RBV Signing Analysis: Leonard Fournette
"Lombardi Lenny" returns to the Tampa Bay Bucs! With the GOAT returning to the fold as well, Fournette can continue to develop into a top-end three-down back. In 2021, he tallyied 812 yards and a whopping 92 targets for 454 yards. Many teams could have used a rusher with that type of production profile. Even New England was courting him despite having Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris., but what should we expect from 27-year-old running back in 2022?
Fournette had a pretty diverse distribution across the schemes which gives us a solid picture of his usage in Tampa Bay. A heavy amount of Gap and Outside Zone (OZ) exposure ensures we have a solid sample size to evaluate, but as you can see, it is Inside Zone (IZ) where we may see more of the upside of his skillset. One would have to wonder if the Bucs shift to more of a heavy Gap and Inside Zone blend in 2022. Given the lack of success in OZ, we may see some differences in decision-making speed compared to IZ.
Leonard Fournette seems to have a "tale of two halves" of 2021. It appeared there were some challenges with his early comfort or understanding of his offensive line's capabilities The rough start was ultimately balanced with more decisive running in the second half of the season. The importance of this is that can build on his understanding in the scheme. For dynasty players, this could mean a more productive version of Fournette in 2022. If Ronald Jones finds a new home, Fournette managers and Tampa Bay fans should become very excited about his return.
Vision and Burst
Fournette has good vision. The only thing keeping it from "very good" status is the appearance of hesitancy. Frequently, he can be seen conducting a stab step as he approaches the trenches. Sometimes there is a second-level defender to manipulate, but there are many times when there is no one being manipulated. In these situations, this makes his burst a beat late, robbing him of additional yards that could be gained. He has shown the ability to just change his pace vice stepping outside of his frame. The stab step makes him slower to accelerate through the trenches.
This leads to his burst, his burst is also shy of "very good" for the reasons mentioned above. A more decisive Fournette would be one with very good vision and burst, and he would likely have a graphic with more green vectors. The athleticism is clearly there as he can be seen bursting to the edge when defenses fail to contain. Improvement in his mental processing speed could lead to more explosive plays. The good news is his mental processing seemed to be trending positively. Returning to this offense for an additional year could elevate him to very good mental processing which will improve his vision and burst.
These qualities were consistent across all schemes, but they steadily improved through the course of the season. Watch Fournette on goal-to-go situations in 2021. This is where you will see the most decisive version of him. He wastes no time with manipulation, stutter/jab steps. Fournette identifies the gap to attack and hits it hard. This is an attractive quality for fantasy players as it earns trust on the goal line which means more scoring opportunities.
Give Fournette a lane and some space and you will see very good home run speed. With that said, he 'galaxy brains' his way out of bigger gains by trying to cut back or cut upfield in 1-on-1 situations. He could be utilizing his size and play strength to be a bully and crush DBs, but more often than not, he tries to be elusive. His elusiveness is adequate when at top speed, which begs a serious question. Does Fournette lack competitive toughness, or does he overestimate his elusiveness? One of the two has to be true, and in fact, both things can be true.
On several occasions, there has been a DB with 'contain' responsibilities all alone on the edge. Why does Fournette, who has the obvious size (and maybe even burst) advantage, cut back up into the trenches? Frequently in these situations, the DB (#23 in the clip below) is the only man to beat. Leaving 'meat on the bone' like this is why his Outside Zone ASR is so low (the clip is showing a Gap run but the principle still applies). The hope is that the coaching staff recognizes this and tries to improve his decision-making in this area.
Contact balance is a very good feature in Fournette's game. Combined with excellent play strength, he will find extra yards after contact consistently. While he was ranked 18th among RBs with 100+ carries in yards after contact per attempt (3.11 yds), this may well improve if he gets better at that decision point we discussed above. Better choices for each situation make for more efficient running.
Receiving and Blocking
Fournette has developed into quite the pass-catcher since entering Tampa Bay. Sure he has the best passer of all time throwing to him, and Brady is known for effective passing to the RB position, but the target still has to catch the ball.
Fournette's ability is diverse in the passing game. He lined up as a receiver 14% of the time, and he was used in the intermediate part of the field. He has good hands, catch radius above his waist and nice ball tracking ability. Fournette has even flashed some nice change of direction after the catch to make the first defender miss. Add in very good burst when he is targeted in space, and you have a player that must always be accounted for on any given play.
As far as blocking, it appears to be a mixed bag. Fournette is surely willing and has displayed plenty of play strength when engaging with a squarely landed shoulder blow. He also identifies his assignment with a high level of consistency. The issue comes when he engages. His technique and use of hands are marginal at best. This takes his potential as a true pass-protection asset and reduces it to little more than a speed rush speedbump.
Why is this important? Well if any other running back comes into the fold and earns Brady's trust as a pass-protector over Fournette, this will affect Fournette's snap share. He must improve that aspect of his game this off-season. He was able to develop as a pass-catcher, so he should be able to evolve here as a football player.
We should expect more of the same production as we saw in 2021. Fournette will remain a 3-down back provided he is able to develop as a pass protector. There is no reason to believe that he will fall short of 1400 scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2022, especially if Ronald Jones finds a new home. With Tom Brady as the signal-caller, Fournette's upside is more than that which we saw when he came out of college. This locomotive of a player should be a top-end asset for fantasy players and dynasty managers.
With that said, his new 3-year deal is perfect for the typical 3-year window within which dynasty owners typically operate. With the recent 'scare' of Brady retiring, this seed will suppress Fournette's value in the dynasty community. There is also the consideration that the last year of this deal only has a dead cap hit of $1.5 million if cut before June 1st of 2024. Therefore, he should cost you less to acquire, and Fournette could be an asset whose fantasy value runs its course on your roster. But while he is there and Brady is around, there is much production from which you could benefit.