Fournette’s performance against Wisconsin is a good illustration what he is (and isn’t) as an NFL prospect.
I’ve long rejected the idea that Leonard Fournette is the next Adrian Peterson. It’s not because Fournette is a bad player—although it’s the going perception in some circles of social media.
The idea that Fournette is bad because he’s not the next Adrian Peterson reveals a severe gap in logic. The most important fact to remember is that this conclusion is based on an inaccurate understanding of Fournette’s style.
Backs like Peterson, (young) Matt Forte, and LeVeon Bell have the size and strength to give and take punishment while breaking tackles, but they also have the hips to change direction with skill equal to many scat backs. Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon—a 226-pound runner with good speed and quickness—also has the hip flexibility to execute lateral cuts of great width in tight spaces.
This is not Fournette’s game. I spend 20-25 minutes below with Fournette’s cutups from the Wisconsin game to demonstrate this fact. .
Ask Fournette to execute a change direction wider than a gap’s width when he’s within 1-2 yards of the crease—cutting back from the outside shoulder to the inside shoulder of a blocker in a tight space is something that he can do well—and it exposes the weakest parts of his game. Give Fournette a longer runway to a crease where he can alter his path 3-5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the LSU runner is a monster.
This has nothing to do with vision. Fournette sees the field well. He anticipates penetration and can spot openings at the last moment. He doesn’t have the physical ability to make the wide cuts to act on them with the same success rate as backs with more flexible hips.
When Fournette is forced to make a dramatic change of direction, you’ll often see that he’s leaping, hurdling, or stopping and starting. He’s not usually attempting a hard lateral jump cut. Watch the Wisconsin analysis below and you’ll see multiple examples of what contributes to the best and worst in the runner’s game.
Some of you have noted that Fournette was dealing with a high ankle sprain and it was deemed unlikely that he’d even play. It’s a great point, but here’s a question and counterpoint that I have not seen answered sufficiently:
Can you find 10 plays during Fournette’s LSU career where he has executed a lateral cut where he bends hard at his knees and hips (imagine sitting in an imaginary chair) and changes direction the width of at least two gaps over?
People have tried. I’d settle for five plays, although I bet if you look hard enough you’ll find 10. But that’s the point, it’s not a strong element of his game even when he’s healthy.
Keep in mind that every player as weaknesses. While Adrian Peterson can make cuts that Fournette can only dream about, Peterson also struggles running from shotgun compared to the I or single back sets.
Put Fournette in an offense where he can run behind a fullback or get a longer downhill runway behind an H-back without expectation of significant cutbacks to create on a regular basis, and he’ll wear out the back seven of defenses. The risk of boom-bust is higher with Fournette’s upside because there are more spread concepts in the league these days.
He could also have difficulty finding a good scheme fit with blocking that allows him to reach the line of scrimmage with that long runway . For example, Arizona is a good one, but the Cardinals are rich at running back. The Colts could make it work, but the line is a work in progress.
But if a good fit takes place, No.7 could become the best performer in this rich class of backs.
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