By Tony Reimas (@reimeras)
Editor’s Note: This article was originally written as the anti-Fournette version of a FLAFFL Feud. Apparently Tony made such a compelling case nobody wanted to battle him…
Before I get into all of the reasons you shouldn't draft Leonard Fournette this season, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love Leonard Fournette. I have him ranked as my RB2 in rookie dynasty drafts, and that says more about how good I think Joe Mixon will be than anything else. In dynasty startups, I am perfectly happy if I leave with him as my RB1. This argument is about what he’ll do in 2017 not what he’ll be in his career. Fournette was one of my favorite players to watch in college. He has a size and speed combination that is rarely seen in the National Football League. Hell, NFL.com had his comparable player as Bo Jackson. He's going to be good. Really good.
That being said, Fournette’s situation may be more than his immense talent can overcome. For their part Jacksonville has said all the right things. They want to return to a more run heavy approach. They’ve even gone as far as to say they don't want Bortles to throw the ball at all. It's one thing to say you want to run the football but being able to it is another thing entirely. Per Football Outsiders, Jacksonville had the 27th worst run blocking offensive line last year. They averaged just 3.73 adjusted line yards per attempt. They tried to improve this by bringing in Brandon Albert who, after seeing Bortles practice, promptly retired. Then unretired. Then was cut. This leaves rookie Cam Robinson as the team's projected left tackle. Robinson has the size necessary to be a good NFL tackle but has balance issues and was inconsistent. He could be good eventually but there will be growing pains in year 1.
The Jaguars offense as a whole was awful. This is to be expected when Blake Bortles is your quarterback. Jacksonville was the 27th ranked offense by DVOA and the 28th ranked rushing offense. They averaged just two offensive touchdowns per game and only 1.5 red zone scores per game. Todd Gurley proved last season that all the volume in the world doesn't make up for an anemic offense with terrible quarterback play. The schedule gods weren't kind to Jacksonville either. According to the Fantasy Footballers Ultimate Draft Kit, Jacksonville plays the 4th hardest schedule for running backs weeks 1-4. NFL teams and coaches are fickle and reactionary. If the running game struggles out of the gate, and the defense is unable to keep games close, the 3 yards and a cloud of dust offensive game plan could be thrown out before it's ever really given a chance.
There are two reasons that people are ignoring these warning signs and continuing to push Fournette up draft boards. One is the success of Ezekiel Elliot last season. Much like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. did with WRs in 2014, Zeke changed the way people think about rookie running backs. Zeke however went to an ideal situation. A run heavy team with the undoubted best offensive line in the league. That, as much as anything, is why Zeke finished as the RB2 in 2016. So, in preparation for this article, I decided to look further into running backs in Zeke and Fournette’s situation. Since 1992, 31 running backs were taken in the top 15 picks of the NFL draft. Of those 31 backs, 22 of them finished their season as a RB2 or worse with 12 of them finishing as worse than a RB3. That range of outcomes is something I want to avoid with a player I'm drafting as my RB1.
The second reason people are pushing Fournette up their draft boards is perceived lack of other options. Let's face it, rounds 3-5 are a mess this year. It's pretty much plant your flag in a player and hope you're right. With 2016 disappointments like Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley and questionable players like Isiah Crowell and DeAndre Hopkins going in the same area, it's hard to blame people for taking Fournette. At least he hasn't disappointed them yet. This is a group of running backs I’m largely avoiding in drafts. Jordan Howard, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Isaiah Crowell and Lamar Miller. One of them will end up as an RB1 but I'm not using a second round pick to find out which one. In the second round I'm looking for guys who can be studs. Not volume plays on terrible offenses.
As the 11th running back off the board I think you're drafting Fournette at his ceiling in 2017. Personally, I'd rather take a wide receiver that could become top 5 or a running back in a better situation. Give me TY Hilton or Amari Cooper, both of whom carry huge upside and good floors. Marshawn Lynch, who won't see the volume Fournette will, is in a FAR superior offense and has double digit touchdown upside. Guys like Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and even Carlos Hyde are just as likely to finish as an RB1 as anyone in that group. These guys can be had ten to twenty picks later. So while I love Fournette for dynasty, the value just isn't there for him in 2017.