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Should the Jaguars move on from Leonard Fournette?

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Before you freak out, I’m not advocating Leonard Fournette should or shouldn’t be on the 2019 Jacksonville Jaguars roster.

That’s for you to decide at the end of this article.

But Alfie Crow asked the question today and it certainly makes you think:

At LSU, Fournette was a transcendent talent. Some of his highlight reel runs were akin to Derrick Henry’s 99-yard sojourn throwing Jaguars defenders off like they were Pop Warner kids. The major questions surrounding Fournette coming out of college was whether his aggressive running style would be able to hold up through the rigor of 16 game NFL seasons (plus playoffs) and whether or not he could contribute in the passing game as a receiver.

The latter question, in my opinion, has been answered. Fournette has been surprisingly very effective as a receiver out of the backfield and some can argue that outside of short yardage/goal line situations, Fournette’s receiving ability has been his best trait. The concerns surrounding Fournette’s durability, however, are extremely valid and have seeped into his professional career. While some scouts had flagged his ankle injuries that plagued him in college as chronic, it’s actually been the soft tissue stuff that has hamstrung Fournette.

As a rookie in 2017, Fournette missed three total games, two of which were due to injury. Fournette sat out a game in October with an ankle sprain and one additional game in December after a quad injury following an Earl Thomas hit against the Seahawks. So far in 2018, we already know that a hamstring injury has limited Fournette to appearances in just 6 of 13 games.

To put Fournette’s availability in perspective, he’s actually played less games in his first two seasons as a Jaguar than Justin Blackmon.

As a quick refresher, Blackmon played 16 games his rookie year before missing the first four in 2013 with suspension. Blackmon returned to play four contests weeks 5-8, and then never donned a Jaguars uniform again.

Not to misconstrue anything, I’m not comparing Fournette to Blackmon. Fournette has had his own disciplinary issues, and perhaps more than we even know about behind the scenes, but he has not had any concerns with substance abuse, etc... His suspensions and benchings have largely stemmed from immaturity and from following him from afar, it certainly seems that his election as team captain by his teammates was more due to his popularity as a prankster in the locker room and a lack of other options on the offensive side of the football. Who else was going to be an offensive captain? Newcomer Austin Seferian-Jenkins? An injured Marqise Lee or a quiet Andrew Norwell? Was there really any other serious candidate? It’s essentially as if Fournette ran unopposed for that captaincy, and as a genuinely likable guy, it’s easy to understand why he was voted in.

The maturity on and off the field has certainly been a source of frustration for fans, coaches, and front office, but what has been more alarming has been that the message doesn’t seem to be resonating. He doesn’t seem to be getting it. Fournette was benched for a game in 2017 for missing a team photo, and his “big man on campus” mentality seems to be something that has carried over into 2018.

If you’ve listened to Monday’s Jaguars Happy Hour on 1010XL this season, it’s been mentioned by Tony Boselli and Pete Prisco that there has been speculation that Fournette has missed scheduled appointments for treatment on his hamstring. Though unconfirmed, if this is the case, it would make sense that the Jaguars traded a fifth round pick for Carlos Hyde due to the regime’s frustration and why the team had such a difficult time forecasting the amount of time that Fournette’s hamstring took to heal. Based on those comments, it sounds like he didn’t do himself much favors to rehab it. Perhaps they were sending a message to Fournette. If they were, the message didn’t stick.

Against the Bills a few weeks ago, Fournette now famously put his helmet on and ran into a fracas to throw a punch at Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson, causing him to not only get kicked out of a winnable game and cost his team a tremendous scoring opportunity on the goal line, but also had rippling repercussions in a league-mandated one game suspension and fine that may have waived Fournette’s remaining guaranteed monies in his contract. Fournette apparently apologized to his teammates and said he would learn from the incident.

Earlier today, TMZ released video of Fournette threatening to beat a fan’s ass in last week’s Thursday Night Football debacle against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. There’s concern that Fournette could yet again face a fine from the NFL league offices for this incident, but after hearing Doug Marrone’s comments today, it sounds like the team will not be penalizing Fournette and his reaction was charged by a racial slur.

Durability. Maturity. Take a second and scroll up on how many words had to be written just to cover those topics in this article. It’s a borderline laundry list, and we haven’t even gotten to his quality of play so far.

Fournette’s presence in the offense has been evident. There’s no question about it. His availability has huge impact on the offensive play calling and affects the defenses in the vein of flooding the box and forcing the quarterback to win through the air. But after a season of watching other top ten draft selections at the running back position — Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey — quite frankly, Fournette’s play has been nowhere near the quality of anyone on that list.

Bias aside, Fournette has looked lethargic hitting the holes this year, has shown a lack of vision in diagnosing running lanes, and constantly runs into traffic when there are wide open areas available to him for explosive plays. This isn’t just my opinion, as Jaguars all-time great running back Fred Taylor has shared similar dissonance with Fournette, even going so far as to say he would have taken a handful of runs to the house that Fournette got stifled for a short gain. Jeff Lageman and Tony Boselli have also corroborated this notion on the radio. Eyeball test aside, the numbers certainly correlate that Fournette’s production largely comes from high carry volume versus efficiency.

In 2017, we saw Fournette lead the NFL with not only one, but the two top-timed speeds per NFL NextGen Stats. In 2018, we have seen nothing close to this type of explosiveness from Fournette despite having shed a bunch of pounds in preseason to increase his burst. I’m watching Saquon Barkley superman hurdle upright players and juke open field tacklers out of their shoes week-in and week-out while Fournette has a play or two each game where he seemingly stumbles over his own feet.

Could this be a result of the lingering hamstring? Sure. Do the crowded eight man boxes and skeleton crew offensive line help? Nope. None of these contextual factors, however, have anything to do with Fournette’s poor judgment and decision-making thus far. Neither his hamstring nor Tyler Shatley made him throw a punch on a play he wasn’t even involved in.

So the Jaguars are essentially at a crossroads this offseason. Does the front office feel that Fournette’s promise of talent outweighs the amount of headaches that comes with him? If not, it would behoove them to use Fournette as ammunition in a potential offseason move while he still has perceivable value. In the NFL, players are like stocks, and Fournette’s is undoubtedly on the decline at this point in time. Just like the stock market, however, Fournette can have a monster game next week against the Redskins next week an be on the upswing. It’s just the nature of the league.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, this is all for you to decide and help formulate an opinion. For me personally, this all simply boils down to two questions.

  1. If Leonard Fournette’s contract expired this offseason, would you pay him the top-tier RB contract that he would demand based on these first two years?
  2. If not, do you trust Fournette to mature and become a more dedicated professional on and off the field in the next two seasons while under his rookie deal?

If the answer to both questions is no, then there is your answer. If that’s the case, then it would be prudent for the Jaguars to consider moving Fournette while he still has value. Maybe they can package Fournette in a trade up to acquire their franchise quarterback in the draft such as Dwayne Haskins?

Depending on how the order shakes out, a player like Fournette could be a tremendous bargaining chip in a potential move up. If I told you the Jaguars could save a 2020 first round pick by offering Leonard Fournette instead to, say, Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders for example, would you prefer to keep the future draft pick or keep Fournette?

Again, for you to decide. Would you consider moving Fournette? Would you be surprised if they moved on in the offseason? Let us know.