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The Rodney Dangerfield of Running Backs
“Leonard Fournette is an enigma. He’s fat, unmotivated, lazy, doesn’t love football, falls asleep in meetings, and is an overall lousy player.”
-Countless Fournette detractors (and Tom Coughlin, probably), 2017-2021
A cloud of negativity has continued to swirl around Fournette since he entered the league, yet all he has done is deliver for his NFL teams and fantasy managers.
Let’s recap Fournette’s career to this point:
- After he dominated at LSU, the Jaguars made Fournette the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
- He played three seasons in Jacksonville before his surprising release last August. Fournette’s annual PPR finishes on a per-game basis for the Jaguars -- RB8, RB12, RB9.
- Despite having zero time to acclimate after signing with the Buccaneers, Fournette immediately forced a timeshare with incumbent starter Ronald Jones II. He had his first 100-yard rushing performance for Tampa Bay in his second game with the team.
- Fournette dealt with an ankle injury and subsequently played behind Ronald Jones II for much of the regular season until the latter got sidelined by COVID and a broken hand in Week 14. Jones also missed the Wildcard Round with a quad contusion allowing Fournette to run away with the starting job during the Buccaneers Superbowl push. His offensive snap rate was 68% or greater in each of Tampa Bay’s four playoff games (of which Jones played in three).
- He was excellent in the playoffs, posting averages of 20.5 touches, 112 scrimmage yards, and one touchdown per game. It is easy (and correct) to argue Fournette deserved to win Super Bowl MVP over Tom Brady.
Now let’s look at what we know about Fournette’s 2021 outlook:
- Fournette is still only 26-year-old and won’t turn 27 until after the season. He remains below the age apex for running backs. There is a chance his best season could still be ahead of him.
- He projects as the committee-lead and goal-line back in an offense that scored 30.8 points per game in 2020 and returns all 22 starters from last season.
- Our Matt Bitonti ranks the Bucs’ offensive line inside the Top 5.
- Brady is Tampa Bay’s quarterback, but he also has a say in personnel decisions (see Brown, Antonio). Without Brady’s blessing, Fournette never gets recruited by the Buccaneers in 2020 or re-signs as a free agent in March. After Fournette was instrumental in earning Brady his seventh (and most legacy-defining) championship ring, it seems obvious who “The GOAT” will push for as his top backfield running-mate.
Suppose an alien landed from outer space with no preconceived notions about Fournette, and you presented him with the two bulleted lists above. Where do you think that little green man would guess Fournette is getting drafted by fantasy gamers in 2021?
It couldn’t possibly be later than RB24, right?
Wrong. Fournette is currently dropping extraterrestrial jaws at the bargain price of RB38 (and dropping) on Underdog Fantasy.
Let your league mates worry about Fournette’s tarnished image and scoop up the RB2 production he’ll provide at a discounted price on draft day.
Enough Work to go Around
Fournette no longer has a stranglehold on his team’s backfield touches as he once did in Jacksonville, but he won’t need to dominate the workload in Tampa Bay to beat his ADP-implied value.
Our consensus projections have the Buccaneers pegged for 372 rush attempts and 251 receptions. Based on those numbers, the range of outcomes for Fournette’s total touches paints an intriguing picture:
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