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Before you break out the champagne on the Bucs’ signing of former fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette on Wednesday evening, celebrating the two-time 1,000-yard rusher as the answer to Tampa Bay’s annual lack of a feature back, consider a few things with me.

First, Leonard Fournette is not as impactful in the passing game as his traditional stats might indicate.

Second, Leonard Fournette has consistently been one of the worst pass-protecting backs in the NFL, a role Bruce Arians has described as essential for running backs in the Bucs offensive scheme.

Third, these limitations can and should limit Fournette’s opportunity to make an impact in Tampa Bay, because we have a large sample size of him in both receiving and pass protection that tells us that impact will be more negative than positive to the team.

Pass Protection

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According to Pro Football Focus, Fournette received the eighth-most pass protection snaps of any back in the NFL last year with 83, yet posted the site’s sixth-worst grade out of 58 qualifying backs.

Although he didn’t have as many opportunities in pass protection in 2017 or 2018, Fournette’s grades were still among the worst in the league during those seasons as well. Even if you don’t accept PFF grades as gospel, consistently grading near the bottom of the league is a strong indicator you won’t be a net positive in that area moving forward. How much of a detriment Fournette could be in pass protection if he’s given as much opportunity in that role as he was last season is where the concern should lie.

A look at Fournette’s tape confirmed the concerns PFF indicated in their grading.

There’s a myriad of issues with Fournette in pass protection, but it starts and ends with technique. Getting square to rushers, anticipating their movements in order to counter, staying under control, not lunging to land a punch. Fournette is basically out there throwing himself at NFL defenders right now, and it’s not a recipe for success.

Fournette overcommits on the blitzing defensive back, getting off balance and allowing the opponent to slip by him for a near strip-sack. Rather than landing a knockout punch, Fournette needs to sustain his block and run the defender up the arc if he tries to corner.

I noticed a few mental mistakes by Fournette too. Here the Jaguars have the left guard, left tackle and Fournette in place to block the weakside 3-tech, edge defender and off-ball linebacker if he comes. Instead of picking up the linebacker, Fournette steps into the A-gap and muddies the whole thing up, leaving Darius Leonard free to get a shot in on his quarterback.

I was pleased to see Fournette’s effort and desire to be physical in pass protection, but he needs considerable work in his blitz pickup, from a technical and mental standpoint. Given that Tampa Bay doesn’t really have a go-to back in pass protection, it would have been nice to land an impact player in this area, considering how often Arians has emphasized its’ importance.

Receiving

Many will look at Fournette’s team-leading 76 receptions from a year ago and think he was a great receiving back, but don’t be fooled by traditional stats. While Fournette did see a heavy volume of targets (4th-most amongst running backs) and receptions (5th-most) in the short passing game, his average of 6.87 yards per reception was 47th out of 61 backs with 20 or more targets. That is not the type of player you want to be getting 100 targets in your offense.

The biggest issue with Fournette is that, despite his size and speed, he’s simply not a creator with the ball in his hands. He’s not particularly elusive, and he goes down far easier on first contact than you’d expect for a big back. Fournette also rarely plays fast, which allows him to be an easier target for tacklers in the open field, as they don’t feel challenged in their pursuit angles. He’s just an uninspiring player in space and he struggled to get open against man coverage when the team moved him into the slot.

In a terrific article for SI Maven’s Jaguar Report, Gus Logue uses data from NFLscrapR to show that, during his best statistical season, Fournette was still actually a negative in Jacksonville’s passing attack. Logue points out that Fournette’s EPA (expected points added) per target was actually -0.19, indicating that his involvement in the Jaguars’ passing game actually worsened the team’s chances to score because of how inefficient he was.

This is less of a concern in Tampa Bay, because Fournette won’t see nearly the same volume of opportunity or touches in the passing game as he did in Jacksonville. It doesn’t hurt the Bucs at all if they get to the end of the season and Fournette hasn’t made an impact as a receiving back, because they have so many superior weapons anyway in the passing game.

It does make Fournette’s signing more difficult to justify however, because teams should always be valuing pass game impact in running backs above everything else. That being said, Fournette was better (adequate) as a more ancillary option in the passing game his first two years in Jacksonville, so he’s not completely hopeless in this regard, or incapable of playing on third downs. He’s simply not a desirable option in the passing game, so limiting his opportunities would be in Tampa Bay’s best interest, especially given their host of other weapons.

I’ll have more on Fournette’s impact on the Bucs’ ground game later in the week, but Bucs fans should have minimal expectations for Fournette’s skill set on long and late downs. We’ve already seen a large sample size of Fournette as a featured receiver in an offense that asked him to do a lot, and the results were below average-to-poor.

Fournette is better off being utilized for what he is – a north-south runner who can be a good short yardage/protect-the-lead back with the hope that his red zone work rebounds from an abysmal campaign a year ago (more on that later this week). He’s not going to help the Bucs out much as a receiver or as a pass protector, so hopefully they don’t ask him to.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Buc on the Move
Buc on the Move(@buc-on-the-move)
1 year ago

Sounds like Fournette is the new Barber, the more I hear.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  Buc on the Move
1 year ago

A bit of a better version, and he has better hands, but yes, 100%. Very similar players.

Dave
Dave(@bucball02)
Reply to  Buc on the Move
1 year ago

That’s a little too far. Regardless of what his stats suggest, i think Fournette is an above average pure runner. Barber is not an above average anything. I’ve personally never been a fan of LF. I think he’s extremely overrated in today’s nfl. I said a month or 2 ago on here that I think the receptions are misleading. He’s not a very good pass catching back. The dude got 100 targets and turned that into 0 receiving TD’s and 6.8 YPR. That’s the epitome of wasting targets. I think he’s best suited as a tandem back. So I think… Read more »

James Taylor
James Taylor(@jptaylor74)
1 year ago

Ok. But he can clearly catch the ball and doesn’t fumble. This alone leads me to believe he is a check down option and a guy who can move the chains on a third and short.. Also, since he is a bruising physical back he puts a defense in a conundrum where they become more reluctant to employ a nickel or dime scheme. I can see Fournette as useful when the game plan calls for being physical against an opposing defense. He might also be useful in closing out games with a lead or an expanded role in one of… Read more »

surferdudes
surferdudes(@surferdudes)
Reply to  James Taylor
1 year ago

James, I’ve loved your music for years. Didn’t know you were a Buc fan.

James Taylor
James Taylor(@jptaylor74)
Reply to  surferdudes
1 year ago

…Or maybe I’m a Tom Brady fan having been born in Boston Mass?

ScottC543
ScottC543(@scottc543)
Reply to  James Taylor
1 year ago

Well, whatever it is, you’ve got a friend.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  James Taylor
1 year ago

For whatever it’s worth, RoJo’s hands appear to be better. Fournette dropped passes at almost twice the rate RoJo did last season. It’s just one year, but despite the gaudy reception totals, Fournette’s hands failed him a lot more often than RoJo’s did.

Gatordoc1
Gatordoc1(@gatordoc1)
1 year ago

Damn, what a buzz kill

BigSombrero
BigSombrero(@bucwild02)
1 year ago

Much ado about nothing. Fournette is instantly the best RB on the roster. The cream will rise to the top. Shady is no guarantee to make this club, and I don’t care what Bruce Arians said at his presser.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 year ago

This is such an aggressively terrible take.

Dave
Dave(@bucball02)
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 year ago

Disagree. I’ll take Rojo over him any day

BigSombrero
BigSombrero(@bucwild02)
1 year ago

Fournette will get 1600+ all purpose yards this season and lead the team, including RoJo, Evans, Godwin, Howard, Brate, Gronkowski, Miller, and Watson.

Then PFF, Jon Ledyard, and Jags beat writers can review the statistics and game film for a complete breakdown of where they were wrong.

Review recent footage of Tom Brady. He LOVES to handoff.

Donkey__Hunter
Donkey__Hunter(@donkey__hunter)
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 year ago

If they review recent footage of Brady, they’ll see that he had the 4th most passing attempts in the league last year. Pretty interesting stat for a guy who LOVES to handoff.

BigSombrero
BigSombrero(@bucwild02)
Reply to  Donkey__Hunter
1 year ago

Is a 3 yard pass to a RB really a pass?

Donkey__Hunter
Donkey__Hunter(@donkey__hunter)
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 year ago

Moving goalposts is equivalent to waving the white flag.

You could always just take your “L” and move on. I mean, you’ve had plenty of practice the last several weeks.

Dave
Dave(@bucball02)
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 year ago

Put money on that? $100 he doesn’t. All day every day I’ll pounce on that bet. In fact, I’ll make my prediction. He doesn’t even eclipse 1000 total yards. At his usual 3.5 ypc and 7 ypr he’d have to get over 200 touches, just to hit 1000 total yards. If he averaged even 4 ypc and 7.5 YPR he would need 275 carries, and over 60 receptions to hit 1600 total yards lol. Yeah good luck getting even half that volume. There is a 0.0 % chance he comes anywhere close to 1600 total yards.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dave
matador
matador(@matador)
1 year ago

Good article, Jon. Would we prefer an all-around back, absolutely, and based on your clips his blocking is atrocious, a glaring weakness that a coach like Gruden would have none of. Bottom line however, as a runner he should lessen the load on our HOF QB, especially if he can kill some clock time late in games vs Winston who was perpetually turning the ball over and putting our D in difficult situations. Plus as noted opposing defenses will have to respect him as a runner which will make it a little easier for our passing game. Lastly, we still… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by matador
Bucco Five
Bucco Five(@bucco-five)
1 year ago

Question for Jon: Based on what you’re seeing, do you think he’s really worth $2-3.5mm of cap and a roster spot? Is his value as a rusher a big enough upgrade over RoJo, McCoy, etc?

Pick6
Pick6(@pick6)
1 year ago

I think he is the new Legarrette Blount. He is the big back who closes out the game when everyone knows the run is coming. Don’t need him to be an asset in the passing game in that role

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
1 year ago

First, thanks for doing this piece, Jon. I’ve been trying to convince people (not here, at BucsNation) of Fournette’s crappiness in the passing game since his name came up. He’s a miserable pass blocker and, impressive reception volume aside, he’s a crummy weapon in the passing game. The best thing I can say for him is that he has sure hands. Which….sure, great. He still doesn’t do anything useful for his team as a receiver. Want to get even more bummed out, Bucs fans? Fournette isn’t remotely the tough, bruising, physical force you think he is. In 2019, Fournette finished… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  toofamiliar17
1 year ago

One last thing, just to be clear – it’s not like 2019 was an aberration for Fournette not being much of a tackle breaker. In 2018, he was shockingly awful at creating yardage, placing in the league in attempts per broken tackle with a jaw-dropping rate of one broken tackle for every 44.3 carries.

Billy
Billy(@sundaystuds)
Reply to  toofamiliar17
1 year ago

I think the biggest asset for our passing game is the 8 man boxes Fournette might see.

If that doesn’t help Brady and the passing game with Play Action then I must not know football.

Henry got Ryan Tannehill paid this year.

If you DON’T stack the box, Fournette is gonna take it to the house up the middle.

As far as not playing fast, he was clocked at 22.9 mph once which is faster than any man in the NFL last year.

Dude is a beast on par with AP in his prime and young.

Excellent pick up.

Dave
Dave(@bucball02)
Reply to  Billy
1 year ago

There is a ZERO % chance that Leonard Fournette is going to force defenses into 8 man boxes with Brady, Evans, Godwin, Gronk, and Howard lined up to catch passes. Just Brady alone waves bye bye to an 8 man box. QB’s with his pedigree do not, EVER, see 8 man fronts

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  Dave
1 year ago

I think you assert that things have literally no chance of happening too often, lol. But I pretty well agree with you. Fournette has frequently seen 8-man boxes at rates among the highest in the league, but he’s also played with bad quarterbacks who haven’t had anything that scares defenses to stretch the field or makes plays in the passing game outside. I think it would be lazy to turn correlation into causation and conclude that Fournette is the actual REASON he’s faced so many 8-man fronts in his career thus far. This year, Fournette will be the furthest thing… Read more »

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
1 year ago

Some of these know it all Stat Geeks where the same ones telling us that RoJo was a bust when he only ran for 44 yards 1st yr and couldn’t beat out Barber 2nd yr. Now you want try and convince us that he better than a 1st Rd RB who has already ran for over 1000 yds twice in his 3 years…You’re choking on your own Stats! If they were sold on RoJo why did we pursue Fournette when we are so thin at other positions (LT,OLB). Stats truly are for Losers! Raheem Morris.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  Captain Sly
1 year ago

Ah yes, let’s quote Raheem Morris, who we all know was such a football mastermind.

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
1 year ago

Just curious. If Fournette is so deficient at the desired RB qualities, how in the world was he so good at LSU that he was selected at #5?

Dave
Dave(@bucball02)
Reply to  scubog
1 year ago

Because he was so incredibly productive that scouts look at the stats and say, there must be something there. Happens all the time. Call it the Tebow rule. Tebow completely dominated the college level. At some point, a GM was going to look at how easy he made the college game look, and say I can’t pass on him

BigSombrero
BigSombrero(@bucwild02)
Reply to  scubog
1 year ago

He was good in Jacksonville as a pro. His rookie season with Bortles at QB, he lead the offense against stacked boxes and they were a half away from the Super Bowl.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  scubog
1 year ago

He was much more physical in college than he has been as a pro, breaking tackles at impressive clips. And just from an athletic standpoint, his long speed is impressive for a player of his size and who showed the tackle breaking ability he showed at LSU. And for that size and speed, he also showed some impressive short area quickness in college. He’s an impressive athlete, no doubt. All of that said, I still think he was a drastically overrated prospect, which is something I thought then, too. At the NFL level, against better competition, he simply doesn’t either… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
1 year ago

So PFF stats whom basically nobody believes are to be taken as “gospel”, while 76 receptions last season at a 76 percent catch/target rate is to be ignored?

Stop baffling us with bullshit.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  Naplesfan
1 year ago

Forget PFF for a second. I haven’t really seen many references to it here anyways. He dropped almost 6% of his targets last season. And he did nothing with the ones he caught, putting up a paltry sub-7.0 yards per reception. He doesn’t break tackles. And he is a truly horrific pass blocker. The idea of him being in a game when Brady checks to a pass and he’s responsible for blitz pickup scares the crap out of me, as it should every Bucs fan. His name is just bigger than the actual quality of his play. He’s not a… Read more »

SenileSenior
SenileSenior(@xpfcwintergreen)
1 year ago

Well, I don’t see Fournette as an upgrade to RoJo. I see him as an insurance policy should RoJo go down with injury or to the virus for any length of time. Fournette will have an ongoing role meanwhile. Shady will be in the mix too.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17(@toofamiliar17)
Reply to  SenileSenior
1 year ago

If that’s how the team sees him – as a pure backup for RoJo – then I’m fine with the signing. My concern is that they may not view him that way.

PatrioticChief
PatrioticChief(@patrioticchief)
1 year ago

The hype for Fournette on this site doesn’t match the production. That being said he does give the team several good things. 1) He can handle a heavy carry usage and stay viable. 2) He rarely ever fumbles 3) He is a legit homerun threat with good blocking. There is a chance he gets better run blocking with the Bucs and we see more of that. 4) He can reliably catch in a pinch, even if he doesn’t do jack squat with it The Bucs are going to have some nice leads and Fournette is the guy you can run… Read more »

Lamb Chop
Lamb Chop(@alamba78)
1 year ago

Fournette can break off a long run and break tackles ala LeGarrette Blount. I expect the play action game to be opened up with Fournette, with defenses being sucked into the box. Fournette is a game breaker if he’s motivated. The guy did not like playing in Jax, I could see that changing when you have a potent offense and he wants to get in on some of the bragging rights. He does need to improve his pass blocking though.

Dude
Dude(@dude)
1 year ago

Talk about a negative article, this one takes the cake.

BDOG
BDOG(@borkdog)
1 year ago

Excellent analysis BIG JAKE! Love it, very informative, tempered my expectations. Thanks.Guess that’s why he was released! Why did we get him? Well….. haven’t won anything with BA and Licht yet! Hope they know something u don’t! doubtful.

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