Leonard Fournette has already proven to be a dynamic player halfway through his rookie season. He is surely a big reason why the Jacksonville Jaguars have the top rushing attack in the NFL and why the team has vastly improved overall this season.
Fournette can run you over and gain the tough yardage, or use his speed to break huge runs. He is a game-changer. But his performance is not contingent on whether or not the Jaguars will win games.
Jacksonville has played the last two games without the No. 4 overall pick. Fournette was dealing with an ankle injury against the Indianapolis Colts, which sidelined him. Then, following the bye week, Fournette was announced as inactive just before kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals due to violating team rules.
The results without the rookie running back? Back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Now, Jacksonville is much better off with Fournette lining up in the backfield. There’s no denying that Fournette adds a whole other element. But Jacksonville’s roster is at a place where it doesn’t need Fournette in order to win.
Alfie talked earlier this week about how we can comfortably say that the Jaguars are officially good again. The defense is incredible to say the least. Blake Bortles has limited mistakes and had more efficient performances. The offensive line has played a lot better than people expected. The coaching staff seems to be miles ahead of where it was at last year.
Simply put, the team is more of a complete unit overall and it’s being coached well for the first time in years.
In the past two games without Fournette, the Jaguars have outscored their opponents 50-7. Jacksonville out-gained said opponents 926 yards to 380 yards, including a 337-125 advantage on the ground and a 589-255 mark through the air. Granted, these games were against two lowly teams, but again, the Jaguars are doing what they’re supposed to do by dominating lesser teams.
Bortles’ play the past two weeks has been much improved. While he did have one fumble against the Colts in Week 7, he did not throw an interception in either game and he’s not forcing things or committing those back-breaking turnovers that we all grew accustomed to seeing in the past three years. In the two contests without his starting tailback, Bortles completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 589 yards and two touchdowns.
Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict called out Bortles leading up to the game, and Bortles responded with an efficient performance. For as much criticism as Bortles has taken, he’s been a key part of this Jaguars’ success. The ball was taken out of Bortles’ hands early in the season, but Nathaniel Hackett let him sling it 38 times this past Sunday. Bortles is gaining confidence, and perhaps Hackett is gaining more confidence in Bortles.
Jacksonville is sitting pretty right now at 5-3. With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, it’s really playoffs or bust at this point. A good ground game, an insane defense and efficient play from your quarterback is a recipe for success. Things should only get better for the Jaguars with Fournette back in the fold, so long as the team can keep this level of play going.
To be clear, if it were up to me, I want Fournette in on just about every down. I don’t want to take anything away from him or downplay what his presence on the field does for Jacksonville’s offense. But, I think we can safely say that the Jaguars are in a place where they don’t need to rely on one player — Fournette or otherwise — to win ball games.