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Rumors: A Detroit Lions Trade for Leonard Fournette Is A Bad Idea

The Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to move on from running back Leonard Fournette, but the Detroit Lions should not entertain any offer.
Leonard Fournette

The Jacksonville Jaguars are exploring possible trade scenarios involving Leonard Fournette leading up to the 2020 NFL this Thursday. Over the weekend, CBS Sports reported that the Detroit Lions were a potential landing spot for the running back. The outlet suggested the veteran would be a compliment in the backfield to current backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough, who both have their questions despite having shown flashes of brilliance at points last season.

The rumors were initially reported by ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter late last week. The news came in wake of Fournette openly expressing his desire for the Jaguars to bring in free-agent quarterback Cam Newton to compete for the team’s starting job, despite the notion second-year passer Gardner Minshew will get an opportunity to be the team’s full-time starter this season.

Detroit Lions Rumored As Possible Trade Destination for Leonard Fournette

After three seasons in Jacksonville, it’s no surprise the Jaguars are looking to move on from Leonard Fournette. Despite being genetically blessed with size and speed, adding this oft-injured runner to a mix of backs already battling their own health demons isn’t likely to benefit the Lions. Actually, the potential move is likely to complicate things at the position even more. He looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane.

His body of work through three seasons is mediocre at best, and despite two one-thousand rushing yard seasons has failed to be the true impact player Jacksonville envisioned when drafting him #4 overall in 2017 out of LSU.

On-Field Performance

Looking at Fournette’s production through three seasons from afar, one might think the 25-year-old is a capable back that offers plenty of upside. He’s run for 2,631 yards and 17 TD’s while averaging 4.0 yards per attempt throughout his career. Add in the fact he’s had 134 catches for 1,009 yards and two TD’s, and it’s easy to understand how one might be misled.

However, behind the veil, it becomes apparent that he is actually a runner in decline. Last season, Pro Football Focus graded Fournette’s all-around game at a 64.0, which is a step back from his inspiring sophomore campaign that was eventually cut short by injuries. Last year’s performance was very uninspiring and ranked 47th among 58 eligible backs. His run-grade is near the bottom of the league, and despite receiving a boost as a receiver out of the backfield he was abysmal in situations when asked to pass block.

Leonard Fournette Injury History

Dating back to his time in Baton Rouge, it has been obvious that Fournette is an individual who is physically blessed. Standing six-feet tall and weighing 228 pounds, he looks like a man sculpted from marble that many would think is indestructible. However, his injury history is long enough to stretch at least ten yards between the chains.

Since 2016, he has missed 22 games including 12 regular-season contests, three in the preseason, and seven in college. The time missed includes multiple ankle sprains, a foot injury, both knee and quad bruises, and most recently a thigh/hamstring strain that derailed a promising 2018 campaign. In 2019, he ruled himself out for one game in December because of the flu.

Money Factor

Entering the fourth year of a rookie deal signed in 2017, it appears there is little financial risk in acquiring Leonard Fournette. According to Spotrac, he is owed $4.1 million this season and has no guaranteed money remaining on the contract.

There is a provision in the contract that allows for an $8.4 million team-option to be enacted in 2021, which would be a bargain considering his current estimated market value sits at $10.8 million annually. The figure would rank fifth among all NFL running backs if he were re-signed today. 

His player comps based on age, contract status, and statistical performance are Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman, and Melvin Gordon.

Leonard Fournette, Detroit Lions All Wrong

At this point in his career, the idea of the Lions trading for Fournette would be the equivalent of buying a shiny, pre-owned vehicle with a history of powertrain issues. He has the potential to perform at a high level, but it’s uncertain how long that production would last. Given his history of injuries that date back to college, there doesn’t seem to be plenty of upside in this acquisition. 

Detroit needs to acquire talent now, but not at the expense of draft picks that could be used to acquire younger, healthier runners in a draft class that shows great depth at the position including runners like D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins.

Furthermore, his valuation in the current market for rushers seems overvalued. In the event Fournette stays healthy and performs well this season and next, he’d be in line for a massive contract entering free agency in 2022. That scenario would have the potential to be overshadowed by injury risks that could prove to be insurmountable if he’s awarded another four-year contract. Case studies have what’s happened with Gurley and Freeman’s over-hyped contacts the past few seasons. 

The Detroit Lions need a reliable, impact player at the running back position that can be utilized at a low, entry-level price over the next four years. What they can’t afford is an injury-riddled, ESPN Body Issue candidate that doesn’t get into the endzone very often and is among the worst backfield pass-blockers in the league. Acquiring Fournette brings the potential for high reward, but he seems destined to spend a large amount of time in the Motor City at the body shop, or even worse a junkyard.

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