Hopes were high for the running back situation after the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Chris Ivory in free agency last year. The aggressive-running back was a perfect complement to the pass-catching, wide-open style that T.J. Yeldon brought. And Denard Robinson, while not that great, was a fine backup who could clean up with 50 or 60 carries and some third down opportunities.
Oh how foolish we were.
The offensive line was abysmal at run blocking through the first half of the season and while expectations weren’t exactly high for Yeldon, he disappointed greatly with his hesitancy. Ivory had more fumbles (5) than touchdowns (3). Denard was... well, a third-string running back we kept for his special teams play. And Corey Grant, while productive against the Indianapolis Colts was productive mostly because it was the Indianapolis Colts.
Some of the running back woes for the Jaguars were squarely on the offensive line’s shoulders. While good in pass protection, they lacked the physicality to get anything going. And the running schemes under former offensive coordinator Greg Olson were less about hitting the hole quickly and more about waiting for lanes to develop.
But many of the problems with the running backs in 2016 were because the guys they have at that position aren’t really that good. Yeldon is not a feature back. He’s not even a guy you want sharing carries in a 1-2 punch. And while Ivory can be one of those guys, he’s not all that much better.
The running game got exponentially better under interim offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett — going from 72.6 rushing yards per game to 124.8 rushing yards per game after he took over — but it remains to be seen if that’s the sort of production this unit can be counted on over the duration of a season.
The Jaguars will undoubtedly upgrade their running backs in the draft this spring. Whether it’s a feature back like Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette at No. 4 overall or an overachieving, under-the-radar guy in the middle rounds, they will make this group better.
Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon will surely have roster spots going into the 2017 season, but they’re the only locks. Corey Grant will be kept for his speed and his potential. And Denard Robinson is the guy on the outside looking in when they draft a guy in a few months.
New head coach Doug Marrone will still want the running game to set up the pass. And new
general manager executive vice president Tom Coughlin will be upgrading the offensive line because that’s what Tom Coughlin does. But this unit is a big, big question mark going into 2017. And that’s not a good thing for a quarterback in Blake Bortles who regressed hard last year at a crossroads of a fourth season who needs a strong running game to lean on.