Will Leonard Fournette Be 2017’s Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry?
When the 2017 NFL draft rolls around around in a few months, you will hear the term “once in a generation talent” thrown around. This characterization is only reserved for players held in the highest regard (see the athletic freak that is Jadeveon Clowney). This label will undoubtedly be attached to LSU running back Leonard Fournette. As a borderline obsessive college football fan, I watched many of Fournette’s games at LSU. Each time I saw him play, I was more and more impressed with this kid’s pure talent. He is a violent runner coupled with great speed. He is listed at 6–1, 235 lbs. Compare that to Ezekiel Elliott’s 6–0 225. The two boast similar builds and similar running styles; but will they have similar rookie campaigns?
Will Fournette perform as an Elliott-like rookie sensation next year or will he be a great running back stuck behind another solid back; locked in a timeshare? That question comes down to which team he goes to and what offensive line he ends up running behind. Ezekiel Elliott had the great fortune to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys; which boasts one of the best offensive line in the NFL. As such, he was able to amass an eye-popping 5.1 yards per carry as a rookie.
On the other side of Lady Luck was Derrick Henry; the bruising Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama. Henry was selected by the Tennessee Titans; a team with an average offensive line and DeMarco Murray sitting atop the depth chart. Due to the consistently good production from Murray, Henry’s touches were limited in 2016. In limited action, Henry averaged 4.5 yards per carry. I believe that Fournette is a better back than both Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry. No matter how talented Fournette is, his fantasy production will depend on what type of situation he will he be drafted into.
Mel Kipper Jr.’s latest mock draft has Fournette being selected by the Carolina Panthers with the 8th pick in the first round. This would delight Panthers fans as Jonathan Stewart is injury prone and on the downside of his career. However, this will ultimately cap the fantasy upside for Fournette in 2017 as he will be locked into a timeshare with Stewart. Furthermore, when Leonard does get carries, he will be running behind an offensive line that had a tough time run blocking in 2016. In his 9th year, Stewart averaged a career worst 3.8 yards per carry last year behind that offensive line. Fantasy footballers should look to Derrick Henry’s 2016 stat line as a guide for Leonard Fournette’s rookie campaign if Fournette does go to the Panthers at number 8. Ultimately, Fournette will have an extremely productive NFL career with the Carolina Panthers… just not in 2017.