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How will the Jaguars rotate their running backs?

There will be nothing vanilla about the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars offense this year, and that’s good news for fans with a more sophisticated football palette.

Nathaniel Hackett has revealed glimpses of some new and different wrinkles in the offense in the preseason, but this seems like it’s only the tip of the tactical iceberg.

The NFL is gradually adapting more and more run-pass option (RPO) concepts and principles to help out quarterbacks that are coming from spread systems, and we may be able to add Hackett as an early adopter along with the likes of Sean McVay and Frank Reich. This is great news for Blake Bortles as it emphasizes his strengths (ability to make plays with his legs) and nullifies his weaknesses (decision-making and turnovers) while simultaneously paralyzing defenses with misdirection.

We’ve already seen some of this sprinkled in this preseason, specifically against the Atlanta Falcons with a few two running back sets in the backfield. So how will the Jaguars rotate their skill position players and what does that mean for Blake Bortles?

First up — the running backs!

Running backs

The Jaguars have opted to go with a three-headed monster of Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant, and all three horses should be active on game day this season. To pander to the comic book crowd, think of Leonard Fournette as Iron Man, T.J. Yeldon as Spiderman, and Corey Grant as The Flash. I know I’m mixing Marvel and the DC Universe, but bear with me.

Fournette is the workhorse and the aptly named Leo will get the lion’s share of snaps this year. Striving to be the king of the NFL jungle this season, Fournette’s development in blitz pick up and pass catching from year one to year two should yield an increased presence on third downs, which is poetry in motion to all Fournette owners in fantasy. While we may see a Fournette bump in third down situations, Fournette may actually see a decrease in snaps on second downs, especially early in the game to keep him fresh for the fourth quarter. Fournette’s main contribution will be in the red zone and short yardage situations where his strength can move the pile and pick up the tough yards and points.

T.J. Yeldon has been praised all offseason by the coaching staff and should see an increased role on earlier downs. Yeldon has consistently been the best pass protector in the rotation and is likely the best receiver out of the trio, consistently wrangling in Bortles’ passes with his web-like hands. In addition to his reps in the backfield, I wouldn’t be surprised if Yeldon is utilized in the slot on four-receiver sets on third and medium situations with one of the other two runners in the backfield.

Corey Grant has something the other two backs don’t — explosive, almost supernatural speed. Grant is sturdier than the normal scat back (5’11” and 205 pounds) and while he is a blur in the screen game, don’t be surprised if Grant gets some rushes between the tackles this year. Last season, if Grant was in the game, a screen pass was almost a given, so the Hackett will need to diversify Grant’s offensive portfolio this season.

The Jaguars 2018 running back rotation won’t have carved-out niche roles like last year, and including two of them on the field at the same time illustrates a nightmare scenario for the defense.

What if Grant swings out to the flat for a potential screen pass and Fournette runs off tackle to the same side?

What if Bortles reads man coverage and both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon go on opposite wheel routes, taking the linebackers out of the box and allowing Bortles to do a QB Draw up the middle?

What if Bortles runs a zone read with Fournette and has Yeldon to hit from the slot for a short game? What if he opts to keep it if Yeldon is covered and runs it towards the sticks for a first down?

What if Fournette functions as a lead fullback from a pistol formation and allows Yeldon to get a beat on a draw play?

What if DJ Chark swings in on a jet sweep and Bortles throws a screen to Corey Grant in the direction where Chark came from?

Sounds hectic, right?

It should be, and that’s the point of all this. This is exactly the type of internal whispers that Hackett wants to force for opposing defenders and coordinators alike. He wants to create a virtual game of whack-a-mole where defenders will either have to commit fully to one assignment or try to keep eye discipline to not fall for misdirection, which is where the passing game benefits.

Speaking of the passing game… stay tuned tomorrow.