It seems like the words “surprising move” and “Jacksonville Jaguars” are often paired together over the last few seasons. Let 2020 be no exception. In a surprising move, the Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with Leonard Fournette earlier this week after reportedly trying unsuccessfully to trade him.
The timing could not have been more perfect, he wrote with sarcasm, for fantasy football enthusiasts. Coming after one of the busiest drafting weekends for the re-draft crowd and towards the end of dynasty start-up drafts, the timing was in a word; rotten. It also was a fairly brutal move to make the week before the season opens to hand Fournette some walking papers with limited time to seek other gainful employment.
After clearing waivers, Leonard Fournette gets to move approximately 203 miles south to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What does this mean for his value moving forward? Let’s continue our exploration of this move and take a deeper look into this situation and what it means for dynasty managers.
Leonard Fournette, RB TB
In a surprising move, the Jaguars selected Fournette fourth overall in the 2017 NFL draft. He rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. He managed this feat in only 13 games. Dynasty and re-draft managers took the bait and Fournette’s ADP went up after the RB9 overall finish.
The 2018 season was fraught with disappointment for mangers who rostered Fournette as inuries hampered half the season. He finished that camapign with 439 rushing yards and five touchdowns in eight games played.
The 2019 season was a wave of less-than-ideal news for the Jaguars. They signed Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles, who went down in week one and barely played any further meaningful snaps the remainder of the season. Instead, Minshew Mania began when sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew took the reigns under center. Fournette set personal career bests that season in 15 total games, which was also a career-high. He ran for 1,152 yards and caught 76 passes for 522 yards. The disappointment came in the form of only three rushing touchdowns.
Fournette had shed the injury-prone tag, established himself as a volume-heavy running back who could have the majority of the snaps and workload, and was therefore enjoying a healthy RB19 ADP.
Fournette joins a new-look Buccaneers offense that is helmed by Bruce Arians and captained by Tom Brady. There are some proclivities, history, and misleading coach-speak to sift through here. So, let’s get into it.
Arians is known for many things, one of which is the deployment of his running backs. His coaching history shows he does seem to prefer utilizing an established veteran over an electric rookie, making the younger back earn his stripes. He has also remained vocal, even during this shortened off-season, about the importance of pass-protection from his backs. Whatever one may think about his methods, he squeezes production out of his running back room as you can see below.
Despite what appears to be a sometimes confusing approach to running back utilization, one thing is clear; Arians places high value on running backs who can run, catch passes, and handle blocking assignments. A one-dimensional back does not suit him well.
Allow us a moment to take a roll call on the running back room in Tampa. They drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. We have already discussed the lack of trust Arians displays with rookie running backs, so we should have minimal expectations there.
Peyton Barber rumbled off to join the Washington Football Team, a move that many fantasy players were hoping happened last season as opposed to the weekly running back guessing game.
Dare Ogunbowale is still there and was previously perceived at being the third-down/passing-down specialist.
The Bucs also added veteran LeSean McCoy to the roster to provide depth behind expected starter Ronald Jones. While the initial reports out of camp were less than stellar concerning Jones, there has been more praise of late about his growth in the offense, and Arians pass-blocking mantra. However, the signing of Fournette obviously throws some nice sea water on that sentiment.
Tom Brady and his tendencies
The 2019 Patriots were second in the league in pass attempts to the running back position (166) and their 28.3% of targets to the position ranked fourth overall. Granted, Brady has moved on to a new offense, but the history of success is present and accounted for. The Bucs were 12th in targets to the position with 113 on the season. Meanwhile, Fournette, who has not been traditionally thought of a “pass-catching back” accumulated 100 targets last season and has averaged 4.8 targets per game over his three seasons played.
Wrapping It All Up
For managers who have already drafted, whether it be a dynasty start-up or a redraft team, you can breathe a little if you drafted Fournette. While the guaranteed volume is not the same as it was in Jacksonville, it’s actually a decent landing spot.
All things considered, Fournette is the best running back on the roster and will immediately compete with Jones for lead-back duties. We may see some of the same erratic splits we saw last season between Barber and Jones early on, but as the season progresses, Fournette’s workload should increase – this all but pushes Shady McCoy out of anything resembling fantasy relevance, and it would not be a complete shock to see him on the roster bubble after this signing despite the Bucs apparently telling him he will make the final roster. The McCoy signing quite literally would not have happened if Arians had any foresight the Jaguars would cut Fournette in the first place. Vaughn will have a role, mostly on special teams to start the season. Ogunbowale maintains the possibility of passing down work.
From a fantasy perspective, Fournette’s value drops a little as his expected workload is less than it would have been in Jacksonville. For a team that looks to spend more time closer to the goal line than the Jaguars did, this bodes well for regression to the means in touchdowns for the 25-year-old running back.
Based on this data and our best guess at how he will be utilized, Fournette should end the season leading the backfield in touches and fantasy points with decent touchdown upside. Once he gets acclimated, he should land in the weekly RB2 conversation and could even have some volume-dependent RB1 upside.