48 rushing yards, adding 11 receiving yards and a touchdown on 2 catches (5 targets).
While his 15 touches certainly is nice volume, his rates of production make his fantasy profile a bit tenuous if he doesn’t get that volume of chances this week.
Using just Yeldon’s mark of 13 rushes from last week as a divider, we can separate his performances via the Rotoviz Game Splits app. In Yeldon’s career, he’s played 26 games with 0 to 13 rushing attempts and averaged 8.6 PPR fantasy points across them; in games with 14 or more attempts, he’s averaged 14.9 PPR fantasy points. He just simply doesn’t have the explosive profile of a running back who can maximize minimal chances to produce.
If you plan to roll out Yeldon this week, therefore, you’re hoping that Fournette sits. If Fournette is banged up but active, Yeldon could see as few as 10 touches in the game. That number could be as high as 20 if he’s the lead back in relief of Fournette.
As for third-stringer Corey Grant, he saw just one carry last week despite Fournette’s departure late in the first half. He’s unlikely to be a major part of the game plan this week, though if Fournette’s injury were to linger, Grant could be the change-up back -- he averaged 7.0 touches per game when Fournette sat in 2017 -- to Yeldon.
Patriot Games: The Week 2 Matchup
Finally, when looking at injury replacements, we do have to consider matchups.
The Patriots will oppose the Jaguars in Week 2 in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game. The Pats have not been stout in run defense thus far, ranking just 18th-best by our schedule-adjusted metrics. It's not a big change from last year, when our metrics had them ranked 22 in run defense.
In addition, the Patriots have allowed the 17th-most PPR fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last year-plus. While this isn’t a stellar matchup by any means, it’s not one to run screaming from either.
The next month for the Jaguars’ schedule gets a little bit worse: versus Tennessee Titans (24th-most fantasy points against), versus New York Jets (14th-most), at Kansas City Chiefs (16th-most), and at Dallas Cowboys (23rd-most).
If Fournette is active, he should remain a solid fantasy RB2 due to his immense volume, even if his efficiency is diminished; you should simply expect less of a ceiling from him. If Fournette is out for Week 2, Yeldon becomes an interesting RB2 option on volume alone. Finally, depending on the severity of Fournette’s injury, Yeldon could be a viable FLEX play over the next month with some less-than-optimal matchups.