After three years of being the primary back in college at LSU, running back Leonard Fournette was selected by the Jaguars with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft and immediately became a focal point of the Jaguars’ offense.
But after just three seasons with the Jaguars, Fournette was released and signed by the Bucs to a one-year contract worth $2 million dollars. And for the first time in a long time Fournette was no longer the featured star in his team’s backfield, sitting behind third-year running back Ronald Jones II on Tampa Bay’s depth chart. Not only was Fournette forced to take a back seat to Jones in the 2020 season, he even found himself inactive for the Bucs’ Week 14 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
“It was difficult but like I said, it’s a learning year for me,” Fournette said about being a healthy scratch coming out of the Bucs’ bye week. “[Jones] is doing a great job, doing his thing. I hope, hopefully this game, that he can get that 1,000 yards. I hope he gets that and I think he deserves that, he deserve that deeply. So my job was to come in and motivate a lot of guys. I’ve been in those shoes and I’m just coming in here to be another piece of the puzzle for the team.”
But after being inactive for just a game, Fournette reclaimed a starting role when Jones found himself on the league’s Reserve/COVID-19 list and had to miss two consecutive contests. Over that two-game span in Week 15 and Week 16, Fournette totaled 83 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“I handled it like I was supposed to, like a pro,” Fournette said about his performance. “Despite whatever occurs on our team, we have four to five running backs that can always fulfill that job and come in and do what we have to do. I had the opportunity to help the team and that’s what I did.”
And although it wasn’t an easy transition for Fournette, going from star to backup, he leaned on a familiar veteran in LeSean McCoy to navigate through the process.
“I think our relationship has gotten better,” Fournette said about McCoy. “I’ve always known him but not that I’m physically with him every day it’s a wonderful feeling. And then I think he was the first person to reach out to me when I got cut by the Jaguars too because he’s been through that, he’s been through that phase in his life. And I think that it’s been the best thing for me having someone older in our room. Usually I’m the oldest guy in our room but having someone who’s experience that, who’s been through that and who’s a Hall of Famer, he’s going to get a gold jacket when he’s done with all this football stuff.”
But it wasn’t only McCoy that Fournette credits with his transformation toward a better person and player, as he pointed to a number of teammates in what has rapidly become one of the more experienced locker rooms in the NFL.
“I think just [McCoy] being there, even through my tough times when I wasn’t starting, he told me, ‘it’s all a part of God’s plan,’ because I’m not used to that,” Fournette said. “Going from being a starter to sharing the ball, I’m used to being the whole offense. My mindset has changed way differently this whole year as far as being the complete player, rooting for someone, cheering them on and things like that. Even though it wasn’t the best year as far as my stats, I think the growth in me is amazing now. So I just appreciate the Buccaneers for giving me a second change, guy like Tom Brady, [Rob Gronkowski], [Jason Pierre-Paul], a lot of older guys who took me under their wing and I’m just developing and learning and becoming a better player and a better young man while I’m here.”