Earlier this season, Jacksonville Jaguars, in dire need of a running back after Leonard Fournette went down, traded a fifth round pick to the Cleveland Browns for running back Carlos Hyde.
Fast forward to last Thursday — the Jaguars, with a fully healthy Leonard Fournette, play Hyde a meager three snaps against the Tennessee Titans. This prompted a number of fans and analysts to sound off on the trade.
While it wasn’t the worst move the Jaguars have made this season, it adds to a laundry list of miscalculations and missteps that show a repeated failure to properly self-scout and assess your needs.
Now, would I have signed or drafted a back in the offseason? Absolutely.
But I think the Hyde trade was smart, given Leonard’s injury history and the need for a proven back behind him. Essentially, you get Leonard’s same punishing running style in case he goes down and a smart veteran who can pass protect when needed. Given that it took place when we were 3-3 and still in the thick of the division, I can see the logic behind the move.
As blessed as we were to have Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew on this team during their primes, it’s so odd that the Jaguars have spent so much on the running back position, whether it’s draft capital or free agency, with so little return on investment.
As we count down towards the end of the Dave Caldwell era in Jacksonville, I thought it would be apropos to take a look at his history at the running back position, and whether he significantly upgraded the team from when he first started.
Caldwell, in his first year at the controls, selected Denard Robinson in the 5th round. Robinson, a converted quarterback-turned-running back, was labeled an “offensive weapon.“ Robinson was a major liability in pass protection and wasn’t quite elusive against those NFL defenders. It’s safe to say he failed to live up to expectations. Additionally, Caldwell paid Justin Forsett in free agency, signing him to a 1 year $1.15 million dollar contract.
He was cut after one year.
The Jaguars averaged 78.8 yards per game rushing in 2013. This was good for 31st in the league.
What was noteworthy from this year was that it marked the release of Jaguars great Maurice Jones-Drew. In his stead, Caldwell signed Toby Gerhart to a three-year $10.5 million dollar contract with $4 million guaranteed. Caldwell also drafted Storm Johnson out of UCF in the seventh round of the draft. He was nothing more than just a guy.
The Jaguars averaged 102.1 yards per game rushing in 2014. This ranked 21st in the NFL.
With the 2015 draft came star Alabama running back T.J Yeldon. Caldwell finally spent a high draft pick on a running back, but he was woefully underused. Part of it has to do with Greg Olsen, the Jaguars offensive coordinator who attempted the league’s second-lowest rushing attempt total that season with 354. Yeldon also missed four games due to injury. In his stead, Robinson suffered from fumblitis and Gerhart... well... he was Gerhart.
Perhaps no better moment encapsulates his season than when he failed to score a touchdown from the one-yard line on four consecutive tries.
One gem that emerged was UDFA Corey Grant, who made the team as its primary kick returner. He would stick around for a few years, eventually posting his best game against the New England Patriots in 2017.
Out went Gerhart and in came Chris Ivory. Signed to a mammoth five-year, $32 million contract, Ivory was brought to be the bruiser and complement to Yeldon. In 2016, Ivory posted more fumbles than touchdowns, and the Jaguars averaged a paltry 72.8 yards per game rushing until interim offensive coordinator Nate Hackett took over. This would also be Denard Robinson’s final season in a Jaguars uniform.
In case you needed another reminder, the Jaguars spent the fourth overall selection on LSU RB Leonard Fournette — over prospects like Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. He was signed to a four-year, $27 million fully guaranteed contract. The running game finally flourished, finishing first in yards per game rushing. The running game under Caldwell was arguably at its peak, with Fournette, Ivory, Yeldon, and Grant all in the rotation.
The Jaguars cut Chris Ivory in the offseason. They entered the season with three running backs: Fournette, Yeldon, and Grant.
For a team built around a powerful rushing attack, this was woefully short. Injuries ravaged the position and the Jaguars had to sign Jamaal Charles and trade for Carlos Hyde. Charles was cut soon after and Hyde has disappeared from the rotation.
As of today, the Jaguars rank 19th in yards per game rushing.
Draft picks spent on running backs: No. 4 overall in 2017, No. 36 overall in 2015, No. 135 overall in 2013, No. 222 overall in 2014, TBD fifth round pick in 2019.
Money spent in free agency and draft on running back was $58,272,456.
In short, the mismanagement of the running back position isn’t the straw that broke the Jaguars’ back — but it certainly contributed to Caldwell’s downfall.