How Leonard Fournette Affects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Backs

Leonard Fournette

The NFL season is just one week away, but that didn’t stop the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from making a huge move. Last night, the Buccaneers signed Leonard Fournette to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Prior to the move, former second-round pick Ronald Jones was all-but assured the early-down role. However, that will definitely change with Fournette in town. The only question is – will this be a committee approach, or will this be Fournette’s show?

Resetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Back Depth Chart With Leonard Fournette

Early-Down Carries: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones

Let’s start this breakdown with the man of the hour. It goes without saying that Leonard Fournette is going to have a big role in the offense. The former Jaguars is coming off of a 300-touch season and the Buccaneers wouldn’t have signed him if they didn’t expect him to see at least a portion of the early-down work.

However, it’s hard to see him earning the three-down role he had back in Jacksonville. In 2019, Fournette recorded 265 rushing attempts and 76 receptions, but that was mostly due to a lack of competition. The 2019 Jaguars had one of the least talented backfields in football, so Fournette basically earned those touches by default. After all, it’s not that hard to beat out Ryquell Armstead.

Fournette faces some tougher competition in Tampa. Ronald Jones is no Barry Sanders, but he is a competent starter with the trust of the coaching staff. Were it not for Fournette’s release, Jones would’ve been the unquestioned starter for a true Super Bowl contender. Quite frankly, Bruce Arians and company wouldn’t have let this happen if they didn’t believe Jones was up for the job.

Fournette is a better talent, but he’ll need some time to learn the playbook and earn Tom Brady’s trust. Once he does that, he’ll probably be the leader of the backfield. However, even then it’ll probably be a 60/40 split for carries, with Fournette receiving most of the goal line work.

Passing Downs: Dare Ogunbowale, Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette finished 2019 with 76 receptions for 522 yards, which seems good at first glance. However, a closer dive shows that Fournette was actually incredibly inefficient as a receiver. The former first-round pick saw 100 targets and averaged just 6.9 yards-per-reception. The advanced stats were not any nicer, as he ranked 42nd among running backs in Football Outsiders receiving DVOA and his 33.6 PFF pass-blocking grade was one of the worst in the league. Nobody values pass blocking more than Bruce Arians, and this could keep Fournette sidelined on passing downs.

Put simply, Dare Ogunbowale is a much better receiving back and should see most of the targets. Tom Brady historically likes to throw to his running backs, but don’t expect Ogunbowale or Fournette to put up James White type of numbers. Brady hasn’t had a group of receivers this talented since 2007, so he won’t have to throw to running backs as often. However, when he does, it’ll probably be Ogunbowale on the field, with Fournette serving as the primary receiving backup.

The Benchwarmers: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, LeSean McCoy

Fournette, Jones, and Ogunbowale all should have roles of varying size in this offense. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and LeSean McCoy, meanwhile, will have a hard time making an impact. The Buccaneers drafted Vaughn for his receiving ability, but the third-round pick has not lived up to the hype. By all accounts, the rookie has had a terrible camp and is well behind Jones and Ogunbowale on the depth chart. It’s obviously far too early to make any sweeping declarations about his career, but we’re off to a bad start.

McCoy, meanwhile, probably won’t make the team. The once-great running back clearly isn’t the player he used to be and is going to battle Ogunbowale for the pass-catching role. The two are similar talents on offense, but the tie should go to Ogunbowale, seeing as he can contribute on special teams. The Buccaneers will probably only carry four running backs, and McCoy is the most expendable of the bunch.

Fantasy Football Impact

For those in the fantasy football community, Leonard Fournette is going to be the back to own. He should see a decent chunk of the carries, and the majoirty of the goal-line work. The Buccaneers should have plenty of scoring opportunities, so Fournette has an outside shot of finishing the year with double-digit touchdowns. However, Ronald Jones isn’t going to completely go away, so this will put a cap on Fournette’s ceiling. Additionally, Dare Ogunbowale should lead the running backs in targets.

Ultimately, Fournette should be a safe RB2 with RB1 upside if the touchdowns go his way. Jones and Ogunbowale are fine bench pieces in deeper leagues, but you hopefully won’t have to start either. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and LeSean McCoy, meanwhile, probably won’t carry any type of fantasy relevance without multiple injuries decimating the depth chart.

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