It’s pretty safe to say nothing on the field has bothered former LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Carrying the burden of an entire position’s future, the pressure of living up to mammoth expectations and the uncertainty of where he could go in the 2017 NFL Draft hasn’t done so either.
Fournette has embraced all of it. There isn’t a better example of that fact than his recent interview with Sports Illustrated. In addition to the interview, the running back appears on the cover of the magazine’s most recent addition.
— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) April 12, 2017
In the story, Sports Illustrated highlighted Fournette’s rise in the football ranks as a young teenager, where they compare him to a “football version of an AAU basketball prodigy.”
With so much success at the amateur level, Fournette enters this year’s NFL draft with huge expectations, but if met, he could further change the way teams view the importance of running backs.
It wasn’t too long ago that future All-Pro backs such as Le’Veon Bell lasted until late in the second round of the draft. More NFL teams transitioned to the “running back by committee” formula every season, and with a very short shelf life, the position appeared to be dying.
But a running back renaissance began two years ago with Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon going in the first round. Last season, Ezekiel Elliott went fourth overall and was an MVP candidate during his rookie season.
Pete Thamel wrote in the SI cover story:
Fournette enters the NFL at a dark time for backs. Franchise-tag values—essentially the average salary of the top five players at a position—provide a barometer for how NFL general managers gauge a position’s value, and in 2017 running back ranks as the eighth highest paid of 11 positions. (Average salary: $12.1 million.) That puts Fournette & Co. ahead of only tight ends, safeties and kickers/punters.
Part of that can be explained by the NFL’s infatuation with—and dedication of financial resources to—the passing game, and part to the costly investments in some recent first-round flameouts. But the Cowboys took Elliott with the No. 4 pick in ’16, and his dynamic rookie season—1,631 rushing yards, 16 total TDs—“has made people go back and take a look at the value of the running back,” says one NFL coach.
Not only does Fournette carry the burden of living up to his own expectations, but the value of his position could depend upon him too — no matter which team takes him in the top 10. But as Sports Illustrated documented, that doesn’t faze Fournette one bit.