Leonard Fournette has been a winding path to Super Bowl 55.
The fourth-year running back, who for so long was considered the best at his position — whether it be in high school, college football or the NFL draft — will aim to help the Buccaneers win only their second-ever Super Bowl title on Sunday. This, not even three years removed from being drafted by the Jaguars.
While Fournette didn’t have quite the start to his professional career that he might have wanted, he regardless finds himself in position to be a major contributor in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl bid. He had modest stats in 2020 (97 rushes, 367 yards, six touchdowns), but he has been excellent in the postseason, rushing for 211 yards and two scores.
What’s next for the running back remains to be seen, but he certainly can make himself more valuable with a big game in Raymond James Stadium.
With that, here’s the timeline that saw Fournette end up with the Bucs: from LSU, to Jacksonville, to Tampa Bay.
Feb. 5, 2014: Fournette signs with LSU
On Feb. 5, 2015, Fournette — considered a consensus top-five recruit and the No. 1 player per 247Sports’ Composite rankings — signed with LSU out of St. Augustine High School (New Orleans). Fournette was the crown jewel of LSU’s 2014 class, which included four five-star players and seven top-100 players.
It’s easy to see why Fournette, who often drew comparisons to Adrian Peterson, was so highly coveted: Per MaxPreps, Fournette totaled 5,306 yards from scrimmage and 70 total touchdowns over three seasons. His 247Sports scouting report rates him at least an 8 — on a 10-point scale — in build (10); tackle-breaking (10); speed (9); power (9); explosiveness (9); feet (8); change of direction (8); and vision (8).
To date, Fournette is tied as the 16th-highest recruit all time in 247Sports’ database. (He is tied, oddly enough, with Peterson). Joe McKnight (tied for 12th) is the only running back to rank higher.
2014-16: Fournette’s LSU career
2014: Freshman season
Fournette didn’t have a hot start to his collegiate career, rushing for only 200 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games of the season. He rushed for 834 yards and eight touchdowns over the final nine games of the season, earning 1,034 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores for the season. That stat line was punctuated by five games with at least 100 rushing yards, including two games of 146 and 143 yards to end the season, respectively, against Texas A&M and Notre Dame.
2015: Sophomore season
Fournette enjoyed a breakout season in 2015, a year in which he at one point was the favorite to win the coveted Heisman Trophy. He rushed for no fewer than 150 yards in each of the seven first games to start the season, eclipsing his freshman season total with 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Tigers jumped to a 7-0 start.
More impressive was his three-game streak of at least 200 yards against Auburn, Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, teams that gave up an average of 235 yards and 2.67 touchdowns per game against him. Fournette also had an 87-yard touchdown run against the Orange nullified by an illegal formation, otherwise his stat line would have been even more outrageous. Regardless, he became the first player in SEC history to rush for 200 yards or more in three straight games.
Fournette’s Heisman campaign came to a screeching halt in Week 9 against Alabama; LSU, ranked No. 2 in the nation, couldn’t pierce fourth-ranked Alabama’s defense as Fournette struggled to a 19-carry, 31-yard game. That, coupled with Derrick Henry’s 210-yard, three-touchdown game, was the first major blow to Fournette’s otherwise-excellent season. He followed that game up with a 91-yard game against Arkansas.
Fournette finished with 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015, finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting while earning consensus All-America status in the process (Henry was the only unanimous selection, while Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey also earned at least one first-team selection).
2016: Junior season
Fournette was one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman in 2016, but his final season at LSU was derailed pretty much before it began. He sustained a high ankle sprain in a preseason scrimmage; he was well enough to open the season against LSU, rushing 23 times for 123 yards, but suffered a bruise to the same ankle late in the loss.
Fournette missed several games as he continued to reinjure the same ankle, playing in only seven games. One highlight came on Oct. 22, when Fournette rushed for three touchdowns and an LSU single game-record 284 rushing yards against Ole Miss. He played in only three games after that, missing the regular-season finale against due to injury and electing not to play in the team’s Citrus Bowl win over Louisville.
His junior season stats (843 yards, eight rushing touchdowns) were the worst of his three seasons in Baton Rouge, but Fournette still finished with 3,830 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns.
April 27, 2017: Jaguars draft Fournette No. 4 overall
The Jaguars chose Fournette as its top overall pick, making him the first of 26 running backs taken in the 2017 rookie class.
Several running backs chosen after Fournette would go on to earn Pro Bowl status with their respective teams: Christian McCaffrey (Round 1, Pick 8); Dalvin Cook (Round 2, Pick 41); Alvin Kamara (Round 3, Pick 67); Kareem Hunt (Round 3, Pick 86); James Conner (Round 3, Pick 105); Tarik Cohen (Round 4, Pick 119); and Aaron Jones (Round 5, Pick 182).
2017-19: Fournette’s Jaguars career
Fournette rushed for 1,040 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie campaign, starting his career with 100 yards and a score (on 26 carries) against Houston. He rushed for 100 yards in four more games in 2017 — including a 181-yard game against Pittsburgh — helping the Jaguars make the AFC playoffs with a 10-6 record.
In Jacksonville’s first postseason game, Fournette struggled to 51 yards against the Bills in a 10-3 win. The following game, he rushed for 109 yards and three scores in a 45-42 win against the Steelers. He followed that up with a 74-yard, one-touchdown game in the AFC championship, though the Jaguars ultimately lost to New England 24-20.
Fournette in 2018 was once again bit by the injury bug, missing seven games with an injured hamstring suffered in the season-opening win vs. the Giants. In his first game back after missing two games, he aggravated the injury again and was ruled out indefinitely. He missed another four games before returning to accumulate 109 yards from scrimmage and two total touchdowns against the Colts. His best game came two weeks later in Week 12, as he rushed for 95 yards and two scores against the Bills.
Unfortunately, he and Bills defender Shaq Lawson were ejected as part of a brawl between the teams. He was suspended a game following the fight, causing Jacksonville to void his remaining guarantees. When he returned in Week 14, he was seen on video telling a fan he would “beat his a—.” Then-Jacksonville vice president Tom Coughlin also criticized Fournette in the 2018 season finale, seemingly for looking disinterested on the bench during a 20-3 loss to the Texans (he was inactive).
Fournette finished the 2018 season with 439 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, as well as 22 receptions, 185 receiving yards and a score.
Fournette had another slow start in 2019, rushing for 66, 47 and 66 yards, respectively, in his first three games. He finally broke through in Week 4 with a 225-yard rushing effort against the Broncos. He followed that up with 100-yard games in two of his next three games, but did not eclipse the century mark for the remainder of the season. He finished with only three rushing touchdowns, despite rushing for a career-high 1,152 yards in his third year.
April 11, 2019: Fournette arrested after driving with suspended license
Prior to his final season in Jacksonville, Fournette was arrested in Florida on April 11, 2019, after he was stopped driving 65 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone. During the traffic stop, officers discovered he was driving with a suspended license. According to news station WJAX-TV (Jacksonville, Fla.), it had been suspended the month prior after he failed to pay off a November 2018 speeding ticket; he originally received the citation after getting clocked driving 37 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone.
WJAX-TV reported that Fournette initially told arresting officers he had forgotten his license at TIAA Bank Field before admitting he didn’t have one because it was suspended. Fournette reportedly posted a $1,508 bond and was released after just 24 minutes in custody. He was charged with speeding and knowingly driving with a suspended, canceled or revoked license. He also faced two counts of improper window tint.
That did little to endear Fournette to Jacksonville, with which he already had a strained relationship.
May 1, 2020: Jaguars decline Fournette’s fifth-year option
The clearest sign Fournette’s time with Jacksonville was nearing its end came on May 1, 2020, when the team declined his fifth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent after 2021. The news came after the Jaguars reportedly received zero interest in the running back after shopping him for a trade.
Aug. 31, 2020: Jaguars waive Fournette
After months of unsuccessfully trying to trade Fournette, the Jaguars simply waived his contract after three seasons. It’s clear Fournette didn’t meet expectations in Jacksonville but, to his credit, neither did many of the Jags’ first-round picks.
Sept. 2, 2020: Fournette signs with Buccaneers
Fournette lasted only a day on the free agent market, signing a one-year, $2 million deal to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
2020: Fournette’s Tampa Bay career
Fournette has been a solid No. 2 option for Bruce Arians, rushing for 367 yards and six scores behind top option Ronald Jones II (978 yards, seven touchdowns). Fournette had only one 100-yard game to his name in 2020, but he has found a way to contribute significantly in the postseason, including a grown-man touchdown against the Packers in the NFC championship game.
What’s next for Fournette? Only time will tell, but he has a chance to make good on his one season in Tampa Bay with a good game in Super Bowl 55.
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