Leonard Fournette had a good rookie season for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year in terms of production. He had 1,040 yards on the ground, 10 total touchdowns, and his carries — even late in the game against goal line defenses inexplicably at midfield — allowed Blake Bortles and the passing game the opportunity to be good enough to lead us to the AFC Championship.
However, Fournette’s 3.9 yards per carry has been his Achilles Heel in certain circles. His value, on paper, was good, but not fourth overall pick good.
But Mitchell Rentz from ChatSports.com thinks stats like yards per carry and yards per game need to be looked at through the lens of what running backs are going up against — and in Fournette’s case he ran almost half his carries into defensive fronts that had eight players in the box.
9 NFL RBs rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2017— Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) May 15, 2018
The % of att/w 8+ defenders in the box:
Leonard Fournette - 49%
Jordan Howard - 43%
Mark Ingram - 42%
LeSean McCoy - 36%
Melvin Gordon - 29%
Kareem Hunt - 24%
CJ Anderson - 22%
Le'Veon Bell - 20%
Todd Gurley - 17%#FantasyFootball pic.twitter.com/IqjUBNmziF
The number of players in the box changes play to play and which players changes on the preference of the opposing team’s coordinator. Is it five linemen and three linebackers? Four linemen, three linebackers, and a blitzing cornerback? Whatever the combination, no running back ran against such overwhelming odds in 2017 — and Fournette’s production in light of that should be weighted more favorably because of it.
Imagine if the Jaguars passing game was as efficient as the Chiefs, allowing him to run at defenses like Kareem Hunt who saw eight-man boxes half as often.
So, was Fournette elite last year? No. Was he otherworldly? Not really. But he was good against opposing defenses that sold out against the run more often than any other running back in the league last year.