With the 2017 NFL regular season now in the rearview mirror, it is time to look back on the performances of some of the players finishing their first season in the pros. Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars shall be the object of our attention this time.
I set the RotoViz Screener:
to find rookies from 2007 – 2017, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.
Let’s take a look at some of the players who produced similar numbers to Fournette in their first year.
On the whole, a fairly solid if not spectacular first go around for Fournette. Generally speaking, any comparisons that include Richardson are not encouraging in the long term. The same could be said of Lacy, but this helps underline the difficulty of maintaining performance at RB, even for players with elite rookie seasons.
Below, we can see how his rookie comps performed in their second seasons. I must stress that here we are looking at a range of possible outcomes. We do not expect Fournette to produce the exact same numbers as any of these players. When you look at most of them, you may well be glad of this.
Chris Johnson’s second season produced the most yards from scrimmage of any player in NFL history. It produced the 10th-highest fantasy output for an RB in PPR formats since the year 2000. Lacy posted his second consecutive strong season, but Fournette’s other comps quickly collapsed due to a combination of injuries and deteriorating play.
The Jaguars made their intentions with regards Leonard Fournette quite clear as early as Week 1 of the season. He carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards in their win over the Texans. Fournette would have seven games with at least 20 rushing attempts. He had another with 19. Only Ezekiel Elliott (9) and Le’Veon Bell (8) had more such games. His tally of five 100-yard games was bettered only by Elliott and Todd Gurley.1 His nine rushing touchdowns were the third most for a rookie in Jaguars history. It was the most for the team since Maurice Jones-Drew scored 15 times in 2009.
Despite not putting up huge numbers as a pass catcher, he was fairly involved in that side of the offense. He had at least three receptions in eight of the 13 games he played in, twice eclipsing the 50-yard mark.
Fournette only played in 13 games. He missed two games due to injury, one each for an ankle and a quad issue. However, the third game he missed – Week 9 against the Bengals – was due to breaking a team rule.2
Fournette also faded after an initial fast start, as the image below shows.
It is worth pointing out that Fournette did speak of hitting the “rookie wall” late in the year. These numbers would certainly suggest that he tired as the season progressed. Despite his being the leading rusher for the Jaguars, he was not an every-down player for much of the season. He played on just 49.91 percent of the total offensive snaps. The 86.7 percent in Week 17 was only the second time he played more than 75 percent.
With a full offseason to get fit and healthy, there is little doubt that Leonard Fournette will remain the focal point of the Jaguars offense. No team ran the more than the Jaguars throughout the 2017 season. Their team tally of 2,262 rushing yards was 92 more than the second-placed Dallas Cowboys. After an up and down season and a mostly down postseason outing against the Bills, doubts still exist as to whether Blake Bortles is the right man to be quarterbacking this team. If he does return next season, or if the team brings in a new man, they would be well served to once again lean on their ground game. This should ensure Fournette gets plenty of volume, which is more or less the key to his fantasy production. In games in which he had fewer than 20 total touches, he managed double-digit points just once.
Fournette is currently enjoying a mid to late second-round Average Draft Position according to the mock drafters at Fantasy Football Calculator. This may come as something of a surprise, given his RB8 finish in 2017. But drafters may have reservations regarding the Jaguars offense as a whole. This uncertainty is affecting Fournette’s standing. Don’t get me wrong, being the 11th RB taken is not a huge downgrade given how he ended his rookie season. But until the Jaguars take action at the QB spot, it’s going to be hard to get a good feel for what this team can produce going forward. I would be very surprised if Fournette’s ADP rises much higher, especially at this early stage.