Louisiana Star Ready to Take the Next Step
(Editor’s Note: Fournette was selected #4 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. See what Fournette’s former coach thinks about his evolution, pass-catching ability and how he’ll fit in with the Jags.)
The 7th Ward of New Orleans has a history. From the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, this section of the Big Easy has a reputation for being tough. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005 a majority of the ward was flooded after the London Avenue Canal was breached, but the residents returned and rebuilt. The ward is rife with poverty and crime, but it also has a history of successful jazz musicians, rappers, playwrights, civil rights leaders, and athletes all coming from this area of Louisiana.
To say Leonard Fournette will be the next success story out of the 7th Ward wouldn’t be entirely accurate- because Leonard Fournette is already a success story. Fournette played on St. Augustine High School’s football team as a running back, and that’s where many were first introduced to Fournette’s natural athletic abilities.
He played and started on the varsity football team as a freshman, and during that season he received his first college scholarship offer from LSU (It is always LSU or Louisiana State University, never ‘Louisiana State’-just FYI). They were the first of many, as Fournette found himself in the spotlight from his on-the-field talent and success. Referred to as the “next Adrian Peterson” he was named Louisiana’s Mr. Football in 2013, and was the top ranked prospect in the 2014 recruiting class.
LSU’s effort to get Fournette paid off, as Fournette chose to stay close to home and committed to the Tigers. During his three seasons at LSU Fournette rewrote the record books in his successes, shattering records such as rushing yards in a season (1,953), 200–yard rushing games in a season (4), and rushing yards per game (119.4) just to name a few. Some of these records were almost 40 years old. While records were made to be broken, Fournette’s focus has shifted from college records and towards his next achievement: being drafted in the NFL.
It’s all but a given that Fournette will go in the first round, and many experts are predicting Fournette will end up in the top ten picks. His draft profile compares him to Bo Jackson and notes that his “size, speed, and power” makes him a “high-end talent” with an “All-Pro potential.”
Although an injury in his junior year is raising some eyebrows in concern about his durability, teams need to remember that Fournette comes from a place where toughness and grit prevail in the face of challenges big and small (worth noting here that he played hurt most of his last season at LSU). Fournette worked his way to where he is today, setting records and earning accolades along the way, and it feels like fans will be witnessing fate happen in real time come April 27.
The question is, where will he end up?
The mock draft on NFL.com has Fournette going 4th to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fans who have become disenchanted with T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory like the idea of Fournette heading to the Jaguars, hoping that Fournette’s athleticism can fill the running back need that Yeldon and Ivory weren’t able to fill. Although fans may not be overwhelmed with the idea of drafting an RB in an RB-heavy draft class, the fact of the matter is the Jaguars need to do something to address the void that Yeldon’s and Ivory’s poor performance has created for the Jacksonville offense. (Also, he might be drafted by the Panthers, hated division rival of his hometown New Orleans Saints)
Some experts have come out and said that Fournette may not last that long. There may be a potential for Fournette to be picked up 2nd by the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers currently have Carlos Hyde, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2016 with 3 touchdowns and 5 fumbles, but Hyde will be a free agent after this season and is already injury-prone. That all adds up to San Francisco meeting with Fournette during a pre-draft visit. Now this could also be a move that San Francisco is making to garner interest in Fournette, draft him, and then trade him later on, but the need is clearly there. As one, older talent starts to enter his last year, it may be good to have a rookie in place to groom and prepare.
CBS Sports seems to be the outlier on Fournette, who has placed him at 21st and going to the Detroit Lions. This seems odd because not only is it contrary to the belief many experts have about Fournette being a top 10 pick, it also goes against some of the needs that the Lions have on the defensive side of the ball. There’s an argument made that by adding offensive weapons to the roster that Detroit might find their way to a Super Bowl faster, and if that’s their prerogative then going for the vastly-superior talent in Fournette is strategic. We may see the Lions trade up for Fournette in that case, but it’s highly unlikely that a potential Rookie-of-the-Year talent will drop as far as 21.
But what if Fournette doesn’t even have a chance to fall to 10, 4, or even 2? What if Fournette is drafted as the number 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns? Rumors are swirling that Fournette may be on the Browns radar, and being the high prospect that he is if the Browns are interested in Fournette it puts them in a tough spot: do they draft him #1 overall or do they hope he falls to 12? The Browns certainly need a lot of help in a lot of areas, there’s no doubting that, but their needs for a running back may not outweigh their needs in other areas.
Regardless of where Fournette ends up on Thursday, one thing is clear: it’s a start to yet another chapter in a long story of success that began in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Fournette, like NOLA, has overcome a lot, persevered, and become stronger. Regardless of where he ends up, Fournette’s story of success is just getting started.