How quickly fortunes can change in the NFL. A little over a year ago the Jacksonville Jaguars nearly (and should have) defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The future looked bright for the Jaguars. It appeared that they had found a successful offensive balance that allowed Blake Bortles not to sabotage their offense while leaning heavily on Leonard Fournette.
Since that time the Jaguars saw Marqise Lee go down to a season-ending injury in the preseason. Blake Bortles regressed and was benched for a large chunk of the year, only taking the starting role back due to a Cody Kessler injury. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was fired in-season as the offense floundered all season, while the Jaguars limped to a 5-11 record. And far from the franchise savior he appeared to be in his rookie season Leonard Fournette now seems to be an albatross the Jaguars can’t remove from their neck soon enough.
“Well, That Escalated Quickly”
After finishing as the RB8 in per game scoring in his rookie season Fournette finished as the RB12 in 2018. More concerning than the scoring drop is the fact that he was only able to play 8 games. Entering the season there was a sense that Fournette was headed in the right direction. After an injury-marred rookie year, Fournette shed 10-15 pounds and seemed to be in great shape entering the 2018 season.
Week 1 started well enough but Fournette pulled his hamstring in the 2nd quarter against the Patriots then missed Weeks 2 and 3 with the injury. He came back week 4, injured his hamstring (again) then sat out until the Jags returned from their bye in Week 10. When Fournette did finally return all the weight he had shed in the preseason returned with him.
If injuries were the only concern I could understand the urge to hold onto Fournette and hope for a rebound season in 2019. But injuries are just the beginning of Fournette’s issues. The last few weeks have shown serious flaws in the relationship between the Jaguars and Fournette. In week 16 Fournette saw just one touch in the second half against Washington so that the coaching staff could get a look at David Williams, or because of Fournette’s foot injury, depending on who you believe.
Snap totals for #Jaguars-Redskins.
Leonard Fournette (27) led the way for the running backs despite getting one touch in the second half. T.J. Yeldon (18) and Dave Williams (8) also contributed. pic.twitter.com/YRf2IUnOsU
— Phillip Heilman (@phillip_heilman) December 17, 2018
Fournette was inactive for the season finale against the Texans, presumably due to his foot injury. That didn’t stop Fournette from pouting his way onto Executive VP Tom Coughlin’s radar. Coughlin, unsolicited, roasted Fournette and T.J. Yeldon for their behavior while on the sidelines Sunday.
Finally, on Monday night news broke that the Jaguars had voided the final two years of Fournette’s rookie contract due to his Week 13 suspension. That reminds me, I forgot to mention, Fournette was suspended for Week 13 due to a fight he was involved in against the Bills the week prior. Fournette, though not on the field at the time, decided to run onto the field and punch Shaq Lawson in his helmeted head. Well more of a slap, but you get the point.
“In #JAXvsBUF, 2 players are disqualified for fighting: @Jaguars #27, @buffalobills #90. Flag was thrown for unnecessary roughness, during the replay review NY confirmed ejections.” -AL pic.twitter.com/7Vl8ZaLIma
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) November 25, 2018
So yeah it’s been a rough few weeks for Fournette. If the Jags want to move on from Fournette, they do have a replacement on the roster already in Carlos Hyde. When the Jags traded for Hyde it was widely assumed that they did so with the intention of releasing him at the end of 2018. Instead, they could decide to move on from Fournette and go into 2019 with Hyde as the new starter. Hyde equaled or bettered Fournette in just about every advanced metric during the 2018 season and has at his YPA has actually been north of 4.0 at least once in his career (unlike Fournette). I’m not claiming that Hyde is a particularly good running back, just that he’s not demonstrably worse than Fournette.
Is Fournette Elite?
I was an advocate of selling high on Fournette after his 2017 season. Even though he finished as the RB8 and rushed for 1,040 yards Fournette did not impress me. Fournette averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt in 2017. On its face 3.9 per attempt is mediocre. When you take into account that Jaguar running backs averaged 1.95 yards before contact (2nd most in the league per Pro Football Focus) that 3.9 YPA is pretty awful. With the Jaguars line dealing with injuries this season, Fournette’s yards per attempt was a pitiful 3.3 yards. Not everyone agrees that rushing yards per attempt is an accurate measure of a running backs abilities so we can also look to some of the advanced metrics on Playerprofiler.com.
In 2017 Fournette was elite in exactly two metrics. Fournette’s 5.7 Evaded Tackles per game ranked 10th while his Dominator Rating of 31.9% ranked 3rd. In 2018 his only elite metric was his 34.7% Dominator Rating which ranked 5th. Fournette’s impressive Dominator Rating during his first two seasons shouldn’t have come as a surprise based on the Jaguars ranking 13th in 2018 and 1st in 2017 in rushing attempts per game. Instead, the elite Dominator Rating just confirms that Fournette is volume based dependent for his fantasy scoring. Though Fournette can handle check-downs, screens or dump-offs he lacks the true receiving skills to be a three-down back.
It’s difficult to find a team in the league that can accommodate the 17-21 carries per game that Fournette needs to be an elite fantasy producer. Of the 12 teams that have more rushing attempts than the Jaguars this season, not one is an ideal option, and only Houston and Buffalo seem even remotely viable. Every one of these 12 teams either has a three-down back, another back that would preclude Fournette from compiling enough touches to be productive and/or a running quarterback to steal touches and goal-line looks.
Someone in your league is willing to “buy low” on Fournette. For every reason I’ve given above they’ll provide a counter-argument as to why he can be successful.
I don’t see it. What I see is a player that’s only played 21 games out of out a possible 32 in his first two seasons. Two of those missed games coming due to suspension, one from the Jaguars and one from the NFL. Fournette has a history of soft-tissue injuries dating to his college days and has already missed 9 games due to injury. I see a player that was the 4th overall pick just two seasons ago that has somehow already worn out his welcome in Jacksonville. If offered a rookie 1st rounder for Fournette I suggest you jump at the offer.
Thank you for reading! Are you selling or attempting to buy low on Fournette? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @DFF_Shane. And if you like fantasy football podcasts well have I got news for you. You can find me co-hosting the DynastyTradesHQ podcast every week! Check it out.