The NFL Draft is eight days away!
With the draft occurring next week, it’s time we go over the prospects that are consistently linked to the Jaguars with the 4th overall pick. Yesterday, I made the case for and against the Jaguars drafting Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, and tomorrow, I will make the case for and against drafting Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
Today? It’s time to make the case for and against Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette, who, as of April 11th, is the most consistent prospect mocked to the Jaguars.
Why the Jaguars should draft Fournette
So, T.J. Yeldon is no good, right? The former 36th overall pick certainly doesn’t seem so, as he has rushed for only 1205 yards on 312 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in 27 career games.
Well, I have a theory on why Yeldon has played so poorly: Yeldon is a vision runner. As a prospect, his vision and reads in a zone blocking scheme were highly praised. These skills obviously haven’t translated well into the NFL, but I believe that comes down to how poor the Jaguars offensive line has been. I’ll get more into that when I make the case against Fournette.
Bottom line is, Yeldon has been a disappointment so far for the Jaguars, and last year, free agent signee Chris Ivory was disappointing as well, dealing with a couple of short term injuries and a fumbling issue (five fumbles on 117 carries). The Jaguars backfield (not including QB/WR runs) totaled 1230 yards on 324 carries, averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and five touchdowns in 2016. That’s really bad.
Leonard Fournette, the three year starter at Louisiana State, came 507 yards short (in four less games) of doubling Jacksonville’s 2016 RB run yards during his 2015 sophomore season, as well as more than quadrupled their rushing TD total with 22, and was 1.1 yards per carry off from doubling their average yards per carry. Are these comparisons relevant? No, not really, but man are they jarring to read.
Fournette is a big running back, standing at 6-1, 228 lbs (his Pro Day weight; He weighed 240 lbs at the NFL Combine). And with his size comes surprising speed: He ran a 4.51 second 40 yard dash at 240 lbs (which ranks in the 65th percentile among NFL RBs, before weight adjustment). One of Fournette’s biggest assets is his breakaway speed when he makes it to the second level, which, with his power, isn’t much of a struggle to get to.
Fournette is also a decent receiving back, as he recorded 41 catches for 526 yards (12.8 yards per catch) in his three year career at LSU.
The 2017 NFL Draft RB class is heavy, but after a very solid draft process, Fournette is the headliner, and I highly doubt he makes it out of the top 10 come next Thursday. Hell, I’d bet he doesn’t make it out of the top 5.
Why the Jaguars shouldn’t draft Fournette
Note: You’re about to be bombarded by dollar signs and contract value, all thanks to Spotrac.com.
Read the last line of the “Why the Jaguars should draft Fournette” section again:
Hell, I’d bet he doesn’t make it out of the top 5.
Just because I bet he doesn’t make it out of the top 5, doesn’t mean it’d be smart for a team to draft Fournette, or any running back, in the top 5 picks of any NFL Draft.
The NFL’s highest paid running back in terms of guarantees is 2016 4th overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, who is guaranteed 98.2% of his contract: $24,506,340 of $24,956,341. The next highest paid RB in terms of guarantees is LeSean McCoy, who is guaranteed 45.63% of his $40 million total contract value: $18,250,000.
NFL rookie contracts increase in value every year, with the 2017 4th overall pick projected to make $27,030,534 in total value. Based on Elliott’s 98.2% guarantee, that means the 4th overall pick will likely be guaranteed around $26,543,984.
If the Jaguars draft Leonard Fournette, based on estimations, he will be guaranteed more money than any RB in the NFL by almost $2 million, before ever taking an NFL snap.
Let’s add more economical logic to it: The Jaguars have guaranteed Chris Ivory, who they signed to a five year, $32 million contract in 2016, $10 million. While he certainly made some of those guarantees in 2016, putting both contracts together, Ivory and Fournette will have taken over $36 million in guaranteed money out of the Jaguars checkbook by the time their contracts run out/they are cut by the team (if Fournette is selected by the Jaguars). That’s just way too much money to hand to running backs.
Money aside, the Jaguars need to fix their offensive line before they will see any major improvements to the run game. Even in drafting Fournette, I’d personally bet he’d look like a bust of a pick behind the Jaguars’ current offensive line. As I stated early on, T.J,. Yeldon is a vision runner, but with vision running, you need to actually have running holes that you can see to make any impact, and Yeldon has never had consistent running holes to use to his advantage.
I’d say the same thing about Ivory last year. His whole season was weird, looking back at it. Before Week 1, Ivory was questionable with a calf injury, but was expected to play until the day of the season opener when he was rushed to the hospital with an undisclosed medical issue.
Ivory finally got on the field in Week 3, but was limited and split touches with Yeldon. He continued to do so throughout the season, and he missed several other games due to a wide array of short term injuries to his ankle, knee, and hamstring.
Ivory’s injuries seemed to be, as I said before, short term, as the injuries weren’t specifically repetitive during the season and rather he just had multiple different ones. When Nate Hackett took over as interim offensive coordinator, Ivory boosted his yards per carry from 3.2 yards per carry in his first five games to 4.2 yards per carry in his final six games.
All in all, I think Ivory was incredibly shaken up from his undisclosed medical issue to start the season: He was literally rushed to the hospital on the Jaguars opening day. Giving him an offseason to shake 2016 off and work with Nate Hackett, who is now the full time offensive coordinator, should really help Ivory bounce back in 2017 and hopefully look like the RB the Jaguars signed him to be.
To add to all of this, is Leonard Fournette even a scheme fit in Jacksonville? Based on how Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett have run offenses before, especially last year when Hackett ran more of a shotgun, 11 personnel offense as the Jaguars interim offensive coordinator: No, Fournette really isn’t a fit.
Leonard Fournette has an incredibly convincing résumé that, I’m sure, the Jaguars are heavily mulling over. However, the financial impact he brings to the table is simply too high, and if the Jaguars would instead worry about fixing their run blocking offensive line, they can host a fine “running back by committee” run game with competent running backs Chris Ivory and, potentially, T.J. Yeldon, and maybe even speedster Corey Grant.
If the Jaguars want to draft a running back, I’d suggest they take one on Day 2, where the guaranteed money completely drops off compared to the 4th overall pick. I stated this before and I will again: The 2017 NFL Draft running back class is, most certainly, a deep one.