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NFL Draft

What Went Wrong With Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette

  • The Draft Network
  • May 6, 2020
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Leonard Fournette never stood a chance. 

Anytime an 18-year-old who hasn't played a down in college football, let alone in the NFL, is crowned "the next Adrian Peterson" expectations are extremely hard to live up to.

This was the case for Fournette, a 5-star running back out of New Orleans who, in 2014, was the top player in the state, the top player in the country at his position and the No. 2 player in the nation behind Myles Garrett. Fournette committed to LSU, and people immediately linked Fournette's presence to a future Heisman Trophy and potential national championships. Fournette rushed for over 1,000 yards on just 187 carries his true freshman season and followed it up with over 1,900 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns the next.

Fournette had it all; he had the size at 6-foot and 240 pounds and rare 4.5-second 40-yard speed. His college highlights were filled with plays where he out-ran, out-maneuvered and out-muscled defenders of all shapes and sizes.

The NFL was drooling, and the Jaguars ended up selecting him fourth overall in the 2017 draft.

Even at the time, the selection should have never been made. Fournette came with plenty to like, but many evaluators were split on him. Fournette was a highlight reel waiting to happen as a ball carrier in college, but much of that came from him simply being bigger, faster and stronger than most. That wasn't going to be the case in the NFL. Plus his asset in the passing game was not as strong as others, an important piece of running back value. On top of all that, at the time of the selection, Jacksonville finished the last three seasons with Blake Bortles as its quarterback and just 11 total wins. In a draft class that featured passers like Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, Fournette’s pick began to look worse by the year.

Despite all that, Fournette had a great rookie season. He finished with over 1,000 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and was a key offensive player in the Jaguars' long playoff run to the AFC Championship Game, where they fell to the Patriots one game shy of the Super Bowl.

But the years since then have not been as beneficial. The problem isn't that Fournette, when healthy, hasn't been able to produce. Two out of his three seasons in the league he's had over 1,000 yards rushing, but his impact as a runner is not something that should have been taken in the top 10, especially given Jacksonville’s problems at the quarterback position prior to Fournette’s selection. Missing 16 games in the last three seasons also hasn't helped his production.

Where it all went wrong with Fournette stems from those lofty expectations. He was selected No. 4 — while Jacksonville ignored other positions of greater importance — because of those expectations. He was pegged as the one running back who would be worth taking that high because of those expectations. And him being seen as a regret of a pick and a player who the Jaguars chose to not exercise the fifth year option on is largely because of those expectations, too.

If Fournette were picked at the back end of the top 50 that year, even at No. 34 where the Jaguars selected in the second round, we wouldn't be having this conversation in the same light we are now. Running backs Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon and Kareem Hunt were drafted beyond where Jacksonville picked at the top of Day 2. All of them were selected appropriately, even for their success. Fournette was not.

Instead, Fournette was drafted due to expectations few have ever lived up to, and even when they have, haven't been selected as high as he was.

The Jaguars thought Fournette could be a substitute for them making a hard decision to admit they were wrong at quarterback, or them failing to use multiple resources on the offensive line. That's a bad reason to draft any player, let alone a running back.

Player comparisons are a useful tool. When given the right thought and when they're not forced, they can help people visualize how a player wins and where he can win in the NFL using skills similar to another pro who had previous or current success.

Player comps get headlines; that's why we write them. But when we try to force ourselves to give a player comp for the sake of a take, a headline or just to say how much we believe in them, we create a dangerous game.

There's only been one Adrian Peterson over the last two decades, and that would be Adrian Peterson. Fournette failing to live up to that bar isn't his fault; neither was him getting over-drafted. When you think about that as the starting point, that's where it all went wrong with Fournette. 

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