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ESPN thinks Jaguars running backs get a lot less productive in 2018

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-OTA Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars offense will live and die by its run game. From spending the No. 4 overall pick on Leonard Fournette and then less than 12 months later making left guard Andrew Norwell the top priority in free agency, this team will do everything it takes to win the time of possession, minimize turnovers, and leave you physically exhausted at the end of the day.

But that priority doesn’t translate into production, according to ESPN’s Mike Clay who ranked all 32 NFL backfields and came away thinking that the Jaguars aren’t anything special — slotting them 13th in the league between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars

Top three backs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant

Projected unit stats: 425 carries, 1,688 yards, 14 TDs; 89 receptions, 723 yards, 2 TDs

Outlook: Jacksonville committed to a run-heavy offense last season, and the new game plan led to a league-high 464 rushing attempts. Only Saints backs exceeded the Jags’ 1,928 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. The backfield was led by Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft, who had the sixth-most touches in the league (304) despite missing three games. Fournette’s rushing efficiency was not particularly good (3.9 YPC, 1.6 YAC), and he averaged an ugly 3.3 YPC over his final 200 carries of the season. Fournette remains the team’s feature back with Yeldon (30-plus receptions each of the past three seasons) and Grant (6.1 career YPC) mixing in.

I guess my first questions is how a team can go from the most productive in the league to barely cracking 100 yards per game on the ground. Running backs rushed for 1,928 yards last year and now they’re going to go for 1,688 yards?

Also, why would we run the ball less this year? 425 carries by running backs would be 39 less rushes than the 464 that Clay predicts.

Lastly, why are running backs less of a factor in the passing game than last year when the team started with a better crop of wide receivers? Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are gone — the running backs will get more than the 96 catches for 785 yards and three touchdowns they saw last year, not go down to 89 catches for 723 yards and two touchdowns.

What do you think? Will the running backs be less of a part of the offense’s gameplan? Or is Mike Clay wrong?