In any sphere of media, there is a propensity to constantly create hot takes for the sake of page views. Sometimes this happens purposefully and sometimes it happens unintentionally. I know I have been guilty of this and it is something I am wiring on being more and more conscious of.
The issue with hot takes is it creates a space for people to be hyper critical of the take and then react with a take even hotter. This is called overcorrection. So when someone says a quarterback prospect is the next Andrew Luck when they might just be a solid player, the reaction is to look at that quarterback like he may be Andrew Luck. Every mistake is magnified and in the case that prospect disappoints massive expectations, there is a reaction to call them terrible.
This is currently the case with Leonard Fournette...
Leonard Fournette, a former top high school recruit, was anointed as an elite player before he even played the opening game of his college career against Wisconsin. ESPN was talking about how he could play in the NFL as an 18 year old, a ridiculous hypothesis, and there were lofty comparisons to the likes of Adrian Peterson, Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown before Fournette even hit the ground running. These expectations forced Fournette under a microscope more powerful than anything else in the world and every bit of failure to meet a perception was met with an overcorrection of what kind of player Fournette is.
After an outstanding sophomore season where Fournette accounted for over 2000 yards from scrimmage, there were talks about him sitting out his junior year or how he could enter the NFL as a 19 year old. While the politics of those specific things are arguable in a vacuum, only Fournette was talked about like this because he was seen as truly exceptional.
This season was one of relative tumult for Leonard Fournette. He had his outstanding moments as he did in his previous two years, but injuries limited production and opened the door for his more talented back up, Derrius Guice, to out rush him. So, after three years of insane hype, in the year Fournette is finally draft eligible, everything went wrong in terms of bolstering the perception of him as an elite player. So, two things were bound to happen: Either people doubled down on Fournette being an Adrian Peterson level prospect or people totally cast him aside and claimed that there were 10-15 better running backs out there... But in this cycle of extremes, as with most things, the truth was somewhere in the middle.
So who is Leonard Fournette?
Well it just so happens that Leonard Fournette is a very good player, but let's relax with putting a golden jacket on the young man just yet.
The 6-1, 230 pound running back has outstanding size. Fournette looks more like a stud inside linebacker than the average running back. However, like an inside linebacker, Fournette is great at one thing: Getting downhill. Fournette has incredible acceleration for any running back, let alone 240 pound one. He hits the hole at the line of scrimmage hard and trying to tackle him at any point in his coming downhill is going to be a serious business decision for any defender. Fournette is a strong runner and keeps his legs drying through contact and, at speed, can shrug arm tackles. If Fournette can get going, he is one of the most difficult to bring down runners I have ever seen.
So there is obviously a lot to love. Fournette is a physical specimen with world class size, strength and speed. However, there are plenty of weaknesses to his game that get glossed over due to the splash plays he makes. For one, he is not the most agile back and will definitely struggle to make players miss at the first level or find cutbacks along the line of scrimmage. He also does not have great vision, which also hurts his ability to find alternate lanes as a runner.
When there is this physical and mental inability to find new paths as a runner, there is a narrative that Fournette cannot "create" offense. This notion is misguided because although Fournette cannot extend runs with agility or insane vision like Leveon Bell or Lesean McCoy, he creates offense in a straight line. There are plenty of "system" running backs who can hit a hole created for them by the offense, gain 4-7 yards at a time there whole careers and never really offer any kind of dynamic ability. Running backs who only take what the defense gives them and what the offense around them allows are a dime a dozen because they cannot "create". However, when Fournette is breaking tackles at all levels of the defense and out racing defenders, that is an alternate way to create yardage that is not there for most backs. He does not have Barry Sanders agility, fine, but Barry Sanders did not have Leonard Fournette power. So Fournette is limited in ways that other backs aren't, sure, but he also does things that most running backs cannot. Fournette might not be a flashy east-west back, but the truth is that games are won by going forward and not side to side.
Fournette is also not polished as a third down back, but he absolutely has the upside to make an impact as a pass protector and receiver. Also, Fournette's physical limitations make hims much better fit for a gap/power running scheme that does not force the running back to read and react much behind the line of scrimmage.
Fournette is not the Andrew Luck of running backs. He is not on the same level as Ezekiel Elliott was as a prospect (no back is, this year), but he is still a very good player. These things can be simultaneously true.
NFL Comparison: For the sake of recency, Leonard Fournette actually has a lot in common with Bears rookie, Jordan Howard. Howard came into the league as a big bodied, power running back and a mid round pick. However, Howard was outstanding for the Bears this season and was second in the league in rushing this season. I do think Fournette has a higher ceiling due to his better overall speed, but they are similar running backs in terms of style.
Considering the amount of power running the Eagles implement in their offense, I could absolutely see him being a productive player here. His rawness as a pas catcher and lack of well roundedness would probably make the Eagles prefer other backs to him, however, much like I do. Fournette's draft slotting, like many players, is about his fit. While I would be hesitant to spend a high pick on him, a team like New England or Carolina taking him at the back of the first round or early in the second is perfect slotting for the talented running back.
Fournette is a very good player, albeit a flawed one, and like most prospects, there is much more nuance to his NFL chances than may initially seem.