The most common pick mocked to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft so far is LSU running back Leonard Fournette. On the surface, that makes perfect sense. Fournette was a sledgehammer in college, dominating most of the games he was in when he was healthy and the Jaguars have stunk running the football since Maurice Jones-Drew left the team. It would seem like a natural match with the Jaguars holding the No. 4 overall pick, that they could get first dibs on what's seemed to settle as the consensus top back in the draft.
But does Leonard Fournette even fit the Jaguars offense?
While it needs to be said we don't know exactly what kind of offense the Jaguars are going to be running in 2017, I think we can look back at the history and tendencies of Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett to get a good idea. I pointed out a few weeks ago that the offense seemed to shift a little bit once Hackett took over for Greg Olson and then a little more when Gus Bradley was fired. It shifted to actually be faster and more shotgun with 11 personnel looks (three wide receiver, one tight end, one back). This was similar to what the Buffalo Bills ran when Marrone was the head coach and also what the New Orleans Saints did when Marrone was the offensive coordinator under Sean Payton. It was also like what Syracuse ran.
In short, almost everywhere Marrone and Hackett have been, the team has run a lot of single back shotgun formations, so it's reasonable to expect that to continue for the Jaguars, especially when you look at how the current Jaguars roster is constructed. Quarterback Blake Bortles is best out of a shotgun system and the team has three good wide receivers in Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. You're going to want those three on the field the majority of the time, so that's likely going to limit you to a single tight end and back.
So what does that all mean in regards to Leonard Fournette?
It means he's probably not the best running back to pick for the Jaguars offense.
Despite the hype, there are still some questions about Leonard Fournette heading to the draft. He completely skipped all of the agility testing and on film, his lateral agility is something that a lot of people have questions with. There are also questions about his pass protections, something critical for rookie backs to get playing time, and his ability to catch out of the backfield. Both of those things however, pass pro and receiving, are something LSU didn't really utilize so it's more of a need to see it than he's bad at it type of thing. There's also the curious question about how unproductive Fournette was out of the shotgun in LSU's offense.
Graham Barfield of Fantasy Gurus had a really nice piece on Fournette, breaking down comparisons between his 2015 and 2016 seasons at LSU and one of the notable things Barfield mentioned was Fournette's struggles out of the shotgun.
In 2015-16, Fournette ran out of shotgun on 22.1% of his attempts and averaged an abysmal 3.50 Yards Created/Attempt on such carries. Over the past two years, no running back (other than Fournette) has averaged fewer than 4.0 Yards Created/Attempt out of shotgun. To me, this is the ultimate dilemma with Fournette. Perhaps the sample is still too small to make whole judgments, but there is no refuting that Fournette is demonstrably better with the quarterback under center. In 2015-16, Fournette averaged 6.50 Yards Created/Attempt with the quarterback under center, which is miles ahead of the second-best runner from either I-Formation or Singleback in my database, Christian McCaffrey (5.66 YC/Att.).
That's a pretty damning stat for Fournette, at least in regards to his fit with the Jaguars, who run their offense mostly out of the shotgun.
This is part of why I'm not the biggest fan of Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick for the Jaguars, given how they are currently constructed. Most of the readers also know I'm very averse to picking a running back in the Top 10 regardless, because I just don't think the value is there for the position. If you're going to make that pick however, you want to make sure that you pick a player that actually fits what you're wanting to do on offense. With Fournette, you're taking more of a power formation running and shoe-horning them into an offense that is built to be run out of a 3-wide shotgun set.
This isn't to say that I believe Fournette isn't good and will be a bust or anything, because I do think he will be a productive NFL player, if he ends up on the right team in the right offense. Now, yes you can say that for literally any player, but with Fournette I think he's more reliant on the type of offense he's going to be at in the NFL. He's going to need a pretty good offensive line and a team that likes to run out of power in the I-formation.
As far as the Jaguars are concerned, their offensive line still needs work. It needs more work especially to work with a back of Fournette's skills. Just look at how Todd Gurley, who I think is pretty similar to Fournette, has fared in the Los Angeles Rams offense the past few seasons. He had a solid rookie season, anchored heavily by an insane four game stretch that saw him pick up 566 rushing yards (over half his season total) and then followed it up with a very disappointing second season that saw his yards per carry dip over a full yard. Even in his rookie season, a lot of his games saw his YPC under the four yard mark. The Rams offensive line just couldn't sustain the type of blocking that a runner of Gurley's style needed to be successful.
I feel like the Jaguars would have the same issues with a back like Fournette. Fournette, in my opinion, is more reliant on his offensive line creating running lanes for him to run through than he is at finding them and bouncing to them compared to the other running backs in this draft class. When Fournette has those holes to accelerate through, like we saw him do over and over again on the infamous LSU toss sweep plays, he picks up chunks of yards. In the NFL however, those plays are much harder to execute and he's not going to be mowing over every second level defender that confronts him like he did at LSU. There are other backs who would seem to fit the Jaguars much better than Fournette who are more of the "creative" type runners who can find their own creases when there isn't one there. Backs like Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara are not only much better at working through the trash to find a lane, but they offer a bit more "known" versatility than someone like Fournette brings, at least in regards to the passing game.
Long story short, picking someone like Fournette with the fourth overall pick would almost require a drastic overhaul of the Jaguars offense, based on how the personnel is currently constructed to make him fit. Else, you're just putting a square peg in a round hole and hoping it works out.