Leonard Fournette is on the Injured Reserve list but there is some concern that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star running back will not be ready for the postseason. Previous reports indicated Fournette would be healthy for the playoffs, but NBC Sports’ Peter King noted that the Bucs have made “no promises” about the running back playing.
“Godwin’s gone for the year. Evans will be ready to return, at the latest, by the playoffs,” King detailed on December 27. “Fournette’s hamstring is more severe than Evans’, and Arians is making no promises about his playoff fate.”
The Buccaneers do not know when their first playoff game will be but there is potential for a postseason matchup as soon as January 15. Fournette will be eligible to be activated off the injured list after the team’s regular season finale against the Panthers but time will tell if the rusher will be ready in time for the postseason.
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‘I’ve Got All the Confidence in the World’ in Jones, Says Arians
This means the Bucs could be relying on a heavy dose of Ronald Jones to start the playoffs with Ke’Shawn Vaughn also getting snaps. Jones had 20 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown in his first game filling in for Fournette as the team’s RB1. After Fournette’s injury was revealed, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians indicated the team has a lot of faith in Jones to carry the load.
“It’s his time now to do what happened for Leonard last year when he [Jones] got hurt, and so yeah I’ve got all the confidence in the world,” Arians noted during his December 20 press conference. “He ran great, caught the ball good and I think going forward it’s his job right now.”
Arians on Vaughn: ‘I Think He’s a Lead Back’
Despite getting minimal carries so far this season, Arians also expressed a lot of confidence in Vaughn. The Bucs coach noted that he views Vaughn as a “lead back.”
The former Vanderbilt running back was selected by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft with the No. 76 pick. Vaughn’s best college season came in 2018 when the running back notched 157 carries for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“No, I think he’s a lead back,” Arians said of Vaughn on December 27, per Buccaneers.com. “He has great running skills, excellent jump-cut ability and he’s worked on his hands. His hands are better. He dropped one yesterday – it pissed him off – but he has worked on his hands hard. I think he’s a lead dog, yeah.”
Tampa Bay also signed Le’Veon Bell but the former Pro Bowl running back is likely more of an emergency option than a lead runner at this point in his career. The Buccaneers are still in contention for the No. 1 seed which comes with a first-round bye potentially giving Fournette an additional week to recover. Prior to his injury, Fournette posted 180 carries for 812 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 69 receptions for 454 yards and two scores in 14 appearances.