In preparation for the 2017 football season, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top NFL draft-eligible prospects with a different player profile each day. The series will culminate with the preseason top-20 prospects in August.
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 230||40-yard dash: 4.45||Class: Junior||High School: St. Augustine HS (New Orleans, La.)|
In today’s era of instant analysis and social media, hyperbole (or extreme exaggeration, for those well removed from high school language arts courses) is all too common. Outlandish claims of “best ever” used to be reserved for late night infomercials; now they are everywhere.
It is difficult not to venture into giddy compliments when discussing Fournette, who has more than lived up to his billing as the nation’s top prep prospect in 2014. After setting an LSU freshman record with 1,034 rushing yards while starting just six of 13 games in 2014, Fournette led the entire country in rushing yards last season, averaging an astounding 162.8 yards per game despite being the obvious focus of opposing defenses.
Against a conference loaded with the biggest and strongest front sevens in the country, Fournette ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, setting single-season records at LSU. Despite his production, Fournette was not among the three finalists last year for the Heisman (Derrick Henry, Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffrey), which is both evidence of last year’s extraordinary class and the fact that some voters, apparently, need their eyes checked.
Regardless of whether Fournette is ever acknowledged by award voters, he won’t have to worry about NFL scouts, who have ranked among his biggest fans since the exceptional talent first stepped onto the field for LSU.
Though he is as likely to smile as glare at opponents, Fournette is an intimidating presence with an imposing, well-distributed frame. He is every bit as powerful as he looks, rarely going down to first contact. Fournette runs with excellent pad level for a back with his height and is proverbial hammer meeting the nail, unloading on defenders with an explosive initial collision and leg drive.
Fournette isn’t reliant upon his power, however. He is just as likely to spin away from an oncoming hit or swat opponents aside with a powerful stiff arm, leaving defenders guessing and perhaps hoping they aren’t about to become the victim of Fournette’s latest highlight reel.
One of the many elements which make Fournette such a special talent is that he complements his power with the shiftiness and speed of a much smaller back. Whereas most backs his size rumble down the lane, Fournette can tip-tap his way to and through the hole. Even defenders able to crash through the line of scrimmage to meet him in the backfield can be left grasping at air as Fournette possesses the lateral agility, balance and burst to make 90-degree cuts in either direction.
He is also a natural, patient runner. Fournette will slow down to allow his blockers to do their job, exploding with sudden acceleration once a lane is presented to him. With terrific vision for cut-back lanes and the speed to simply run away from defenders once in the open field, Fournette is a big play waiting to happen as a running back, receiver and kick returner.
Even where Fournette has limited experience — like in the passing game — he shows the traits necessary to project well at the next level.
Fournette is rarely asked to do much in the passing game at LSU. While he’s caught 26 passes (for 380 yards and a touchdown) over his first two seasons, many of these are simple dump-offs in the flat or screens. Still, Fournette has long arms and shows soft hands to corral passes outside of his frame. He’s proven reliable in fielding kickoffs, as well, including on the 100-yard return for a score against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl to cap his incredible freshman season.
While he’s rarely asked to truly pass protect, Fournette shows awareness, physicality and selflessness in doing so. There may be some initial growing pains as he is asked to stay in to pass protect in the NFL, but this is more nitpicking than a true concern.
The greatest concern scouts have for Fournette is durability. Though he’s never missed a game due to injury, Fournette enters his junior campaign at LSU with 539 career touches already. Of course, that doesn’t include the pounding he took while starting four years in high school, where he ran for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns. With LSU loaded for a potential title run, Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are not likely to “save” Fournette for his anticipated early jump to the NFL. Fournette is a remarkable talent, but scouts will have to determine how much (if any) of the tread on his tires is already being worn.
Just like Adrian Peterson back at Oklahoma — the only other back in the past 20 years with Fournette’s combination of size, power and speed — LSU’s star running back is virtually a man amongst boys at the college level. Peterson “slipped” to Minnesota at No. 7 overall nine years ago in part due to the injuries he’d sustained with the Sooners.
Barring his own injury concerns, Fournette is himself a cinch for a top-10 selection and could even warrant No. 1 overall consideration.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Top NFL Draft Prospects: Leonard Fournette worthy of Adrian Peterson comparisons