INDIANAPOLIS – Ezekiel Elliott threatened the NFL rookie rushing record, was a catalyst for the Dallas Cowboys to make a playoff run, and instantly became one of the top running backs in the league.
Now, as teams look to the 2017 NFL draft, they’re trying to figure out who could emerge as this year’s version of Elliott.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette may be the guy.
“I can run any play,” Fournette said in a press conference Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “I don’t have any particular play. As a running back, we have to learn how to run out of different looks and run the ball in different ways.”
One of the few criticisms Fournette faces is that he might not fit all offensive systems, especially ones that run a high volume of plays out of shotgun. Fournette dismissed that idea, instead saying that his power, speed and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could allow him to settle into a similar role similar to the one Elliott assumed.
“It’s changing the game for the running backs,” Fournette said. “When him and Todd Gurley came out, they did a great job preparing us running backs nowadays to come out to even get a chance to get picked in the first round.”
Fournette racked up 616 rushing attempts for 3,830 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 40 touchdowns in three seasons at LSU. He added 41 receptions for 526 yards and one receiving score.
“North-and-south runner,” Fournette said of his style. “Can make defenders miss. Can run over them. Can run past them.”
Part of the reason Elliott was so successful for the Cowboys was because he was surrounded by a talented quarterback in Dak Prescott and offensive line with three all-pros. He also became the team’s workhorse running back, leading the NFL in carries (322) and rushing yards (1,631).
Fournette, however, was hampered with a nagging ankle injury for most of 2016, an injury he said that forced him out of the Tigers’ bowl game against the Louisville Cardinals.
Fournette’s missed time may give teams pause about whether he could be injury prone, but he dismissed that on Thursday.
“Most definitely I will,” Fournette said when asked if he could handle a significant workload. “At the same time, as a running back, you don’t want to take those licks, anyway. You want to help your body out some more, run the ball out of bounds sometimes, and just be smart about it.”
Fournette weighed in at 240 pounds here, five above what he expected. He said it was due to “water weight” inadvertently added prior to weighing in. Still, he said he expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range. With his blend of size and speed, he could be an attractive option to numerous teams in the top 10.
And when factoring in his physical running style and numerous highlight-reel plays littered in his college film, Fournette may not only have the potential to follow in Elliott’s footsteps, but he may be even better.
“That’s just the job of the running back,” Fournette said. “No matter how many times you get the ball, just make the best opportunity out of it.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.