Leonard Fournette Released!
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In a surprising but then not altogether shocking move, the Jaguars have released Leonard Fournette less than two weeks from Week 1. Earlier this offseason, Jacksonville declined Fournette’s fifth-year option, and they also made it clear around the NFL Draft that he was acquirable via trade. When they didn’t find any suitors, they held onto him.
Those were warning signs that made Fournette a polarizing Fantasy Football option for 2020. A big concern was with a history of underwhelming effort, including a team-imposed suspension in his rookie season, that Fournette might not be the lead back through the full 2020 season — Jacksonville had already signaled its intent to move on after the season, and this is a team building for the future. Instead, Fournette doesn’t make it to Week 1 with the Jaguars ready to go another way sooner than later.
The FFT crew broke down the implications of Fournette’s release on a breaking news edition of the Fantasy Football Today podcast. Follow all our podcasts and subscribe here.
So what does it leave behind? Chris Thompson is maybe the biggest name in the backfield, but the oft-injured pass-catching back hasn’t played more than 11 games in a season since 2016 and turns 30 in October. He could have a strong PPR role if he stays healthy, but he’s very unlikely to handle the early-down work.
That leaves a few intriguing youngsters who have largely been afterthoughts in Fantasy drafts who will have the potential to take over a significant workload. Ryquell Armstead was Jacksonville’s fifth-round pick out of Temple in 2019, and he ran an impressive 4.45 40-yard dash at last year’s Combine given his listed weight of 220 pounds. Though he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 35 rushes in his rookie season, he showed some of that explosiveness in the passing game, averaging more than 10 yards per reception on his 14 catches, including two receiving scores.
But Armstead unfortunately found himself on the COVID-19 list early in camp, which paved the way for another youngster, Devine Ozigbo, to shine. A former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, Ozigbo is similar in size to Armstead but ran a less impressive 4.54 at his pro day, and pro day results are notoriously favorable to prospects. Ozigbo latched on with Jacksonville in 2019, but saw just 12 touches last season, all in Week 17. Still, he has been receiving positive buzz, and while he was clearly behind Armstead on the depth chart last season, and there’s no guarantee he hasn’t since eclipsed him.
With Fournette out of the picture, both backs become interesting upside picks after Round 10. There’s a substantial amount of available opportunity, but the uncertainty of the backfield, the overall lack of upside in the offense and the presence of Thompson in the passing game means there’s not enough appeal here to chase these guys into the single-digit rounds, at least not unless we get some clarity on a clear lead back on early downs. There are many ways this could play out, including Jacksonville bringing in a late veteran addition to soak up some touches, a la Houston with Carlos Hyde or Kansas City with LeSean McCoy last season. They also have an appealing 2020 undrafted free agent in James Robinson out of Illinois State, who becomes a deep league sleeper.
One major impact to this news is what it means for Jacksonville’s offense. With the addition of Laviska Shenault in the second round of the NFL Draft and the commitment to former collegiate spread offense star Gardner Minshew at quarterback, there were already signs this team could be pass heavy. The release of Fournette removes a potential barrier to that, and the lack of backfield clarity and recent resolution of the Yannick Ngakoue saga with his trade to Minnesota further depleting the talent on the defensive side of the ball, this looks like a team that will trail in a lot of games and throw a ton of passes.
Shenault, it should be noted, handled some wildcat snaps in college and rushed for seven touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons. This is an uptick for the rising rookie both in terms of potential passing game contributions and the possibility that he sees some Deebo Samuel-type usage as a runner. He’s one of my favorite late-round rookies in 2020 drafts.
Fournette’s value immediately takes a significant hit. If I was drafting today, I wouldn’t be able to take him any sooner than Round 12, but I’m not sure I’d draft him at all. While he’ll almost certainly land somewhere, his skill set doesn’t translate to much more than an early-down plodder workload, and the question marks around not just his production but also effort and work ethic mean we could be looking at someone who is never very productive again. That said, he’s obviously very talented, and still quite young at 25. If he lands in the right spot, and quickly, this opinion could change. It’s just difficult at this moment to imagine another team welcoming him in with open arms and opening up the type of workload necessary to make him an appealing Fantasy player.
Which players are poised for breakouts, which sleepers do you need to jump on, and which busts should you avoid at all costs in your Fantasy football league? Visit SportsLine now to get early rankings, plus see which WR is going to come out of nowhere to crack the top 10, all from the model that out-performed experts big time last season.
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