NFL combine notes: Beefy Leonard Fournette still clocks a quick 40-yard dash

Former Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette participates in a drill at the NFL scouting combine on Friday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

For Leonard Fournette, it was a matter of time.

Fractions of a second, to be exact.

The Louisiana State running back raised eyebrows at the NFL scouting combine by tipping the scales at a hefty 240 pounds, but on Friday he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds. On his second attempt, he clocked 4.52.

Although his times weren’t the fastest among running backs, Fournette’s performance was impressive enough to quiet doubters and keep him in that rarefied strata of top prospects at his position.


North Carolina’s T.J. Logan was the fastest running back at 4.37 seconds. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey ran 4.48, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook 4.49.

Fournette, who averaged 120.4 yards rushing per game last fall, said he played at 235 pounds during the 2016 season. He arrived at the combine heavier, he said, because he was carrying extra water weight.

Fournette said this week that he expected to run “somewhere in the 4.4s.”

“I know my talent and hard work is going to pay off and show for itself,” he said.

A few years ago, there was much talk about the devaluation of running backs. That chatter died last season because of performances by players such as Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott, the No. 4 pick last spring, who rushed for a league-leading 1,631 yards.

“It goes to show if a running back gets put in the right system, you put him in the right place, he can do a great amount of things for a team,” Cook said of Elliott. “I feel like if I can put in the right system I can do the same things that Zeke did.”

Much is made of players’ 40-yard dash times, but not every coach wrings his hands over them.

Tweeted Wade Phillips, new defensive coordinator for the Rams: “Here at the combine where 1st rounders are sometimes picked by 40 times. Fastest doesn’t always mean best.”

Air comparison

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson did not participate in the Senior Bowl in January. However, he still wound up in headlines after Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney made a bold proclamation.

In discussing the decision faced by the Cleveland Browns, who have the No. 1 pick in the draft, Swinney indicated they would be making a big mistake if they did not select Watson.

“If they pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan,” Swinney said. “I mean, I’m just telling you: I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I’m just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best by a longshot.”

Watson’s reaction?

“I just laughed at it,” he said Friday. “I thanked him for the compliment. It’s pretty cool, but I’m no Michael Jordan. I’m Deshaun Watson.

“My goal is for one day to be able to have people talk about me like they do Michael Jordan. That’s the goal one day, but he was just saying that’s how he felt.

“I know where he’s coming from but it wasn’t really a real comparison, ‘Hey, this is Michael Jordan.’”

Hometown boy

The Browns also might be considering choosing quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the top pick.

Trubisky, who started only 13 games at North Carolina, hails from Mentor, Ohio.

Pressure for a local kid?

“There’s going to be pressure pretty much everywhere you go,” Trubisky said. “There’s exterior pressure, but there’s not more pressure than the one I put on myself. Nobody can put more pressure on me than myself, and I expect more out of myself than anybody else. So that’s kind of how I go about my business.”

Trubisky was scheduled to interview with the Browns on Friday night.

Weighty decision

Guard Damien Mama, who left USC with a year of eligibility remaining, said he gave serious consideration to staying in school.

“It was hard,” he said. “There was a lot of prayer and thought. But I felt like I made the right decision.”

Mama weighed in at 334 pounds, considerably lighter than the 397 he weighed when he arrived at USC in 2014.

“Just discipline, eating habits,” he said of the weight loss. “Rice is really big in our [Polynesian] culture, so just cutting out the rice. Not eating after 9 [p.m.], coming in early and getting extra cardio.”

“Just the little things. I was one of five [kids], so definitely you’d have to get your food on your plate before everybody else.”

Balanced approach

History and logic suggest that new Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn would be most comfortable having quarterback Philip Rivers handing the ball to running back Melvin Gordon, and letting him move the team up and down the field several yards at a time.

A running backs coach for most of his career, Lynn was a driving force behind the Buffalo Bills’ league-best rushing attack last season.

But when asked about his plans for his new roster in Los Angeles, Lynn said “ground-and-pound” won’t necessarily be the mantra.

“If you want to stack the box, we definitely have a quarterback that can throw it,” he said. “If you want to play coverage, we definitely have a running game — going to have a running game — that can run it. I want to be balanced.

“You never know. If I have to throw it 50 times to win, I’ll do it. If you have to run it 50 times to win, I’ll do that too.”

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer