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With the 2019 NFL offseason upon us, here are some important dates coming up over the next three months to mark on your calendar:
· February 19 – Franchise/transition tag window opens
· February 26-March 4 – NFL Combine; Indianapolis, IN
· March 5 – Franchise/transition tag deadline at 4:00pm EST
· March 11-13 – Free Agency tampering window opens
· March 13 – NFL Free Agency officially opens at 4:00pm EST
· March 24-27 – Annual league meetings
· April 1 – Offseason workouts for clubs with new head coaches
· April 15 – Offseason workouts for clubs with returning head coaches
· April 19 – Deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign tender
· April 25-27 – NFL Draft; Nashville, TN
Between NFL free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft, here are some avenues the Jacksonville Jaguars could pursue when it comes to building the blueprint of the running back position.
Thomas Rawls (futures contract)
Despite the rocky sophomore slump for Leonard Fournette, it certainly appears as if the once-dominant LSU running back and number four overall draft pick will get at least one more opportunity to earn back the trust of his coaches and management under a new offensive coordinator. Fournette will have to show an inspired commitment to wanting to be great and investing in his body to bring back good faith, but the good news for him is that the door appears to be open. Fournette may also be more effective in DeFilippo’s new offense that likes to rotate running backs with high frequency, and he could serve a productive role in a LeGarrette Blount-type capacity as a short yardage back to pick up tough yards and score points. Whether or not he’s here or somewhere else after 2019, this is undoubtedly a huge year for Fournette to rehabilitate his stock and external perception.
An expensive mid-season acquisition before the trade deadline, Carlos Hyde has looked largely lost and ineffective in a Jaguars uniform. Hyde will be turning 29 on September 20, but already looks liked he may be wearing down. Hyde is also due to cost $4.7 million against the salary cap next year and wouldn’t cost them any penalties to be released, so his status with the team is very much in flux. He also never seemed too geeked to be traded to Jacksonville in the first place, so this might be a situation where it’s best for all parties to move on and perhaps allocate that $4.7 million cap savings to a running back who John DeFilippo is more familiar with.
David Williams was a player that the front office liked enough to poach off the Denver Broncos practice squad and showed some nice flashes in the limited carries he earned. I’m eager to see how he responds to a full offseason with the team and wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the 2019 final roster. Thomas Rawls is just a guy.
Premium free agents
No chance they go after Le’Veon Bell? Not so fast, my friend. Once Bell’s status with the Pittsburgh Steelers is cleared up (there have been reports about a possible transition tag), I do expect the Jaguars to have interest. I also expect them to bow out of the bidding very early, but if their plan is to go get a rookie quarterback, a playmaker like Bell in John DeFilippo’s offense that you can line up in the backfield or split out as a receiver would be intriguing and would serve as a nice safety net for a first-year starter. Never say never…
Tevin Coleman is a one cut runner who has already proven to be extremely effective in a complimentary role in Atlanta. Coleman’s next contract is difficult to project and this deep rookie crop of running backs certainly hinders his open market value. In four years in Atlanta, Coleman has made a total of $3,274,042, so I would imagine Coleman will hold out for a nice contract to compensate for his bargain rookie deal.
Mark Ingram missed the first four games of the 2018 with a PED suspension, but prospective suitors could use this to their advantage in negotiations. I have a feeling Ingram ends up in Baltimore, but his experience (Ingram will be turning 30 in December) and durability (hasn’t missed a game for injury since 2015) are two traits that would likely be high on the Jaguars’ list to put in a running backs room with Fournette.
And on that note, is there any better mentor for salvaging Fournette than Frank Gore? While most running backs start to break down around 30, Gore is definitely the exception to the rule thanks to his longevity. Turning 36 in May, Gore has played 16 games in a season every year since 2010 and has 210 career games played in his career. Gore may not be the athlete he once was, but his ability to show Fournette how to take care of his body and be a positive influence on him would be priceless. At this point in his career, Gore may not want to leave his home state of Florida, so he may be open to a one-year pay day in Jacksonville.
Bargain free agents
When the dust settles, I do think the Jaguars end up with at least one free agent running back this offseason. My early money is on that guy being Latavius Murray. The Jaguars worked out Murray last offseason before he signed in Minnesota, so he’s obviously someone they have in their scouting rolodex of potential fits. Murray plied his trade collegiately at UCF and had a very productive season last year in Minnesota under, yes, John DeFilippo. Some may argue why Murray would go play for a coordinator who got fired for not running the ball enough, but Murray seems to be a big DeFilippo fan and the two spent 2014 in Oakland together when DeFilippo was the QB coach. Murray disclosed last month that he does not want to be a back up and his free agency decision will be impacted by play time, but looking around at depth charts around the NFL, he may not have a choice.
Seahawks running back Mike Davis is one of the most underrated runners in the NFL and might be available for a bargain. Davis’ physical running style translated very well to Brian Schottenheimer’s new smash mouth Seahawks offense, where he featured in 15 games and averaged 4.6 yards per carry along with 34 receptions.
Jalen Richard is entering his fourth year in the NFL out of Southern Miss and is primarily a third-down receiving back – a role this team’s running backs room desperately needs. Richard has not missed a single game since entering the league, checking the box on this team’s priority around durability, and caught 68 passes on 81 targets last season.
Benny Snell Jr.
I won’t go into excruciating detail writing out scouting reports for the above players since we still have some time to go until the draft, but the above players all seem like good fits if the Jaguars decided to address RB on day two or early day three of the draft. All these guys are durable runners and have different strengths that could compliment Fournette on the running back depth chart. Devin Singletary lacks third-level home run speed but is rarely taken down on first contact and has a jump cut in his repertoire that looks like he’s teleporting. Darrell Henderson is that change of pace long run threat (8.9!!! yards per carry) and also tacked on 19 catches for a total of 25 TDs in 2019. Benny Snell Jr. is a physical between-the-tackles bell cow who most resembles Fournette in playing style but I can see the team falling in love with his infectious passion for the game of football. Trayveon Williams may be the most complete running back in this class with his ability to contribute as a receiver and is probably the best pass protector in the class, so he would be an ideal direct replacement for T.J. Yeldon.
Later round options
Similar to the section above, I’ll just highlight a few reasons why the backs above would be logical fits for the Jaguars on late day three of the draft. I already detailed Michigan’s Karan Higdon in my Senior Bowl recap and his toughness would be a welcome addition. Washington State’s James Williams is a slippery and elusive receiver out of the backfield and he may be the most high-character prospect out of the running back crop. Kansas State’s Alex Barnes is a weight room warrior who is a James Conner clone and averaged 5.7 yards per carry despite slamming his head into a crowded box every snap thanks to the Wildcats’ lack of a passing game threat. Maryland’s Ty Johnson opened up some eyes at the East-West Shrine Game and could be another fine third down back option.
Undrafted free agent options
With a record number of underclassmen running backs declaring for the draft, there should be an enormous frenzy for the priority free agent backs as the supply heavily outweighs the demand. Gators fans should be familiar with Jordan Scarlett, who had a nice rebound season under Dan Mullen in 2018 after being suspended from the program in 2017. Darwin Thompson is a water-bug scat back who can make players miss in a phone booth, but may be too undersized to be a consistent back at the next level. LSU’s Nick Brossette lacks an outstanding or special trait, but reliably does everything really well and would be a familiar face for Leonard Fournette. Western Michigan’s Jamauri Bogan is a short, squat runner that looks like Maurice Jones-Drew aesthetically with a nose for the end zone and plays with tremendous passion. Taj McGowan is a power back who can hammer it home between the A gap and potentially challenge for a practice squad spot in the NFL as a short yardage back.
2019 RB depth chart prediction