Leonard Fournette, the Jacksonville Jaguars prized possession at running back and the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, is set to kick off his NFL career on Sunday against the Texans.
After years of the run game being nearly non-existent in Jacksonville, Fournette looks to provide a spark to an offense that is transitioning into a “smash-mouth” style of play. The Jaguars want to run the ball as much as possible.
Considering Fournette hasn’t played since week one of the preseason due to a minor foot injury, he may have some rust to shake off. However, since he has been practicing since August 26th, he should be close to 100% ready to play.
His first matchup comes against a scary Texans defensive line. J.J. Watt is returning from two back surgeries that sidelined him for the majority of the 2016 season. With Watt being fully healthy on top of the emergence of Jadeveon Clowney as a stud outside linebacker, both Fournette and the Jaguars offensive line have been dealt a real test for Sunday.
Watt and Clowney headlining the Texans front seven, with Benardrick McKinney, Whitney Mercilus, and and Brian Cushing rounding out the linebacker group, Fournette will likely struggle to break free on a lot of big runs.
The Jaguars, to their own fault, neglected to significantly upgrade their offensive line this offseason. Other then upgrading their left tackle position by drafting Cam Robinson in the second round, the left guard and right guard spots remain a huge red flag. A.J. Cann has continued to struggle holding his own on the right side, and the Jaguars are still torn as to who should start at left guard out of Patrick Omameh, Earl Watford, and Tyler Shatley.
While the Jaguars were fair in pass protection last year, their run blocking was awful. Per footballoutsiders.com, the Jaguars ranked 27th in adjusted line yards (this is a complicated stat that determines blocking responsibility and yardage created by the OL — You can read more into the stat here), and 20% of run plays were stuffed at the line. That's... not good.
Considering all of this, I'm expecting Fournette to make a couple of flashy plays on his own, as he is a powerful and has the ability to spark a play on his own, but I'm not expecting rookie Ezekiel Elliott-esque stats from Fournette on Sunday. I'd figure he gets an attempt near the goal line if the offense can put themselves in that position, but I'd figure he caps out around 80 yards rushing.
Leonard Fournette is going to be really fun to watch going forward for the Jaguars, but his debut game is going to provide a challenge, to say the least.