Leonard Fournette was supposed to be the guy who broke the LSU Heisman-less streak, which dated back to Billy Cannon in 1959. Fournette got close a few years back, but came up short. On Saturday night, Joe Burrow did it for him.
This is only relevant because Fournette has been much more hyped than productive for most of his career, whether it be at LSU or in Jacksonville.
This season though, he is delivering big time. He ranks ninth entering Sunday in rushing yards with 1,039. He’s also obliterated his previous season-best in receptions and receiving yards. In his rookie year he had 36 catches and 302 yards. This year, through 13 games, he has 68 receptions and 457 yards.
The question then becomes, where does he rank among the running backs the Oakland Raiders have faced in 2019?
There are a few possible ways to answer that. One could be to take an analytics approach and start bringing in DVOA and Expected Points, and the whole nine yards. While that’s valuable, it misses some things. Another would be to simply rank them by the good ‘ole eye test. A third would be to match them up, Round Robin tournament style, and see who lands where.
That’s the approach I’m going to take, though for the sake of time I’m going by my final rankings rather than chronologically.
Case for Cook: He’s been more efficient and leads the league in rushing despite having a better passing game.
Case for Fournette: Could the routinely injured Cook hold up with the amount of carries and receptions Fournette has seen in 2019?
2. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Played Raiders Week 14)
Case for Henry: Similarly more efficient and provides higher impact plays late in games.
Case for Fournette: Fournette has shined regardless of the quality of his quarterback, whereas Henry and the Titans offense required a change to Ryan Tannehill to get going.
3. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (Plays Raiders Week 15)
Obviously, Fournette cannot matchup against himself. Here’s the spot to note more interesting tidbits about him. For instance, he’s on pace to have his first season averaging over 4.0 yards per carry. It’s not much, but considering that he’s been the rushing offense—and much of the passing offense—it’s pretty impressive.
Case for Jones: Jones has developed into a dynamic pass receiver who runs routes Fournette could only dream of, while remaining a quality runner out of the backfield.
Case for Fournette: Fournette is much more of a threat than Jones to run a defender over.
5. Melvin Gordon/Austin Ekeler combo, Los Angeles Chargers (Played Raiders Week 10)
Case for Gordon/Ekeler: Individually, both Gordon and Ekeler have cases to be made for why they’re better than Fournette. As a combination, Gordon and Ekeler presented (and present in Week 16) a kind of thunder and lightning that not many other teams bring into a game against the Raiders.
Case for Fournette: He potentially is a jack-of-all-trades and thus harder to predict from an opposing standpoint.
6. Duke Johnson/Carolos Hyde, Houston Texans (Played Raiders Week 8)
Case for Johnson/Hyde: We’re getting to the point where it’s clear that Fournette is better than anything else another team has to offer. What’s scary about that is, Carlos Hyde ran for 83 yards, while Duke Johnson had four catches, 33 yards, and a touchdown against Oakland earlier this year.
Case for Fournette: It’s not out of the question that he could match that statline on his own Sunday in Oakland.
7. Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (Played Raiders Week 12)
Case for Bell: He was really good two years ago.
Case for Fournette: He’s much better than he was a year ago, and markedly better than in his rookie campaign.
8. Philip Lindsay/Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos (Played Raiders Week 1)
Case for Lindsay/Freeman: They’re basically the same player, so you always have a fresh version of a similar guy.
Case for Fournette: That’s actually a pretty good argument. Ryquell Armstead isn’t really the same kind of back as Fournette. It drastically changes the offense when the rookie from Temple is in the game.
Case for Mixon: I honestly only have Mixon this high because I know there are lots of other football analysts who think quite highly of him. I really never have.
Case for Fournette: His team only started tanking last week against the Chargers.
10. LeSean McCoy/Damien Williams/Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs (Played Raiders Week 2)
Case for the KC Trio: It’s a true running back-by-committee approach in Kansas City this year. No single player dominates carries or reps. But the offense keeps humming along.
Case for Fournette: There’s less chance for ego to get in the way when Fournette has a clear backup who is a rookie. The Jags can afford to have a bellcow, and he’s delivered.
Case for Mack: He has one of the dopest early hip-hop songs named after him.
Case for Fournette: Fournette is from Baton Rouge, an underrated bastion of hip-hop talent.
Case for Cohen/Montgomery: The Raiders and Bears were both essentially road teams in London. They had no built-in advantage over the Raiders.
Case for Fournette: Fournette might lowkey have some real estate in London, maybe Windsor. The Jags have become such a mainstay in London, so it would have been a big disadvantage for the Raiders had they played this game in London.
13. Darwin Thompson/LeSean McCoy/Darrien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs (Played Raiders Week 13)
Case for KC Trio: They scored 40 points. Fournette’s Jags will have a tough time doing that tomorrow in Oakland’s home finale.
Case for Fournette: It’s within the realm of possibility that Fournette plays spoiler in a game everyone expects and hopes the Raiders will win.
14. Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions (Played Raiders Week 9)
Case for Johnson: Umm...he has such a nondescript name and backstory, he’s easy to forget to gameplan against.
Case for Fournette: In spite of struggles in his career, he’s been the guy his entire time in Jacksonville. Don’t expect that to change one bit on Sunday in Oakland.