It’s the evening of Thursday, April 27, 2017. In under two hours the NFL Draft will officially begin. For the athletes entering the highest level of football competition, this is the night they’ve dreamed of. Some of the highest-profiled players have been discussed in a variety of scenarios – where they’ll go, what they’ll be able to contribute to what teams – and for a running back like Leonard Fournette there were several suitors.
Lee Brecheen, the owner and publisher of Louisiana Football Magazine, is on the phone. He is a man who saw Fournette develop at the high school level, become the overall #1 recruit in his class, and move from the 7th Ward of New Orleans to Louisiana State University. Brecheen takes a moment to think about the question he’s just been asked: what would be the best case for Fournette tonight?
“Going somewhere they run the ball, with a good passing offense. Jacksonville would be a good place for Fournette. They’re young, and they have a great QB.”
A few hours later, with the fourth pick in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars would select Fournette. Experts had been predicting this, and as the top running back in the draft class (and, Brecheen would argue, the top player in the draft), filling a void the Jags have had since their disappointing 2016 season. And, if Jacksonville uses him right, he could be a cornerstone for their offense for a long time.
“Leonard could have a long career [in the NFL],” Brecheen notes. “The key is not to be overused.”
Brecheen lists teams that run the ball about 40% of the time and notes the success those teams have had with their running backs. Adrian Peterson’s name comes up. Fournette has been compared to him most of all, but Brecheen says there’s more to Fournette than just the comparison.
“He’s a special kid…nitpicked to death before the draft,” Brecheen says with a small laugh, agreeing that most of the top picks usually are. “He’s a rare [running] back. He’s got power and speed…” Brecheen pauses, collecting his thoughts, “he’s got the stuff you can’t coach.”
Brecheen is asked about Fournette’s pass catching and ability to play in the shotgun, as well as pass blocking. Although this conversation takes place over the phone, you can hear the faint, coy smile form across Brecheen’s face as he imagine’s his high school all-star playing in the NFL.
“Leonard can catch, but they didn’t throw to him a lot [at LSU],” Brecheen observes, calling the doubts and questions about Fournette’s catching abilities a “smokescreen more than the truth.”
“LSU didn’t have a lot of great O-lines,” Brecheen notes when pressed on why he feels this way. “I don’t think he was on the best of teams at LSU. Leonard could really do great things in the NFL.”
When asked about how long it will take for Fournette to get adjusted to the level of competition in the pros, there’s no hesitation from Brecheen: “right away [Fournette] makes an impact.”
Brecheen cites Fournette’s ability to have a 4th gear at 230 pounds a part of why he’ll be so key early on.
“He can separate from people that are two times smaller than him. People don’t appreciate that enough, that a guy at 230 can sprint past everyone. He knows how to run.”
In terms of skills, where does Fournette rank? What is Jacksonville getting with their pick?
According to Brecheen, they’re getting a steal, even at #4 overall.
“In 30 years, Leonard is the best I’ve ever seen,” Brecheen says. “He’s gifted.”