Fantasy Football: What Went Wrong with Leonard Fournette in 2018

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With the next swing at the “What Went Wrong?” series, let’s take look at Leonard Fournette. After his 2017 rookie season, Fournette seemed poised to be an RB1 for years to come. He finished his first campaign with just over 1,000 yards and nine rushing TDs, even adding 36 receptions as a bonus. Despite only playing in 13 games that season, he finished as the RB8 and fantasy owners were left smiling. Coming into 2018, his ADP rocketed up to the 1st Round but seeing as he was the 8th RB off the board, it was in line with his previous year’s production…assuming he could duplicate or improve on those rookie numbers. Do we need to talk about what assuming does? Instead, fantasy owners got a 1st Round pick that only played half a season and an RB40 finish.

Editor’s Note: For more discussion on Fournette’s fantasy outlook, check out Tuesday’s podcast where Andy had to Explain Yourself! on his low Leonard Fournette ranking.

What Went Wrong?

Hamstrings… that’s what went wrong. Specifically, Fournette’s right hammy.  In Week 1, Fournette had put together an excellent 1st half against the Giants, turning 9 carries into 41 yards and adding 3 receptions. Late in that half, he came up clutching his right leg and would miss the next 2 weeks. Unfortunately, the injury re-aggravated in the 1st half against the Jets in Week 4 and Fournette wouldn’t see the field again until Week 10. By that point, the damage had been done.

You’re essentially dealing with a chicken vs. egg argument on the Jaguars regression. Were they worse because they didn’t have Fournette or was Fournette worse because they were bad? In 2017, the Jaguars had the #1 pass defense in the league and were 2nd in the league in points allowed, interceptions, and sacks. They were able to play “ball control” football and had a 1st Round rookie RB ready to handle the rock. They ran the ball 527 times (50% of their total plays) and gave Fournette 268 carries in 13 games. Fournette had five 100-yard games and scored 15+ fantasy points in eight of his 13 starts.

In 2018, the Jags defense was good, but they were not up to their 2017 standard. While still a top-5 pass defense, they allowed three more points per game and recorded ten fewer interceptions and 18 fewer sacks. Blake Bortles also saw his yardage and TDs drop while still throwing about the same amount of INTs. All of this led to a team that only won five games, compared to ten in 2017, and ran the ball 111 fewer times.

To summarize, the Jaguars regressed, which led to fewer opportunities, and Fournette got hit with an injury known to lag for an entire year. It was the worst possible combination of circumstances for the 2nd year RB. This could be considered a frustrating situation and in Week 12 vs Buffalo, that frustration boiled over. Shaq Lawson pushed one of the Jaguars after a play was over in front of Fournette, Fournette took offense and pushed Lawson against the wall and threw punches at his helmet. He was ejected in that game and suspended for the following game. The proverbial “cherry on top” of fantasy owners nightmares.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Key Lessons Learned
  1. Fournette throws a pretty decent right cross but it seems to hurt his fantasy value when he throws it.
  2. Jacksonville’s running game improves when the defense is at it’s best and gets good QB play. It can lead to high volume carries, a key to the fantasy success of a power-back like Fournette.
  3. Avoid players with soft tissue injuries…hamstrings especially.
2019 Outlook

The long and short is the Jaguars have a new offense, a new QB, and their defense should be improved. The additions of Nick Foles and rookie pass-rush specialist Josh Allen are a definite improvement from the 2018 Jags and the new offense shouldn’t hurt Fournette as much as some speculate. The common knocks on Leonard Fournette heading into 2019 are that he is injury prone and that new OC John DeFilippo prefers to pass the football.

Starting with DeFilippo, he lost his last job in Minnesota because he refused to run the ball and it seems unlikely that he makes that mistake again. This is still the same head coach, Doug Marrone, that fed Fournette 268 times his rookie season. DeFilippo’s penchant for passing could actually help Fournette, who has only caught 58 balls over his first two seasons. While Fournette isn’t a prolific pass-catcher, neither are the guys behind him on the depth chart. His superior talent means that he is likely to be on the field for more of those pass plays and could catch more passes. Coming into 2018, Ezekiel Elliott had only caught 58 balls in his first two seasons as a pro…then reeled off 77 catches in 2018. A similar improvement is not out of the question for Fournette.

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As far as injury prone, while his style of play lends itself to injury, that was not the cause of his 2018 woes. Hamstring injuries linger, we’ve seen it time and time again and players are too often rushed back into action. In December, Fournette acknowledged that he needs to get into better shape to avoid another season like last year and acknowledging an issue is the first step to fixing it. Obviously, Leonard Fournette comes into 2019 a risky fantasy prospect, but there exists the possibility that he proves he is the RB1 we thought he was after his rookie year…just at a 2/3 round cheaper ADP.

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