The offseason is a time for hope and playoff talk, since everyone is undefeated and it’s a clean slate. It’s when people talk themselves into their team winning the division and most of it is innocent fan talk, but there seems to be a trend with the Jacksonville Jaguars and fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette. The assumptions and expectations for him are starting to run off the rails.
Currently the over/under in Vegas are set at 900 for the rushing yards and six for the rushing touchdowns. I think that’s probably underselling Fournette a little bit, but it’s hard to blame them when the Jaguars leading rusher last season had sub-500 rushing yards and the offensive line isn’t drastically changed.
With Fournette, you will often see people say things like “...if he can be our Zeke (Ezekiel Elliott) then the offense should be much better...” While this statement is absolutely true, I’m not sure what people realize what it would have to entail for Fournette to become the “Zeke” for the Jaguars in 2017.
Just to put some numbers on it, Elliott finished the season with 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns averaging over five yards per carry. That’s a nuts season for a running back, let alone a rookie. It’s one of the best rookie seasons for a running back ever, so I think to say “if he can be our Zeke” is asking a heck of a lot more than what is realistic.
That being said, I think the minimum baseline for Fournette should be about 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. If he can hit that mark, it’s a successful season. If he can’t hit that mark, then it’s a big disappointment for the fourth overall pick.
While it should be noted it’s a fantasy projection from Pro Football Focus here, I feel with the running back position it’s a bit more applicable than other positions, their projection seems pretty close to what my minimum expectation is.
Our projections have him gaining about 1,200 total yards (1,000 rushing) and seven touchdowns (six rushing). Those are great stats.
But that’s about as bullish as you can be, because there’s a lot going against him, too. Namely his team.
Jacksonville ran the ball on just 33.7 percent of their snaps last year — the third-lowest rate in the league, trailing only Indianapolis and Cleveland. They ranked 27th in yards per snap. They ranked 25th in total points scored. Their run-blocking unit graded out 23rd in the NFL last year. (Although they did draft Cam Robinson in the second round, which should help.)
We could go on. There’s no shortage of the-Jaguars-are-bad stats out there.
The thing with the Jaguars and rushing the football is, there are so many moving parts than need to go right for the run game to be successful for the Jaguars and it extends beyond simply the offensive line and the running back himself.
It’s likely going to be a struggle for Fournette early in the season, as teams are going to likely key on the running back and make the Jaguars beat them by throwing the football. Even if you watch some games last season, teams loaded up to stop the run and the Jaguars simply had no where to go. They couldn’t block that many people in the box and the running backs couldn’t make that many people miss in the backfield. The Jaguars finished 20th last season in tackles for loss percentage and they’re adding a back who isn’t really a guy known to make something out of nothing when people are getting penetration in the backfield.
It’s going to take efficient play from the quarterback position in the first few games to open things up for Fournette. If they can’t get that, it’s likely going to be a rough season of running into loaded fronts.