The Curveball Report: Great Player, Wrong Team Featuring: “Leonard Fournette”

Could the San Francisco 49ers Draft LSU Running Back Leonard Fournette with their 2nd Pick? Or via trading down? Either way, from the Niners Live perspective, they shouldn’t.

 

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion around the office here at Niners Live, and most of the recent mock drafts covering in the 2017 NFL Draft, that 49ers’ General Manager John Lynch will draft Stanford Defensive Tackle Salomon Thomas with the second pick in this years draft.

But this is The Curveball Report, and just like a beauty on 3-2, from San Francisco Giants’ Ace Madison Bumgarner, things just don’t fly straight in this report. Recently we reported on Myles Garett falling to the 49ers, with Cleveland taking Mitchel Trubisky from North Carolina in the previous Curveball Report.

Leonard Fournette, considered by some the best running back in college football the past three seasons and currently ranked number one on most draft analyst positional rankings, was reported as being seriously considered to be the second overall pick to the 49ers by Tony Pauline, draft insider from DraftAnalyst.com. Could the 49ers take Leonard Fournette at number two? Or trade down? Well, let’s take a look at it starting with what Leonard has done to put himself in this position.

Why Is He In The Conversation?

consensus 5- star running back out of St. Augustine High School in Louisiana, Leonard Fournette came to LSU and lived up to expectations as one of the most highly touted signees in the school’s history, by setting the LSU freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards despite only starting 6 of 13 games. This would be just one of the 24 LSU school records Fournette would own by the time he was ready to take his talents to the NFL.

An impressive freshman season set up a prolific and even more historic sophomore season that would end with him being named a Consensus First Team All-American who led the nation in rushing with 1,953 yards, averaging 162.8 per game. He went on to add 22 more touchdowns on the ground, making both his rushing and total yards part of his 24 school records. The season was capped off in historic and fitting fashion as Fournette led his Tigers to a bowl victory with a school record five total touchdowns in a 56-27 victory over the Red Raiders from Texas Tech (LSUSports.com).

Despite ending his junior campaign with an ankle injury, Leonard Fournette still drew comparisons to number one ranked running back Adrian Peterson who was coming out of Oklahoma nine years ago. Peterson “slipped” to the Vikings with the seventh overall pick in 2007 amid injury concerns. Like Peterson, Fournette is a force out of the backfield. He uses his 4.50 speed to keep his distance from punishing defenders who dare to challenge him once he clears the second level. But can he bring the value to the 49ers’ offense that a second overall pick should? Or a top 10 draft pick?

With All That Production, Why Doesn’t He Fit?

For all the impact that Leonard Fournette would bring to first and second downs there is a real question as to what he will be able to bring on third down. The Money Down. The Passing Down.

Through three seasons at LSU, Fournette only caught 41 passes for 526 yards through his career, gaining most of his fame on the ground. His lone receiving touchdown came in the bowl game of his sophomore season. How does this compare to his peers in this year’s draft? Christian McCaffrey, from Stanford, hauled in 99 passes in his career, and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook picked up 488 yards through the air last season alone. According to NFL.com stats, last season Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman had 54 and 31 receptions respectively, with Freeman recording 73 the year before. That would leave the team where it is now, looking for a receiving threat to be the third down option back to the starter. Current starter, Carlos Hyde, has shown nice hands in the passing game scoring three touchdowns on 27 receptions last season in only 13 games.

History is also against this being the best value at this point in the draft. At each stop of Kyle Shanahan’s career where he has had a lead running back, they have produced a 1,000-yard season. At Cleveland in 2014 he had a committee of backs with Terrance West and Isiah Crowell, and in Atlanta during 2016 with Freeman and Coleman where each back had at least 600 yards on the ground. None of Coach Shanahan’s backs (either drafted to be in a committee or in a lead back situation) were drafted higher than the third round. The Shanahan system, handed down from Mike to Kyle, is an Outside Zone, One Cut System, and it’s been long proven that a disciplined back willing to listen to Running Back Coach Bobby Turner can produce in this offense. Just ask Peter King of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback who wrote, “Back in Denver (Turner) made a slew of low-drafted backs (Terrell Davis most notably) play great, and he was vital in the development of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta.”

In Conclusion:

The second pick overall or a top 10 pick per say needs to come in and not only take over a position, but take it over with an improvement to that position. In this case, without the ability to make an impact in the passing game, Leonard Fournette would provide nothing more than a younger version of what the team already has in incumbent starter Carlos Hyde. Drafting Fournette would mean that the need for a third down back would be magnified. Not to mention that with Coach Shanahan and Coach Turner on the staff, the running back position as a whole is devalued from a draft perspective, and the need to grab a first round running back is non-existent. The only interest the team should have in Fournette is the hope that another team is interested enough to give up a nice amount of draft capitol to help the team move back to acquire more picks.

There is nothing wrong with exploring all scenarios, but sometimes even Bumgarner hangs a pitch that gets sent to land in someone’s canoe out in McCovey Cove.

As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving new Staff Writer at Niners Live, Co-Author, Editor Niners Live.