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 Leonard 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 offense 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.
What do we do with Fournette in fantasy drafts?
Leonard Fournette’s fantasy value for 2020 isn’t technically zero, at least not yet. He could still find a home with a team off of waivers. Matt Williamson ranked Fournette as the 17th best running back in the NFL for 2020, even mentioning that “[he] is also a candidate to be traded during the season.” So while the Jaguars didn’t want him, he’s clearly got something left in the tank for a team that needs RB depth.
Since the news dropped Monday morning, fantasy and NFL fans alike have been speculating as to where he will land. A few teams come to mind as candidates to me, such as Washington, who just lost RB Derrius Guice, Chicago, with RB David Montgomery dealing with a new injury, and New England, who is always on the lookout for veteran talent at a discount. If you already had your draft, I recommend playing the waiting game. He could wind up somewhere good, and you’d be kicking yourself for getting out too soon.
However, if your draft is coming up, I’d avoid drafting Fournette before the tenth round or so until we find out if he has a new home and what that might mean for his production this season. Odds are good that Fournette goes to a team that hurts his fantasy value for 2020, and likely down the road. Wherever he lands, he’s likely not much more than a bye week fill-in for your team, so draft accordingly.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.