New York Jets Options at Six: Leonard Fournette Scouting Report

David Aitken with a scouting report on LSU running back Leonard Fournette

In this series we’ll break down popularly linked names to the Jets at pick six. Next is LSU running back Leonard Fournette – a running back receiving best offensive player in the draft type hype

Name: Leonard Fournette

Position: Running Back

School: Louisiana State University

2016 Production: 7 games played, 129 carries, 843 yards (6.53 Y/A), 8 TD. 15 receptions, 146 yards (9.73 Y/REC).

Measurables courtesy of mockdraftable.com:

Measurable Measurement %tile
Height 6′ 0″ 69
Weight 240 lbs 96
Arm Length 31⅝” 69
Hand Size 9¼” 49
40 Yard Dash 4.51s 65
Vertical Jump 28½” 1

Strengths:

Fournette is built like a tank and moves like a cannonball, measuring in at 6’0 240 pounds at the combine and running the fastest 40 time for a 240+ pounder in 14 years. He has workhorse 3-down potential at the next level, showing the ability to take the pounding 0f 20+ carries weekly, shine late in games, catch the ball naturally and the desire and physicality to grow as a blocker.

Violent, punishing, brutal – all words to describe Fournette’s running style. He’s an ideal fit in a power running scheme where he can be given a target and burst toward it with a seek-and-destroy mentality. When given a running start and can hit the LOS untouched, he’s a good bet to gain at least 2-3 extra yards on contact. This is not to say his running style is completely reckless – Fournette shows the patience to allow blocks to set up and subtle movements to manipulate defenders in tight areas. When not required to make significant lateral adjustments, he’s able to contort his body around corners and sidestep diving tackles while still maintaining good speed.

There’s a legit second gear with Fournette. While his speed isn’t elite in a vacuum, it is still good enough to separate for home run gains and some of college football’s most impressive touchdown runs are in Fournette’s highlight reel.

Defensive backs do not want to tackle him and weak shoestring attempts are navigated with ease. His consistently excellent pad level and mentality means he is almost always ending a run falling forward and dishing out more punishment than he receives.

This is a typical highlight run from Fournette – able to build up to top speed and get low to punish a hapless defender in the box and zig-zag for 30 more yards.
This is a good example of Fournette’s straight line speed. After making a natural grab with his hands, Fournette’s able to turn the corner and sprint to the end zone.
Fournette’s opportunities as a receiver were limited but here he shows some potential getting downfield, tracking the ball and taking a hit.

Weaknesses:

Fournette is not a scheme transcendent player, which feels important to note given the running back position and how it tends to be valued in the modern game. While he can be useful on the inevitable zone runs he’ll occasionally be called on for in the NFL, he lacks the lateral movement and on-a-dime explosiveness to be a feature guy in an offense that predominantly runs this system.

It’s the lateral agility, balance and explosiveness that make Fournette comparisons to Adrian Peterson over-the-top. Fournette can’t make an exaggerated lateral move to sidestep a defender and pick up with practically the same speed he entered in another direction, and such a move usually affects Fournette’s balance significantly. And while he should be more useful as a receiving option as a pro than he was at LSU, his hip stiffness is going to limit his potential as a route runner.

It’d also be irresponsible to not point out that he missed several games in 2016 with a nagging high ankle sprain issue and that his running style invites contact.

As is typical with college backs, Fournette as a blocker is raw. Vince Biegel here catches Fournette at an uneven base and easily runs through his attempt to get hands to Biegel’s chest.
This is a good tackle by the Wisconsin LB but it also highlights Fournette’s inability to make an explosive lateral move at the level you’d expect from a RB getting elite hype.

Fit at Six – 7/10

Do the Jets “need” a running back? Purely scrutinizing the depth chart, the answer is probably about as much as any team in the NFL needs one. It’s yet another area on the depth chart where the Jets lack depth, had an underperforming veteran last season and are largely hoping for a backup/situational player to take a step forward in order to get respectable production. While some teams can boast a three-deep stable of useful running backs, the Jets basically only had two active players all year. 2017 will bring what’s likely the final year of a declining Matt Forte in tandem with the perennially underutilized Bilal Powell. While Powell’s underutilization isn’t a referendum on his talent, the Jets are drafting for beyond 2017 and Powell’s the only guarantee to be here after next season.

The question of need takes a bigger meaning when you start asking questions about offensive identity, who the real blue chip players are on offense, and whether the Jets are serious about Christian Hackenberg as the starter in 2017. We don’t know exactly what kind of offense John Morton will install here, but we do know he worked under Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton, two proponents of power run games (Payton being more versatile). Fournette is not a generational talent, but in a power running scheme he’s a player with perennial pro bowl ability, and that will matter on some level when it comes to picking a player at the top of the draft.

But it all comes back to how serious the team is in Christian Hackenberg as 2017 starter. The blueprint for bedding in a rookie starting quarterback – and that’s essentially what Hackenberg would be – has been tried and true plenty of times the past decade.  To protect young quarterbacks, teams run the football. And they do it a lot.

Dak had Zeke. Doug Martin gave Jameis Winston 1,400 yards. Alfred Morris rushed for over 1,600 yards as Robert Griffin’s tailback. Cam Newton combined with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for one of the strongest running attacks in the league.  Sam Bradford leaned on Steven Jackson to the tune of 330 carries. We all remember how relentless the Jets were running the ball Sanchez’s rookie year, which was Rex Ryan following Baltimore’s Joe Flacco model (they ran it nearly 600 times). Matt Ryan was buoyed by a massive year from Micheal Turner.

Running back is clearly still a position where value is available past round one. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Jets could use a runner with Fournette’s battering ram skillset in the stable, a player with home run ability, and high end talent period on offense.

Bottom Line

Because Fournette is not a generational talent, the running back class is deep and the Jets are as far away as a team can be to be making a “rich get richer” type selection, being serious about Fournette this high would be a mistake. But there is logic to it (both football related and otherwise), so fans should brace themselves for the possibility. The Jets should be thinking running back, but why not a D’onta Foreman or Brian Hill later on if it’s a between-the-tackles type with some home run ability they’re in the market for?

LSU.com