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Why the Seahawks will pass on trading for Leonard Fournette

Jacksonville Jaguars v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

At the conclusion of the 2019 season, fans and observers across the league recognized that the Jacksonville Jaguars would have a team that looked significantly different after there were multiple offseason decisions required by the team. Those decisions included how to handle the situation with Yannick Ngakoue, along with what to do with fellow defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus, as well as whether running back Leonard Fournette would return.

So far this offseason the Jaguars have handled many of those decisions, trading Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens while releasing Dareus, and using the franchise tag to anger Ngakoue retaining his rights. As for how the team would handle 2017 fourth overall pick Fournette, it’s been made abundantly clear that he has been available in trade for weeks, but between the $4,167,393 salary left on the final year of his 2020 contract and his on field performance, teams have shied away.

While it’s true that he’s the type of big, powerful back the Seahawks often love, at 6’, 240 pounds, his on field performance is certainly not that which the Seattle coaching staff loves. Specifically, while one of the staples of the Seattle ground attack under Mike Solari involves the back following a pulling guard, Fournette doesn’t appear to be a fan. Just as an example, here’s 2018 first round running back Rashaad Penny taking the handoff and following left guard Mike Iupati across the formation on a big play.

The Seahawks use that pull action from Iupati so often, that they’ll even use it as a deceptive tactic to take advantage of linebackers having overcommitted to the pull side in order to improve the numbers matchup on the backside, as they did with Travis Homer here.

Bringing the subject back to Fournette, the concept of pulling guards is important because, well, he has a habit of not following his pulling guards.

Obviously, a sample size of two could easily be a small sample size which is not indicative of Fournette’s true tendencies. Thus, in order to evaluate whether or not he actually ignores the blocking of pulling guards or if he was unfairly represented in those two clips I looked at a random sample of 160 of his runs over the course of his career. Pulling his carries from Week 2, Week 5, Week 8, Week 10 and Week 13 of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 season, I looked at 160 of his career rushing attempts in order to attempt to discern whether or not he runs within the structure of the play when a guard is pulling.

The results of watching the tape showed that he followed a pulling blocker about half the time, and the other half the time he would freelance. His tendencies outside of structure were all over the map, from trying to make it outside on either side or running into the void created by the guard pulling. In short, it appeared he only followed the play design on about half of the type of runs which make up a decent portion of the Seattle ground attack.

Further, in watching the sample of his runs, his performance on inside zone was not impressive. He was often almost Eddie Lacy like in his hesitation in the backfield running inside zone, and his tape was most impressive when running wide zone. In short, while he’s a highly drafted talent who could likely be available for minimal draft capital in trade, his skill set doesn’t match up well with how the Seahawks play offense.

So, while some team might trade for Fournette to be a major piece of their 2020 ground attack, it seems highly unlikely that the Seahawks would be interested. However, if John Schneider could somehow manage to pull off another Jadeveon Clowney like heist and convince Jacksonville to cover a good portion of Fournette’s 2020 salary, then it could become an attractive enough opportunity to pursue.