The Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with Leonard Fournette on Monday after spending much of the offseason trying to trade the former No. 4 pick. While the LSU running back never lived up to his legendary billing out of college, the 2017 Heisman winner is still young enough, and talented enough to make a major impact on the right team.
It’s easy to laugh at the Jaguars for taking Fournette over Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffery, or DeShaun Watson — but at the time the pick was universally celebrated. Seen as the “next big thing” in NFL backs, the workhorse was supposed to put the Jaguars over the top and solidify their offense with Blake Bortles. It didn’t take long for everything to crumble, despite Fournette having the best season of his career in 2019 with 1,152 yards rushing while improving his presence in the passing game with 522 yards receiving.
At 25-years old there’s still a good chance he could rebound, and there are several teams that make a ton of sense. Fournette will need to clear waivers, but assuming he does these are the best spots for him as a free agent.
No. 1: Kansas City Chiefs
The Super Bowl champs already boast the best offense in the NFL, but as it stands they’re putting a lot of faith in rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire to establish their running game. Edwards-Helaire is a vaunted prospect who will help a lot, but he’s a little in the mold of Brian Westbrook. A smaller, shifty back with home run potential whenever he touches the ball.
Westbrook was part of a committee running back system for much of his time with Andy Reid’s Eagles, often splitting carries with the bigger, North-South style of Correll Buckhalter. The comparisons here are too obvious, and for this reason Fournette could be an excellent complimentary power back to help the Chiefs.
No. 2: Pittsburgh Steelers
Even if they don’t want to admit it, the Steelers miss LeVeon Bell’s presence on the field. James Conner once held the status of being the next big Pittsburgh back, but his durability has become a concern.
Mike Tomlin loves power backs. Conner was a bit of a shift in this methodology. It’s primarily for this reason that Fournette makes a ton of sense. Not only can he be an insurance policy for Conner, should injury rear its head, but would represent a stylistic shift back into Tomlin’s wheelhouse.
This isn’t a case of advocating Fournette becomes the lead back from the jump, but rather an acknowledgement that the Steelers need running back help badly, and Fournette would be a high-upside, low-risk option for them.
No. 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There’s no mistaking what’s happening in Tampa: The Bucs are in win-now mode. They are stacking the team to the moon and hoping it all meshes for one or two big runs for a title. There’s some talent at running back there with Ronald Jones II and LeSean McCoy, but it’s unclear how much either can contribute, and will likely be a committee situation.
The Buccaneers are going to be throwing the ball a lot in 2020, a lot. That will be the focus of the offense, but a back like Fournette would definitely add to the offense. That could be enough to earn a contract in a team willing to take risks to add talent.
No. 4: Seattle Seahawks
This is going to be my lazy pick, if only because I feel it’s necessary to include Seattle whenever you talk about potential landing spots for a running back. That said, this does make a little sense beyond the obvious.
Chris Carson is excellent, but he’s fumble prone. He coughed the ball up six times in 2019 alone, and that’s a killer for an offense. Don’t forget: This was a team so desperate for RB help that they took a flier on Marshawn Lynch to help them in the playoffs. That alone is good enough reason to believe there’s a chance Fournette could end up on the Seahawks.
No. 5: San Francisco 49ers
Matt Brieda was dealt to the Dolphins in the offseason, and while Raheem Mostert and the Niners appear to have cleared the air, things are still tenuous in San Fran.
Fournette is the kind of back made for the bruising, defense-heavy style of the 49ers, and considering the leap forward he took in helping the passing game in 2019 there’s a good chance he makes a lot of sense for the team.
No. 6: Carolina Panthers
Let this be the “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?!” wildcard to close out this list. On paper it would seem that the Panthers have ZERO need for another back with McCaffery carrying the load, but perhaps this is why it also makes sense.
Carolina is moving to an LSU-inspired offense with former Tigers’ offensive coordinator Joe Brady at the helm, and after McCaffery their next best back is 27-year-old Mike Davis, who ran for 27 yards last year. The way to keep McCaffery healthy could be to have someone on the roster to take some of the hard-yard downs, and the romanticism of a team having both McCaffery and Fournette, the two vaunted backs from 2017, is too good to pass up.