Part of the reasoning the Jacksonville Jaguars selected running back Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick was that he could help shape the identity of the Jaguars offense and he would have an instant impact. Running back is thought of as one of the positions that is the easiest to translate to from the jump in college to the NFL, and that's true for the most part. You still have to consider things like pass protection, etc., but overall you're just handing the ball off and the back is running through the hole.
Recently a stat has been floating around social media showing that on average since the Year 2000, a running back picked in the Top 5 has seen teams take the biggest leap in win total from one season to the next, with an average of +4.8 wins.
Since 2000, teams drafting RBs in Top 5 (2017 Jaguars) have improved by more wins the next season than teams to draft any other position pic.twitter.com/qpN9G4Bcpb— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) May 4, 2017
On the surface, this stat is true and I don't disagree with the premise of the idea. As mentioned, a back usually has the most instant impact to a team and for a team like the Jaguars, a serviceable run game can go a long way.
The stat floating around does not tell the whole story.
I wasn't shocked that running back was at the top of the list that was making the rounds, but I thought the +4.8 number seemed oddly high and there had to be something behind it. The first thing is, the data set for that stat isn't very high. Since the 2000 NFL Draft only nine running backs have been selected in the Top 5. I don't know how that compares to other positions, so I'm not going to say it's all that different, but it's still not a big pool to work with. Then you consider that in 2004 the NFL decided to finally start enforcing the "Chuck Rule" and NFL offenses shifted more towards being pass oriented than run oriented.
When I went back and looked at the teams who picked the running backs, I was also curious if the team predominantly was the same. Was the only big change the running back? Did they also change quarterbacks? New coaching staff? etc. The above table is what I found and already you can see that every team on the list changed quarterbacks as well, which can make a huge difference. Two of the biggest jumps made major changes at the quarterback position.
The New Orleans Saints, who had a jump in seven wins, added Drew Brees with Reggie Bush. They also got Sean Payton as their new coach, so it was a whole sale change. No surprise they had a huge jump in wins. The other big jump was the Dallas Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliot, who they picked fifth-overall. They were one of the kind of anomaly teams picking in the Top 5, as they dealt with injuries to Tony Romo the previous season and had a down year. Inserting Elliot on to that team, which already ran the ball and good quarterback play from new Dak Prescott, they easily improved by nine wins. The other team that was kind of a faux Top 5 pick was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who went 8-8 the previous season and held a Top 5 pick after they traded with the Atlanta Falcons, so they picked fifth overall and tenth overall.
If you remove the ones that are obviously not all about the running back in Dallas and New Orleans, it drops the average to about 3.8, which is still good and about more in line with what would be expected. You still have areas that made pretty big leaps adding a running back in the Top 5 and I certainly expect the Jaguars to make a leap from their 2015 3-13 record, but the real question is how much of a leap they'll make.
Most of that depends on someone other than Leonard Fournette, though.