Fantasy Football: This Is the Time to Buy Leonard Fournette
Since entering the NFL in 2017 as the fourth overall draft selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars, all Leonard Fournette has done for fantasy owners is record half-PPR finishes -- going by points per game -- of RB6 (2017) and RB13 (2018).
The downside, of course, to Fournette is that he's played in only 20 of a possible 30 games (discounting the fantasy-irrelevant Week 17) over those two seasons. When he's played, though, he's been productive, netting 16.4 and 13.7 half-PPR points per game in his two seasons.
He was a very strong prospect coming out of college, a part of his profile that is often overlooked, and he has continued that into his NFL career.
With the fantasy market, in general, down on Fournette this year compared to his first two seasons -- he's going at pick 2.10 in half-PPR formats, per Fantasy Football Calculator -- now may be the perfect time to buy in.
Let's break it down.
Not a Zero in the Passing Game
There is a sentiment among a lot of NFL fans and fantasy gamers alike that Fournette is a two-down grinder with limited ability in the receiving game. However, Fournette totaled nearly a 12% target share at LSU -- the raw numbers simply look lower because of time missed, a fact which carries over to his professional career thus far.
Fournette totaled a decent mark of 3.7 targets per game in 2017 and 3.2 targets per game in 2018. Those totals are not that far behind Dalvin Cook's 4.5 targets per game in 2018, or Joe Mixon's 3.9 per game last year, both of whom are early second-round picks.
Fournette's rate of targets per game was higher than that of Marlon Mack, who was targeted just 2.2 times per game in 2018. Until Andrew Luck's retirement, Mack was going at nearly the same average draft position (ADP) as Fournette. While Fournette hasn't excelled yet in the passing game in the pros, his 11.8% target share in college ranks in the 94th-percentile and is a window into his true bellcow upside in the NFL.
We may not have yet seen the ceiling for Fournette.
Fournette's 116.0 height-adjusted Speed Score -- courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com -- ranks him in the 97th-percentile and is an indication of Fournette's true big-play ability and breakaway speed. Fournette's tackle-breaking ability is also among the best in the league. He broke or evaded 74 tackles in 2017, the 10th-most among all running backs, despite playing in only 13 games. Fournette totaled 35 evaded tackles through eight games in 2018, which is a lower per-game rate but still a solid number.
The most intriguing part of Fournette's game for fantasy purposes, though, is his touchdown upside. Touchdowns are inordinately valuable in fantasy football, even in PPR or half-PPR leagues, and Fournette should carry some of the highest touchdown equity in 2019.
Fournette recorded nine goal line carries in 2017 and eight in 2018. His nine goal line carries ranked him 10th in the league among running backs in 2017, and his 2017 per-game rate was even higher since he played in just eight games. If Fournette nears a clip of one goal line carry per game in 2019, he'll likely be among the league leaders goal-line attempts, and he'll have a good shot to be among the leaders in rushing scores.
Grades Out Well
By our numbers, specifically our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Fournette was effective (as rushing the ball goes, of course) in 2018 with a Success Rate of 38.46% and a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.07, which modestly outpaced T.J. Yeldon (-0.09 Rushing NEP per attempt) and stood well ahead of Carlos Hyde (-0.20), his two backfield mates.
Fournette was effective as a receiver, too, being outpaced by only Yeldon among other backs on the team (excluding Corey Grant's 12 targets) in terms of Reception NEP per target. Fournette's mark of 0.38 Reception NEP per target barely trailed Yeldon's 0.43, as did his Reception Success Rate of 66.67% to Yeldon's 69.09%.
For some context, Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings recorded a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.06 and a Reception NEP per target of 0.35, which are nearly on par with Fournette's numbers.
With Yeldon out of the picture and no stiff competition for touches either in the running or passing game, Fournette should be a volume monster in 2019, and his ability -- especially in the passing game -- has been underappreciated thus far in his career.
Since most fantasy players don't credit Fournette for his receiving upside, a concern around his usage is that he will be impacted by game script. However, in 2018, 21 of Fournette's 24 total targets came while the Jaguars were in neutral (tie) or negative (losing) game scripts, so he was still involved even when the team got behind. Plus, that concern should be somewhat minimized by the addition of pass-happy offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, as well.
What About His Poor Efficiency?
The lone downside to Fournette, besides injury history (of course), really, is inefficiency per touch, which is largely overrated when it comes to a volume-based game such as fantasy football (*cough* Melvin Gordon).
Fournette's rookie campaign saw him net just 3.9 yards per carry and 4.4 yards per touch, while his 2018 numbers were much worse, at a paltry 3.3 yards per carry and 4.0 yards per touch. Those metrics are both bad and likely to improve in 2019 due to general improvements in the offense.
Fournette has seen a lot of stacked boxes in his career. His 36.1% stacked box rate in 2018 was third in the league, and he had the eighth-highest stacked box rate as a rookie. With a more competent passing attack in 2019, Fournette may see more base fronts, which could allow him to improve his per-touch efficiency.
It's also possible that due to the aforementioned DeFilippo joining the Jaguars Fournette will see increased target volume.
All in all, it's remarkable that Fournette finished so high in points-per-game scoring with such pedestrian per-touch output, which is another indication that his ceiling probably has not been reached.
So, there is a running back available who has finished RB6 and RB13 in points per game in his last two seasons, and he's available late in the second round of drafts, possibly even sliding into the early part of the third.
Hit the auto-pick button if you have one.
After the elite tier of backs are off the board, there aren't many running backs with Fournette's pedigree, resume, and potential for big-time volume. Snatch him up at his more-than-reasonable price tag.