With the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers will have many options but Leonard Fournette should not be one of them…
As the offseason revs up into full swing, the Carolina Panthers and many NFL Draft analyst have already begun the process of preparing for the draft and their respective picks.
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For Carolina, Leonard Fournette of LSU is one name that consistently appears to take up the No. 8 spot on draft boards, the Panthers first round pick. In a mock draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay stated the following about Fournette.
“This would be great value getting my third-ranked player at pick No. 8. Fournette is the best running back prospect I’ve evaluated since Adrian Peterson. His rare combination of size, power, agility and speed would be a good fit for Carolina’s run-first scheme.”
Despite the exterior flashy statistics and power running that has been the style of the Carolina offense for several years, selecting Fournette would be a mistake that wouldn’t solve any of the current problems the Panthers face.
Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) is brought down by the Florida Gators defense during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
First and foremost, injury is a concern. Fournette only played in seven games this season after a moderate ankle sprain made him miss the last four regular season games and skip out on playing in the Citrus Bowl. An ankle injury for running backs and all athletes are common, but alarming. With Fournette, the injury in question is chronic and according to SEC Country could require surgery down the road if the problem progresses.
Should Fournette be declared healthy moving forward, it would still be a weary decision of the Panthers to draft a power back that has injury concerns from the beginning.
Looking at Fournette’s full 2015 season also casts doubt when examined in detail. In 12 games Fournette nearly eclipsed 2,000 yards and rushed for 23 touchdowns, a mark that eventually led to him breaking LSU’s single season rushing record.
But that season’s glamorous stats fall apart under a microscope.
Of the ten 100-yard performances Fournette had in 2015, only five came against teams with eight or more wins. His four 200-yard rushing performances came against a measly 1-11 Eastern Michigan squad, a less-than-stellar 4-8 Syracuse, an underperforming 7-6 Auburn team and a 7-6 Texas Tech team in the Texas Bowl.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) leaps over Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
In the past two seasons when Fournette has played Alabama, he posted a combined 36 carries for 66 yards. In potentially being the No. 8 pick of the draft, Alabama is absolutely fair play for determining an outstanding player. Fournette’s two performances clearly do not pass this test.
Fournette in 2016 ran for 843 yards in just seven games, a stat that leaves many thinking of the potential this guy truly possesses. But of the 843 yards, 284 (33 percent) came against one team, a 5-7 Ole Miss with another 147 yards (17 percent) coming against a 6-7 Mississippi State team. In all, approximately 50 percent of Fournette’s 2016 season took place in two games against two teams with a combined 11-14 record.
Look past the exterior and one will see that Fournette is a prospect who has beat up on lowly and mediocre teams with home run performances, but against teams that provide a true metric of skill he has conveniently shied away from being extraordinary.
In fairness, look at Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and view his numbers for the 2016 season. Cook ran for 169 yards against the future NCAA champion Clemson Tigers and finished the season with 145 yards against a top tier Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl.
Cook’s stats are more equally spread than Fournette and Cook has been a full time contributor for three seasons – never missing a game. This isn’t to imply that the Panthers should draft Cook, but rather to compare the two top running back prospects and understand why Fournette shouldn’t be taken at the No. 8 position.
Lastly, the Panthers have cited that the offense is going to undergo an “evolution” of sorts, with many schemes changes and new developments taking place. Who is to say that the Panthers want to stick with the same power running identity? And if they do, how will power running be successful if there is no upgrade to the offensive line?
In 2016, current Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, a rate that does not translate to offensive success. Before the running back problem is solved the Panthers should probably take a look at the offensive line that ensures the running game’s success.