The Jaguars ended August with a bang by deciding to release their starting running back Leonard Fournette this morning. Everyone who plays fantasy football had a feeling that this would be the end of the road for Fournette in Jacksonville, but very few saw him being released before the year even began. Some, myself included, considered Fournette a candidate to get traded during free agency, but the Jaguars apparently had a rough time finding a trade partner. Now that he’s released, what does this mean for Fournette in fantasy for 2020?
Leonard Fournette’s Fantasy Value for 2020 – Looking back
Fournette’s stat line from last season was fairly impressive as a whole. He ran the ball 265 times for a career-high 1,152 yards (4.34 ypc) and rushed for three touchdowns. Through the air, Fournette added a whopping 76 receptions on 100 targets for 522 yards, all career highs as well. On paper, the man was a stud.
Fournette ranked as RB5 in terms of PFN’s Consistency Score (CS) for fantasy players, meaning he was more consistent than almost any other fantasy running back out there. From a pure contribution to his offensive standpoint, Fournette surpassed expectations there too, scoring an Offensive Share Metric (OSM) score of 18.23 for the season, ranking him at RB10. Based on the numbers alone, releasing him appears to make zero sense.
The writing was on the wall for Fournette
That being said, there is some data to help explain the move. Fournette’s Fantasy Point Differential (FPD) for 2019 was a -18%, meaning he scored 18% fewer fantasy points than expected given his stats. On top of that, the Jaguars declined Fournette’s fifth-year option. PFN’s Zachary Knerr wrote that “[this] signals that the Jaguars might be ready to move on from Fournette and follow the trend of letting RBs test the waters of free agency after their rookie contract expires.”
Most fantasy analysts have been discussing the bust potential of Fournette all off-season, including our own Tommy Garrett:
“Entering 2020, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, who brought with him, Chris Thompson. I am not saying that Thompson is going to lead the team in touches. I think that the combination of him and a team who is likely to be in negative games scripts all season will lead to a drop in Fournette’s value by the time the season ends and that he will end up on several postseason bust lists.”
The writing was clearly on that wall. Prior to his release, there were all sorts of signs that pointed to this as a possible outcome, even as far back as Week 13 of 2018. That week, Fournette was suspended for a game, and the Jaguars used that to void his remaining bonuses owed on his rookie contract. Looking back, they started planning their exit strategy over a year ago. If you just look at the numbers, releasing him comes as a shock, but if you listen to the team and look at their actions, the move had been in the works for a while.
Fournette to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fournette signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an incentive laced one-year deal worth $3.5 million on Wednesday afternoon, according to Ian Rapoport. This was after he cleared waivers from all 32 teams. He, in all likelihood, should step into the starting spot immediately, ahead of incumbent starter Ronald Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
I do expect him to see a slightly smaller role than he was expected to get in Jacksonville, but the Buccaneers are a much better team than the Jags, and Fournette should see a bump in touchdown opportunities. He is the most talented player in the muddied running back room in Tampa Bay (Matt Williamson ranked Fournette as the 17th best running back in the NFL for 2020), and Bruce Arians and Tom Brady are going for a championship this year. I expect them to play their best players and not hesitate to run Fournette into the ground if necessary.
What do we do with Fournette in fantasy drafts in 2020?
Fournette should see his ADP return to something resembling his pre-Jaguars release value. For now, I would place him as a late RB2 or early RB3 and around running backs like Kareem Hunt, Cam Akers, Mark Ingram, and above new teammate Ronald Jones.
If you’re feeling froggy, you could even take him ahead of guys like Raheem Mostert and Devin Singletary, but I don’t think you will have to, and you could be staring down good value in the fifth round if your league-mates are scared off.
This also means current ADP values for Jones, LeSean McCoy, and Vaughn will likely plummet. Behind Fournette, the only RB battle to watch would be between McCoy and fourth-year man Dare Ogunbowale for pass-catching duties after Fournette.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.