Bob Levey/Associated Press
The perception of a running back’s value continues to evolve. A few year ago, the position was considered devalued. Since then, the league has welcomed Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott into its ranks. LSU’s Leonard Fournette is another special runner.
The NFL has been awaiting Fournette’s arrival for the past three years due to his rare combination of size, speed and physicality.
The LSU running back weighed 240 pounds at the NFL combine yet still ran an official 4.51-second 40-yard dash. According to Football Perspective‘s Chase Stuart, Fournette ran the fastest weight-adjusted 40-yard dash among this year’s running back crop. To put his time into context, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Ezekiel Elliott each ran in the 4.4-second range, but none of them weighed more than 225 pounds when they tested.
While Fournette has the speed to be a breakaway threat, his bulldozing running style is expected to wear down NFL defenses. He fits the very definition of a back who runs behind his pads, stays under control and finishes plays.
With the speed to hit the edge, balance to remain upright and power to run between the tackles, the New Orleans native displays a rare level of explosiveness through the hole. When fully healthy during the 2015 campaign, Fournette dominated the competition with 300 carries for 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He single-handedly carried the Tigers offense at times.
Fournette isn’t the type of running back prospect who relies on jump cuts to make defenders miss or displays the wiggle to shake oncoming tacklers, but he’s never easily brought down. Just forget trying to arm-tackle this freight train.
“If you’re looking for a pure physical runner, with the best power/speed combination that most of us have ever seen, then Fournette is your guy,” an anonymous scout told The MMQB‘s Emily Kaplan.
The wear and tear placed on a physical running back cannot be denied. Fournette dropped to 228 pounds at LSU’s pro day to quell any concerns about his weight.
“Some people had concerns at 240,” he admitted, per the Advocate‘s Ross Dellenger. “I wanted to show them I can stay on course and be disciplined and do what I have to do and get my stuff in order.”
A high-ankle sprain slowed Fournette during the 2016 campaign, and he ran for only 843 yards. His running style will leave him open for big shots. He’s a downhill, physical runner best suited to chew up yardage on first and second down.
Like many incoming backs, the 2015 All-American needs to show he can stay on the field in the passing game. Fournette displayed soft hands when given the opportunity to catch the ball, but he only managed 41 receptions in three seasons.
As a blocker, he provides plenty of effort and remains aggressive, but his understanding of responsibilities and technique in this particular area will need to grow.
Fournette may not be a true three-down back at this point, but he has the potential to develop into one.