When the Dallas Cowboys selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, LSU running back Leonard Fournette had to be looking ahead gleefully. Prior to Elliott, there had been a moratorium, of sorts on running backs being selected that high. Todd Gurley was taken 10th by the Rams in 2015, but not a single running back went in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The last running back before Elliott to go in the top five was Alabama’s Trent Richardson in 2012. Will Fournette continue the trend of running backs going in the top five (Maybe.)? Will he fall past five and still go in the top 10 (Probably.)? Will he fall out of the top 10 (He certainly shouldn’t.).
|40 yd. Dash
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Note: Fournette weighed in at 240 lbs. at the Combine, but was 228 at LSU’s Pro Day a month later.
It’s hard to overstate just how good Fournette has the potential to be in the NFL. He came in to LSU as the nation’s top recruit and continually impressed in his three seasons with the Tigers, looking like a man amongst boys.
If you watch this video of Fournette’s highlights at LSU...
...It looks eerily similar to this video of Adrian Peterson’s highlights at Oklahoma.
The Fournette/Peterson comparisons have been present for a while (Kirk Herbstreit was saying it back in September 2015), but they’ve certainly heated up in the past few weeks.
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks opened his analysis of Fournette with the following quote,
“Fournette is the most talented running back prospect to enter the league since Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in 2007. (Yes, including Ezekiel Elliott -- I believe Fournette is a more physically imposing, traditional bell-cow back.) While I know these Peterson statements have been uttered more than a few times since the LSU standout stepped onto the scene as a heralded five-star recruit out of New Orleans, there's no denying his special qualities as an old-school runner with a violent style and ballet dancer's body control.”
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in player comparisons and hyperbole during draft season, Fournette appears to be the real deal. Like Elliott last year, he would certainly benefit from going to a situation with a high-caliber offensive line, but what running back wouldn’t? That was always a funny knock on Elliott throughout the season last year, “Oh, he’s good but his offensive line helps him so much.” No kidding. Welcome to football.
Additionally, the team that drafts Fournette will have to be committed to the run. Elliott’s success resulted from the Cowboys trusting him to lead the league in carries (322). As a result, he led the league in rushing yards (1631, 300 more yards than the second-place finisher). Fournette will need to be in the 250-300 carry range in order to have his full impact be felt this season.
Of course, to get to 250-300 carries, Fournette will have to stay healthy. After appearing in all 25 games LSU played his first two seasons, Fournette’s junior year saw him play just seven of LSU’s 12 games. Fournette sprained his ankle in training camp and it never seemed to fully heal, plaguing him for the entire season. However, the ankle is no longer an issue according to The Times-Picayune. You may remember Fournette skipped the Citrus Bowl in order to rest the ankle.
While the ankle may be a concern for some teams, it shouldn’t prohibit them from taking Fournette. With the right situation, the league will be looking at its next great running back for the next decade.