Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will "dare to compare" prospects to NFL players throughout the college football season. This week, he provides a scouting report and comp for LSU RB Leonard Fournette.
Leonard Fournette was the toast of college football in the first half of the 2015 season. In fact, he was the Heisman Trophy front-runner until he ran into a Crimson wall known as the Alabama defensive front in the ninth game of the year. Fournette began to lose momentum and wasn't even a Heisman finalist, but many believed heading into this season that the award was his to lose in 2016.
However, the LSU RB suffered an ankle injury in mid-August that slowed him this season. He aggravated the injury several times, which cost him four games. Here's my thumbnail scouting report and comp for Fournette.
Fournette has grown-man size (6-foot-1, 235 pounds, per school measurements) and strength. He runs like he is the predator rather than the prey and isn't afraid to lower his pads to unload on a cornerback or safety. He uses his brute force as a form of intimidation and as a tool in breaking tackles to churn out more yardage. Fournette runs with powerful leg drive and has become much better at running behind his pads rather than running upright, which he did at times as a freshman in 2014.
He has breakaway speed in the open field and doesn't need a long runway to work up to his top gear. He's able to locate his burst quickly, which helps him get around the corner faster than most backs we've seen at his size. He has become more subtle with some of his cuts and is less likely to gear down as much as we saw when he was younger. Fournette's hands are decent -- he has shown an ability to catch the ball and protect on third down this season. The junior is a workhorse.
Some scouts have expressed concerns about Fournette's punishing running style. He rarely gives tacklers a free pass, which opens him up to punishment he doesn't have to take. Fournette's power and speed are more than enough to help create high-end yardage totals for himself, but he can still improve with better vision and footwork when wading through the murk between the tackles. While Fournette has improved as a third-down option, he still has some work to do as a receiver and pass protector.
Here's where I'm supposed to compare Fournette to Adrian Peterson. After all, Peterson has become an NFL legend and one of the dominant runners of our time by combining his power, sheer will and breakaway speed. To be sure, Fournette possesses Peterson's power, will and speed, but he's even bigger than "All Day" and lacks Peterson's lateral footwork and suddenness.
The list of running backs with Fournette's size, power and speed is a relatively short one, but there's one player who stands out as a very reasonable comparison -- Bo Jackson. Jackson came into the league at a chiseled 6-1 and 230 pounds, which is about the same size as Fournette. Jackson (college) and Fournette (high school) were both track and field stars. Fournette showed off his power this weekend, adding to his legend, while "Tecmo Bo" is a video-game reference that is an homage to the seemingly impossible task of tackling Jackson. Both Jackson and Fournette are a little stiffer in the hips with their running styles, but it doesn't, and didn't (in Jackson's case), seem to have any impact on their production.
Awesome power and breakaway speed are the defining characteristics of both runners. Fournette has a chance to build his legend on the back of one sport, rather than the two (baseball and football) where Jackson thrived.