NFL Comparisons: Fournette, Stewart, and Bo Jackson

The comparison has been around probably since Leonard Fournette was in the 8th grade and flattened a SENIOR defensive back in high school. The DB's name? Tyrann Mathieu. It looks like Bo Jackson v. 2.0 has finally manifested himself as we enter the final week before the 2016 NFL Draft.

Setting the Table

I actually attended Auburn University with Bo Jackson. I saw him plenty of times on the gridiron and a few times in person around campus. Out of his uniform, Bo's physique was impossible to hide. Comparisons were thrown HIS way over Herschel Walker, who had left rival school University of Georgia only a year or two before Bo entered Auburn as a Freshman. As things turned out, Bo was a more dangerous back than was Walker, and Walker was a quantum leap forward over the others in his day.

Fournette hasn't shown me the wide range of athletic abilities to play multiple sports that Jackson did, so we just don't know certain things that Fournette MIGHT be able to do. That's fine, I don't really need to see him break a baseball bat over his thigh to know, just by looking at him, that he likely could. Bo used to do insanely athletic things not to show off but because that's who he was. Not everyone who tried it could do it.

But let's look at college career stats. That would smooth out any outliers (like Fournette vs Alabama or Bo against Florida) in performance:

Rushing

Bo: 650 att 4303 yds 6.6 ypc 43 TDs   Leo: 616 att 3830 yds 6.2 ypc 40 TDs

Receiving

Bo: 26 cat 272 yds 10.5 ypc 2 TDs          Leo: 41 rec 526 yds 12.8 ypc 1 TD

Clearly, looking at the rushing numbers, both athletes had very similar careers, and, in fact, are very similar physically. Both men are physically imposing, broad-shouldered guys with bodies chiseled from Greek god statues. There doesn't appear to be so much as an ounce of wasted mass on either fellow. Leo's about 15 pounds bigger than was Bo, but lacks Bo's seamless fluidity of motion in "changing gears." 

When you watch tape of Bo "hitting his high gear," you really don't see the transition. It's all one fluid sequence....especially pay attention to that transition when watching the following, as well as his subtle change-of-direction ability both while sifting through traffic AND at speed:

The thing is, neither back can be easily caught from behind...at least until they start to "run out of gas." Bo was notorious for despising long-distance running, despite lettering at Auburn in Track. He's a pure sprinter and remains the only player in NFL history to have multiple runs from scrimmage of 90+ yards in the same season. 

Oh. My. God.

Fournette has the Edge in the Passing Game

Bo seemingly had it all...including vision. His lone weakness that I could see was in his ability to catch the football. While he could do it, the balls he would catch were screens or dump-offs. Fournette was FINALLY utilized as a receiver out of the backfield more last season, and he showed some skills there Bo never really did. Fournette showed that he's a natural hands-catcher AND can track the ball on longer throws. Whoever takes Fournette next week in the draft will either already be aware of his potential upside as a receiver or will be pleasantly surprised at Fournette's ability in this area.

While Fournette will never be a Roger Craig style of runner/receiver, he WILL open the playbook up more than Bo Jackson ever did. In Bo's day, however, that didn't really matter because any defense that couldn't get to him at the line and gang-tackle him couldn't stop him. 

The same deal goes with Fournette, although Fournette does have that dash of "wiggle" that Bo had, he gets it done in his own way....through people or by them. Bo was able to do a liiiiitle bit of "juke" work that would shift a defender's balance just enough so that by the time he recovered, it was far too late. That's a big reason why Bo made things look so easy....it wasn't his pure speed ALONE. His stutter-step was SO fast that Bo would be already changing direction back the way he wanted to originally go by the time the defender could reestablish his pant foot to pursue.

Fournette is far more Punishing, Physical, and Violent

Bo was certainly capable of putting his head down and steamrolling defenders (just ask Brian Bosworth) but his base game was to find the running lane, hit the jets, and GO! People talk about the "gears" a runner has, and Bo was as smooth as you'll ever see. 

Fournette seems to "jerk" into his next gear. You can often see it...the moment he's looking, looking....then *BAM* he sees it, plants, and accelerates. It's almost as if you see a switch being flipped, and he does it so abruptly, that it's quite noticeable. 

The Eyeball Test and Comparison with Stewart

This one's easy: Both Bo and Fournette pass the Eye Test with flying colors as runners. This is more "subjective" a test than most, but when you're on the edge of your seat and holding your breath EVERY SINGLE TIME a guy gets the football, that's passing the Eye Test in an "Elite" way.

The SCARY thing? 

He's only getting faster as he has since posted a top speed at LSU, ON GRASS, of 22.9 MPH which is FASTER THAN ANY NFL SCORING PLAY IN THE LAST TWO SEASONS!

Bo Jackson ran a 10.39 100-meter dash, and looked like The Hulk running against all those slender track star sprinters. Sure wasn't hard to figure out which one he was even without any commentary or graphic overlays on the screen. That's LONG speed, which I don't think Stewie ever had, really. His career-long TD is under 70 yards and hasn't had that many long TDs in his career.

Fournette ran a 10.89 100-meter dash, half of a second slower than Bo. Clearly, Fournette doesn't have Bo's speed, but he's a LOT closer to him than people think.

It's what I call "The 40-Yard Dash Fallacy." While the NFL Combine measures many things, those measurements are really only good for comparing athletes to athletes under the same conditions for comparison's sake. I had one Tweeter tell me "You can't tell me Fournette's a superior athlete to Stewie," then posted Stewie's NFL Combine results in a "purty pitcher" in graphical form, designed to get "likes" by the drive-by Tweeters.

In fairness, Stewie's Combine stats compared well with Fournette's and were better in many areas, but what I'm saying is they are both incomplete and besides, I was comparing Fournette to Stewie's CURRENT athletic ability, which has obviously declined quite a bit since he entered the NFL. Stewie ran a 4.45-40 (give or take a hundredth) while Fournette ran a 4.51 at about the same weight. The problem is, today, Stewie looks more like a 4.7 or 4.8 guy as he always gets caught from behind even if he breaks into open space. In fairness to Mr. Salmingo, I was referring to how things stand right now, because that's how things are in 2017:

Edgar is sharp, but as he had said, we'll agree to disagree; besides, it looks like there was a little miscommunication going on. It happens on Twitter because of the character limit. What the Combine numbers don't show is Fournette's Elite agility that Stewie never had, nor his elite balance, BOTH of which are key factors in extending a running play in traffic and after contact....both of which Fournette has in spades and Stewie never had. As for Fournette, his "wiggle" is deceptive because of his size and his own smoothness in what he does. Note the science behind his running here, from Fournette's Sophomore year, which cannot be refuted:

Stewie's longest run in the NFL has been 69 yards. Not bad, frankly, but if he's ever been SUCH a breakaway threat, I think he'd have shown it from even further out at SOME point in his career. After all, on something like that, it only would take a single play. I still say athletically speaking, Stewart isn't now and never was quite on Bo's or Leo's level as an entire package.

Bo Jackson Says "Hello"

Bo was, and still is, the ONLY player in history to be an All-Star in two major sports, and that's ANY two sports. This includes Deion Sanders who, to my knowledge and cursory research to check for this article, never made an All-Star game at the MLB level. Bo, however, not only made the All-Star game but was the game's MVP as he joined Willie Mays as the only two players to hit a home run AND steal a base in the contest's long history. In fact, he could have had a second if not for the fact Wade Boggs grounded out on a hit-and-run play; here are Bo's All-Star game highlights:

Injury Concerns due to Power

We all know Bo's career was cut short on what some call a "freak injury," and they'd be right....but for the wrong reasons. 

Some think Bo was "just fragile," but he was the opposite and would play hurt, as he did his Junior season at Auburn. He took a lot of flak for it, but Bo has always been a quiet, humble, and unassuming man and didn't speak out on it until years later, when he explained the entire situation. It was eerily similar in parallel to Fournette's Junior (2016) season, when HE was running on a gimpy ankle that he had injured originally before the season began.

People today are "worried about Fournette's ankle," so I point to Bo and that parallel in response. A lot of people are too young to know the details, but having gone to school with Bo and my own age give me the knowledge and experience here that others lack.

However, the fact remains that Fournette runs the risk of a short career not just because of the violent running style he employs, but also the forces that act upon his OWN body. As I like to say, Physics plays no favorites. Newton's Laws. Isaac's, not Cam's.

Bo's Injury Explained:

My own concerns regarding Fournette are the exact same things that contributed to Bo's grizzly injury, which occurred on a normal tackle. Fournette's power and speed combination means MASSIVE amounts of force. Since Momentum = Mass * Velocity and Fournette has been clocked at 22.9 MPH, the Momentum that Fournette generates is right there in Bo's ballpark. Bo was a bit faster than Leo is, but not quite as heavy as Fournette, and since it's straight multiplication, the forces are going to be similar, without actually plugging-in the numbers.

In fact, here's yet another Sport Science segment on Fournette's hit on Ole Miss Safety Deontay Anderson. It's true; to stop Leonard Fournette dead in his tracks when he's up to speed, a 217 lb defender would have to slam into him head-on while running as fast as Usain Bolt:

While the hit looks (and is) completely devastating (Anderson was slammed into the turf at 13 MPH, after being hit with the equivalent force of a Haymaker from Manny Pacquiao), looking at the film here, I think Anderson smartly made the best "business decision" of his LIFE; what he did was simply "get in Fournette's way" JUST enough to redirect Fournette out of bounds. Anderson wasn't injured on the play...only his pride.

So, here's how I see Fournette and Bo in comparison, on a 1-10 scale:

                                                  Jackson                       Fournette

Breakaway Speed                                                      10                                 10

Acceleration                                                                10                                  8

Power                                                                           10                                10 

Agility                                                                              9                                 9

Balance                                                                           8                                10

Hands                                                                              5                                  7

Vision                                                                               9                                  5

Durability                                                                         7                                  ?

Yes, it's the durability part that could bring an abrupt end to Fournette's career just as it did to Bo's. Bo didn't really have any lingering issues, but was Human after all, amazingly. He had lower-body dings that happen to ALL RBs at one time or another and largely played through them, as did Fournette, until Fournette's became so bad it became smart to bench him.

Here's a good, thorough scouting report on Fournette...with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unexpected:

Final Thoughts

I think the Carolina Panthers would be insane NOT to draft Fournette with the eighth overall pick, but I think he'll be off the board by then. However, this is not a "draft" article. 

I do think Fournette's own worst enemy is going to be himself at the NFL level due to his sheer athletic ability being in the same rarefied-air level of those like Jackson, Herschel Walker, and Jim Brown. I also think he's a better athlete than is Adrian Peterson due to the strength characteristic.

I also think that will be his ultimate downfall. As such, my Vegas "Over/Under" for Fournette's prime in the NFL in years is six....but those six years in the backfield with Cam Newton??? If I were GM, I'd have trades set up ready to go on draft day to go get him. The question Dave Gettleman would be asking is "how much do I want to roll the dice?" in regards to how far up to move. I think Cincy would hop us from #9 to #7 to get him, so without a trade, the chances of him falling to us are nearly zero.

But watch out, NFL....the Panthers will INSTANTLY be back if we get our hands on this kid!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye