Did you know that Leonard Fournette averaged 21.7 fantasy points and a 73% snap share during the 2020 postseason? His exploits in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ run to the Super Bowl were legendary. Can Fournette translate his postseason success into regular-season success in 2021? Furthermore, what is Fournette’s fantasy football outlook for 2021, and is he worth the gamble at his current ADP?
Leonard Fournette’s fantasy outlook for 2021
Fournette’s career has been up and down like the S&P 500 since he entered the NFL in 2017. The fourth-year running back has had two seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and another two with less than 450.
From a fantasy perspective, Fournette has finished as an RB2 or better in 64% of his 49 career games in PPR formats. In 2020, according to Pro Football Reference, he joined Arian Foster, Franco Harris, and Marcus Allen as the only players in NFL history with 350 or more rushing yards, 5 or more rushing touchdowns, and 1 receiving touchdown in their first five career playoff games.
The Buccaneers’ running back by committee
The issue with the Buccaneers is that running back is one of the deepest positions on the team. You can make an argument that three out of the four could be starters for other teams. We’ve already discussed Fournette’s statistical body of work, but let’s not forget about Jones. The former second-round pick has been very productive over the last three seasons.
Jones has been inconsistent but has accumulated 2,253 total yards and scored 15 touchdowns since his rookie campaign back in 2018. Jones set a career-high in opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets) last season with 234. He was the clear starter for most of the regular season and finished as an RB2 or better in 43% of his games in PPR formats.
The Buccaneers also have second-year RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn on the roster. He was only active in seven games last year and averaged 14 snaps per game. As a reminder, Vaughn spent two seasons at the University of Illinois before deciding to transfer to Vanderbilt University. After sitting out the 2017 season, he again picked up his college career against SEC competition.
Vaughn’s nine career 100-yard performances rank fourth all-time in Vanderbilt history. Additionally, his 21 career rushing touchdowns rank third in school history. Vaughn’s only the third RB in Commodore history to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians mentioned earlier this offseason that he expects a breakout season from Vaughn in 2021.
Giovani Bernard is more valuable than you think
Last but not least, I must discuss the Buccaneers acquisition of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard has played in 115 games for his career, rushing for 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns on 921 attempts. Additionally, Bernard has heavily contributed as a receiver out of the backfield with 342 career receptions. That is not only the most by a Bengals RB, but the second-most in franchise history. His presence is a serious threat not only to Fournette, but also to Jones.
Fournette and Jones were not dependable on third down. Neither back pass protected well, and they weren’t effective as receivers out of the backfield. For Buccaneers starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, that’s a non-negotiable. Given the success that Brady and running back James White had during their time together in New England, this could have been the reason Bernard was brought into the fold.
Buccaneers’ passing attack
The Buccaneers’ running game last season was not significant. They ranked 27th in rushing attempts per game (24.5) but seventh in pass attempts (37.2). Additionally, Tampa Bay ranked 25th with an average of 100.5 rushing yards per game.
Brady did target his running backs 7.4 times per game out of the backfield, and the Buccaneers are likely to continue to lean more on its passing game. When you have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown on the roster, that is rational coaching.
It will be fascinating to see how Arians and running backs coach Todd McNair diversify the touches in the backfield with so many mouths to feed. Fournette and Jones will compete for the title of starter, but from a fantasy lens, they’ll hurt each other’s value. Neither back is likely to see many targets. I believe those will be provided to Bernard and Vaughn this season.
In 2021, Fournette projects for around 13 opportunities per game. Yet, this would increase substantially if Jones were to miss time. Fournette can be viewed as more of a high-end RB3. A reasonable projection for him is around 188 opportunities, 850 total yards, and 6 touchdowns.
Leonard Fournette’s ADP
Fournette is available in the seventh round of 12-team leagues when reviewing his ADP in half PPR formats on Fleaflicker. He is available slightly later in pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship, where Fournette has an ADP of 105.3. His ADP in half PPR formats on Sleeper (87.9) is similar to that on Fleaflicker.
Should you draft Fournette at this ADP in 2021?
I’m not going out of my way in a fantasy draft to select Fournette at his ADP. Other players at his ADP are better positioned to provide a solid return on investment you should consider prioritizing, such as Chase Claypool, Damien Harris, or Courtland Sutton.