Buffalo Bills RB Leonard Fournette Injury Analysis

Buffalo Bills RB Leonard Fournette Injury Analysis

Playoff Lenny has finally arrived! After some back and forth of whether Leonard Fournette would become a Buffalo Bills, it finally happened on Tuesday when he was signed to the practice squad.

This has been in the works for several weeks as Fournette was expected to sign with the Bills but Ty Johnson elected to stay with the Bills practice squad before his call up. Fortunately, the timing was right and he was finally able to make it official.

After an illustrious career at LSU, Fournette was drafted fourth overall in the 2017 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, playing three seasons for them before having a falling out. He was released and signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he helped power them to a Super Bowl, earning the name “Playoff Lenny.”

While Fournette has proven to be a talented runner, he comes with a lot of injury baggage, missing 17 total games over his NFL career. He missed several additional games due to suspensions and team rule violations as well. Below is the injury history for Fournette as he signs with the Bills for the second half of the season.

Injury History

2016 LSU-Senior year

Left high-ankle, low ankle, bone bruise, missed 5 total games.

Fournette battled a left ankle injury during his final season that caused him to miss a total of five games as he played through the issue. He went into further detail indicating that he at one point had a high-ankle sprain, a low ankle sprain, and a bone bruise in there, never really allowing the injury to get fully healthy. Despite all that, he was still drafted fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2017 Jacksonville Jaguars

Left foot, preseason, missed 3 preseason games.

Fournette had his left foot stepped on in the preseason that forced him to miss three preseason games during his rookie year before returning for the season opener. 

Right ankle, Week 6, missed 1 game.

Fournette sprained his right ankle in the Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams when he was tackled midway through the fourth quarter with his foot getting caught up underneath him. He was taped up and cleared to re-enter the game but did not. Unfortunately, the ankle did not improve through the week and though he was questionable heading into Week 7, he missed the game. 

Right ankle, Week 10, missed 0 games.

Fournette aggravated his right ankle injury in Week 10 which led him to be on the injury report and questionable heading into Week 11 where he ultimately played. 

Quadriceps, Week 15, missed 1 game.

Fournette suffered a quad injury in Week 14 that in addition to his ankle injury he was playing through, saw him miss his second game of the season due to injury. 

2018 Jaguars

Right hamstring, Week 1 missed 2 games, returned, missed 4 games.

Fournette suffered a right hamstring strain in the Week 1 win over the New York Giants that season which kept him out of the following two games. When he did return to play the New York Jets despite a questionable designation, he felt tightness in the area following the game and sat out an additional four games. 

Foot, Week 16, missed 0 games.

Fournette was on the injury report prior to Week 16 following a foot injury the week prior. He was limited during the week before having no designation and playing. 

Foot/Ankle, Week 17, missed 1 game.

Regrettably, Fournette appeared to aggravate his foot injury from the prior week and added in an ankle injury which left him doubtful heading into the season finale. He ultimately did not play. 

2019 Jaguars

Neck, Week 17, missed 1 game.

Fournette missed the season finale due to a neck injury suffered the prior week which left him doubtful heading into the game.

2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

High-ankle sprain, Week 4, missed 1 game.

High-ankle sprain, Week 5, missed 0 games.

High-ankle sprain, Week 6, missed 1 game.

Fournette suffered a high-ankle sprain, side not specified in Week 3. He attempted to play through the injury with a questionable designation in Week 4, missing one game before playing through a doubtful designation. While he did play, he was only active as an emergency option, appearing in only one offensive snap without any stats.

He was upgraded to questionable the following week but missed Week 6.

Abdomen, Week 17, missed 0 games.

Fournette appeared on the injury report early in the week with an abdomen injury but did not have a designation for Week 17.

2021 Buccaneers

Ankle, side not specified, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Hamstring, Week 15, placed on IR, missed 4 games.

Fournette suffered yet another ankle injury in Week 14 that led him to be questionable but suited up. 

He suffered a hamstring injury, side not specified, that was initially thought to be multi-week but not expected to miss more than two games. The Bucs changed course and placed him on injured reserve for the four game minimum, returning in the divisional round of the playoffs where they lost to Los Angeles Rams. 

2022 Buccaneers

Hamstring, Week 2, missed 0 games.

Fournette suffered a hamstring strain in Week 1 on his final Carrie’s of the game. The injury left him questionable for Week 2 and 3 but he played through the injury

Hip pointer, Week 11, missed 1 game.

He then suffered a hip pointer injury, side not specified, in Week 11 that caused him to miss the following week before returning in Week 13.

Lisfranc sprain, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Finally, Fournette tweeted out that he had been playing through a Lisfranc sprain late in the season before deleting the tweets. He was on the injury report for Week 14 and questionable, but played through the injury. This was likely a Grade 1 sprain which does not cause players to miss much time.

Injury Analysis

The ankle injuries have been the big theme for Fournette dating back to his college days. He is a proven back that can produce when called upon but is almost guaranteed to deal with some sort of injury.

Fournette is healthy enough to pass a physical but my concern is if he has any lingering issues, most notably the hamstrings and Lisfranc.

The ankle sprains are what they are; chronic instability that requires tape/bracing to get through the season. The high-ankles have been unfortunate but are mostly unlucky when they get stepped on or rolled up on.

My concern for the hamstrings is if he suffers another strain while he acclimates to the Bills practice squad and then is called up. This happened last year with CB Xavier Rhodes. He signed with the team and then immediately injured his hamstring, requiring a stint on the practice squad injured reserve. Prior to that he had several years of hamstring injuries. 

As for the Lisfranc, as it was just a sprain, hopefully he doesn’t have any residual laxity within the ligaments that hold the joint together. He would need another mechanism of a direct blow, twisting or falling over the foot to re-injure it. A re-injury to that area could spell a short stay in Buffalo. 

While injuries can’t be predicted, there is concern for older veterans with complex medical histories latching on to only not be available when they’re needed. If Fournette can slowly ramp up on the practice squad and then get called up as needed to be a fresh set of legs, then this is a smart play. I am concerned if he’s called up immediately to play and runs the risk to suffer yet another injury. Despite playing an incredibly punishing position, he still needs to be available and perform just like everyone else on the roster.

For the timeframe, commitment, and risk involved in signing Leonard Fournette, it’s a signing that only few will hate, maybe Shaq Lawson. It’s a smart move by Brandon Beane to collect proven talent wherever he can to plug and play should there be yet another injury.

Let’s hope Playoff Lenny can bring some fresh legs to the run game in the second half of the season to power a deep Buffalo Bills playoff run.

Top Photo Credit: Chris O’Meara/AP