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NFL Draft rumors: Leonard Fournette-to-49ers picking up steam

Given Shanahan history, I just don’t see this happening.

The San Francisco 49ers continue to be connected to LSU running back Leonard Fournette as the 2017 NFL Draft approaches. The rumor has picked up steam and is showing no signs of going away. Draft analyst Tony Pauline is the third person to mention the 49ers interest in Fournette. He had this to say in his latest buzz column

Sources with knowledge of the situation tell me the San Francisco 49ers are very high on Fournette and are seriously considering using the second pick of the draft to acquire him. The new front office wants a bigger back to run the offense and they’re ready to give up on Carlos Hyde, who has had his struggles staying healthy since being drafted by the franchise in 2014.

Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller has repeatedly mentioned the 49ers have Fournette high on their draft board. More recently, Albert Breer said the same thing in his MMQB column last week.

What do we make of what is a growing amount of smoke? The two most logical answers are that the 49ers do in fact like Fournette and/or they are hoping to drum up trade interest. We’ve heard rumors about the Carolina Panthers having interest in Fournette, and if they think he can be a clear cut best running back out of this class, maybe they are willing to move up.

Could this be about the 49ers have legitimate interest in drafting Fournette with the No. 2 pick? It’s hard to buy into that given all the factors in play. This is considered a particularly deep running back class. Given all the defensive talent up top and the 49ers own questions marks on defense, it would make sense to draft defense and then grab an option on day two or day three.

Furthermore, Kyle Shanahan has had extensive success working with running backs that are drafted a little later than normal. In Atlanta, he worked with Devonta Freeman (4th round) and Tevin Coleman (3rd round). In Cleveland, he worked with Terrance West (3rd round), Isaiah Crowell (UDFA), and Ben Tate (2nd round). In Washington, he worked with Alfred Morris (6th round).

It is possible that now that he gets more say in the roster, he might want to go with a higher pick. At the same time, his dad was a big proponent of not investing heavily in the running back position. Mike Shanahan’s offense turned all sorts of no-names into 1,000-yard rushers, with Terrell Davis being the most notable. If he follows his dad’s philosophy in that regard, it seems highly unlikely he would want to encourage the 49ers to spend the No. 2 overall pick on Leonard Fournette.

Tony Pauline raises an important point. Carlos Hyde has struggled to remain healthy. In two seasons as a starter, he has suffered multiple injuries. On Monday, Hyde told the media he is mostly recovered from his knee injury, but is not 100 percent there. He can run and cut, but is still working to get completely back.

The 49ers are going to draft a running back. I don’t know who or when, but I just see no reason the team goes into the season with Hyde, Hightower, Harris, Davis, and Mostert (and maybe a UDFA or two) as the only guys competing. They will draft somebody to continue this building process. I just don’t think it will happen in the first round.