When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected running back Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tom Coughlin grabbed the war room telephone from Doug Marrone and delivered one simple message to the collegiate dynamo.
“Put the ball in the end zone, young man.”
Overwhelmed by the euphoria of draft day, Fournette likely didn’t immediately digest that he would be the next stallion in a pedigree stable of franchise running backs in Duval. While the Jacksonville Jaguars have had their crests and troughs in the win-loss department since their inaugural 1995 season, the ability to run the football has always been their blueprint for building their offensive identity throughout the decades.
From Fred Taylor currently standing 17th in all-time rushing (11,695 yards) to Maurice Jones-Drew winning the rushing crown in 2011 (1,606 yards), running backs have long been the fulcrum of Jaguars football.
So how did Fournette’s rookie year compare to the franchise greats?
As you can see, Fournette was behind both Freddy T and MoJo in every category besides rushing yards, although an argument can be made that Jones-Drew likely would have passed him if not for splitting carries with Taylor as a rookie.
Many Jaguars fans and even team media, including Jeff Lageman, have earmarked Fournette as potentially the most transcendent talent of the trio, but when comparing the numbers, it’s apparent that Fournette is slightly behind the curve at this point.
The good news for Fournette is he has an outstanding opportunity to make up some ground in his sophomore campaign. In their second years as pros, both Taylor and Jones-Drew regressed statistically in all categories listed above, mostly owing to missing games due to injury. If this “Lenny Light” version of Fournette can sustain 16 regular season games in 2018 and stay healthy, he would have an enormous advantage in career benchmark as a Jaguars running back through two seasons.
That’s the magic number Fournette needs to hit in 2018. That’s the yards-per-carry mark that both Taylor and Jones-Drew registered in their second seasons as Jaguars despite missing seven combined games. With the addition of All-Pro offensive guard Andrew Norwell and another year of development for left tackle Cam Robinson, this should be a very attainable goal for Fournette.
Will Fournette go down as the greatest running back in Jaguars history? Who knows.
But what I do know is that Fournette became “the man” at both St. Augustine High School and LSU. If there is any player designed to step into the shadow of these Jaguars legends and claw tooth and nail to emerge as the best of the bunch, it’s Leonard Fournette.