Report: Bucs 'Very Optimistic' Leonard Fournette Returns from Injury for Playoffs

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 4, 2022

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (7) gets tripped up by New Orleans Saints defensive back Jordan Miller (36) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are "very optimistic" that they will get running back Leonard Fournette back in time for the playoffs.

ESPN's Dianna Russini reported the news Tuesday, adding that the Bucs are "hopeful" linebacker Lavonte David (foot) comes back from his ailment.

Fournette suffered a hamstring injury in the second half of his team's 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 19. He left the game, and the Bucs placed him on injured reserve four days later.

The 26-year-old has amassed 1,266 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 14 games this season for the 12-4 Bucs, who have clinched the NFC South title and will host a to-be-determined opponent during Super Wild Card Weekend.

They have one more regular-season game remaining against the Carolina Panthers at home Sunday.

After splitting time with Ronald Jones II in the Bucs' backfield during the 2020 regular season, Fournette took the reins in the run to the Super Bowl and never looked back. He's rushed for an efficient 4.5 yards per carry and sits second on the team with 69 receptions this year.

The five-year NFL veteran out of LSU also leads the team in yards from scrimmage despite missing two-plus games.

Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn figure to take a backseat to Fournette if he's back in time for the playoffs. It's unclear when the Bucs' NFC Wild Card Game will be, but Super Wild Card Weekend will have two games on Jan. 15, three more on Jan. 16 and one on Jan. 17.

As James Yarcho of Bucs Nation noted, 20 of the 32 possible remaining seeding scenarios would have Tampa Bay hosting the Philadelphia Eagles at Raymond James Stadium.

Having Fournette back will be a much-needed boost to a team that's taken significant hits in the skill-position group. Wideout Chris Godwin suffered a season-ending torn ACL and MCL against the Saints in Week 15, and fellow wideout Antonio Brown is no longer with the team after leaving the Bucs' sideline midway through the New York Jets game.

For now, Tampa Bay will look to finish strong against Carolina. A victory would mark the first time in franchise history that the team will have won 13 regular-season contests.