The Case of Leonard Fournette

In the past few days there has been much discussion on whether or not Leonard Fournette should challenge the NFL rule about being three years out of high school to enter the NFL Draft. There also been discussion about whether or not Fournette should sit out the 2016 season if he can’t enter the Draft. By playing he risks injury, therefore some think he should sit out until he is ready to be drafted and sign an NFL contract. It is my opinion that both of those thoughts are ludicrous. I have mentioned in a few other articles that in the last two years, close to 200 underclassmen have declared for the NFL Draft and close to 40% of those players did not get drafted. Many didn’t get drafted because they aren’t emotionally and physically ready to play in the NFL. The NFL is far more demanding from a physical viewpoint than any other professional team sport. Most 19 and 20 year olds are not close to being ready to compete against men in a sport like football. Fournette has all the physical traits desired in a top flight running back. He has size, speed, instincts and strength but just because he is a very productive running back at LSU it doesn’t mean that he will be just as productive in the NFL. It is a far different game. When you study a running back, it is best to view the player from the end zone tape. There you get a much better idea of the player’s vision and instincts as well as his strength and power. When watching from the end zone view, the thing that sticks out the most is that college holes are much larger than NFL holes. In college games we see holes at schools like LSU and Alabama that are about three to four yards wide at times. You never see that in the NFL because the players are so much better. An NFL back is lucky to see a two foot hole let alone three to four yards. The college back can often run free without being touched for several yards, while the NFL back has to “create” and make his own holes. Instincts and vision are much more important to an NFL back than they are to a college back. Over the years there have been a number of backs who have put up huge numbers in college and did nothing once they got to the NFL. The most recent example is Alabama’s Trent Richardson, who was the third pick of the 2012 draft and did nothing once he got to the league. There are also a high number of running backs who got drafted later and have been very productive NFL players. I am by no means evaluating Fournette, he is a true sophomore and cannot enter the league until at least the 2017 Draft. There will be plenty of time to do the evaluating next year, if he plays. There are people out there who feel he should sit out the 2016 college season. In the eyes of a scout and other front office executives that would be the dumbest thing he could do. Football is a tough, competitive game played by tough, competitive people. Every time you set foot on the field there is a risk of injury. It is violent and hard hitting. People who play the game know this and partake in the game regardless. If you are afraid of getting hurt, don’t play the game…it’s not for you. As a scout if we saw a player sit out to avoid injury we would question his competitive nature and his ability to be a good teammate. We would also question his passion for the game and desire to be great, which are two important components in evaluating football character. Part of the evaluation process is durability, if a player isn’t durable, he won’t last in the big leagues. Being durable while playing in college is very important in the overall evaluation process. As for trying to challenge the existing rules in court, it’s been tried and the courts ruled in favor of the NFL and the draft process. The last time the rules were challenged was in 2004. Both Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams wanted to leave Ohio State and USC respectively before they were three years out of high school. The ruling came down just about a week before the 2004 draft. The thing I remember most about the ruling is that Lovie Smith and I were in Tampa that day meeting with Mike Williams. The Court’s decision was announced about 30 minutes after we left Williams. The NFL as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA has that three year rule in place. The NFLPA has no reason to try and change it. For every Leonard Fournette who may be physically ready to play two years out of high school, there are hundreds more who would try and enter the draft and aren’t close to being ready to compete. The rule is in place for the good of the game, the good of the players and the good of college football. One player isn’t going to bring about that change. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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