Reports had swirled for months about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ intent of trading running back Leonard Fournette, yet his release still feels like a surprise thanks to the timing of it all. In 10 days, the NFL will kick off its season, and the Jaguars will look much different on both sides of the ball after waiving Fournette and trading defensive end Yannick Ngakoue mere hours apart from each other.
Where will Leonard Fournette land?
Fournette is entering his fourth year, which means he’ll be subjected to the NFL’s waivers system. Any team can place a claim on him and pick up his $4.17 million in remaining salary, which clears the Jaguars of that cap charge. In the offseason, waivers are ordered from the worst to best record of the prior season, meaning the Cincinnati Bengals have the first crack at acquiring Fournette. Should he pass through waivers unclaimed, he becomes a free agent and is available to sign with any club at any price.
Looking through the order, the teams with higher levels of needing a running back include the Washington Football Team, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans. All of those rosters have someone at least penciled in as a starter, suggesting Fournette would be in a tough spot to enter the year as a starter. He could serve as an expensive insurance policy for Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Jordan Howard or David Montgomery — none of which appears to be likely.
A surprise team to watch may be the Detroit Lions. Running back Kerryon Johnson is flimsy, and second-round rookie D’Andre Swift continues to miss time with an undisclosed leg ailment.
In all likelihood, Fournette will hit the open market and be free to find the best fit. That said, those teams also are the premium options for now, unless an injury or surprising cut prior to the season opens a roster spot for him.
In 2019, Fournette overcame a tumultuous offseason battle with the organization to have a bounce-back year for the Jags. He averaged 17.4 PPR points after a career high of 17.7 as a rookie, regressing to 15.1 in the middle. His worth last year was largely carried by a whopping 76 receptions — mostly dump-off passes — and the bruising back’s touchdown count has dwindled each year since entering the league. Combine those concerns with injury history and a questionable attitude, it will be no shocker if Fournette remains unemployed well into the regular season.
The team to watch closely is Chicago. Quarterback Nick Foles spent a year with Fournette and could vouch for him to the front office. Of course, Montgomery is expected to miss up to four weeks with a groin injury, but there’s no guarantee he is up to speed until several weeks afterward.
From the Jaguars’ perspective, this move leaves second-year back Ryquell Armstead tentatively the starter and Chris Thompson the change-up guy locked in as a third-down specialist. Running backs Devine Ozigbo, Nathan Cottrell, James Robinson and fullback Bruce Miller round out the remaining stable. Yeah, those impressive guys…
The free-agent market is barren at the moment, aside from Devonta Freeman. He’d cost a similar amount to what Fournette was on the books for prior to being sent packing. Alfred Blue, a former Jaguar, is a 29-year-old free agent.
There’s a reasonable chance Washington cuts Adrian Peterson if Bryce Love and Antonio Gibson continue to impress, so All Day would get a chance to be reunited with Jay Gruden, making the transition seamless. Derrius Guice is a free agent and knows the offense, although he’s likely to be suspended after an offseason arrest.
Other former Gruden guys with a possibility to sign could include Samaje Perine and Wendell Smallwood — hardly starting material. Both currently are on rosters and would need to get cut first.
Carlos Hyde could be an option to return to Jacksonville, should he be released by the Seattle Seahawks now that Rashaad Penny (knee) is once again on the field and rookie DeeJay Dallas has impressed.
Fantasy football takeaway
No matter the name, Jacksonville’s primary runner isn’t going to set the world ablaze in fantasy football in 2020. The offensive line is suspect, and everyone but Thompson is learning a new system in a tough defensive division.
Watch the situation play out as the Saturday, Sept. 5, roster deadline nears. Veterans are bound to be cut, and all it takes is one proven back to be thrown into this mix to muck it up for Armstead, the current front-runner for a starter’s workload. As it stands, he’s a fringe RB2 and a better flex target. Thompson is a matchup-based flex, but only in PPR formats. Earmark an RB3 or flex spot should a veteran enter the fray.
As for Fournette, his value is solely contingent upon where he lands. Talent alone, he’s a No. 2 fantasy back. Situationally, he could fall all the way down to unplayable, should a team with a star back add him for depth.
The primary format to select all of these backs is in best-ball drafts. You won’t have to invest as much draft capital, and the penalty isn’t be as harsh for being wrong, but the pay-off ends up being more lucrative for taking such a gamble.