The Jacksonville Jaguars have released running back Leonard Fournette after a year where he posted a career high in yards, but only scored three touchdowns. According to head coach Doug Marrone, this release is solely for on-the-field purposes, with the thought being that the running backs behind him would help the team succeed more.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone says Leonard Fournette's release is all about what he's seen on field during camp -- not locker room issues. He feels like group of backs behind Fournette can give team better chance to win. Doing it now gives them chance to get rotation figured out.— Michael DiRocco (@ESPNdirocco) August 31, 2020
This actually makes a whole lot of sense, schematically. Fournette was one of the final remnants left from a Tom Coughlin-built offense — a plodding, physical, north-south runner. His most effective and productive rushing plays came on downhill runs, following a fullback (a la 2017 Jaguars).
With the departure of Tom Coughlin however, a new offensive style comes in via Jay Gruden. The former Washington Football Team head coach and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator deploys a West Coast style offense. Heavy on play action and zone runs that stretch east and west, rather than north and south.
In addition, all of the running backs Gruden deploys in his most successful offenses could catch the ball out of the backfield, as well. A prime example of this is Giovanni Bernard in 2013 with the Bengals. Despite only carrying the ball 170 times for 695 yards, he caught 56 passes for 514 yards, which was good for third on that team in receiving yards. Bucky Brooks from NFL Network explains it perfectly:
Great point. The @Jaguars ex-RB skills didn’t match the scheme that’s best suited for the team’s QB1. Fournrtte needs to be a feature back in an old school, downhill system. JAX won’t play that way with Gruden/Minshew. More spread and shred instead of smash-mouth #DUUUVAL https://t.co/HqGfg08JuB— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) August 31, 2020
Now what does this mean for the backs on the current roster?
Well, this means that there will be a RB-by committee for this upcoming year. With Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, and Chris Thompson all on the roster, Gruden can deploy that “spread and shred” offense at it’s most productive point. Armstead, Ozigbo and Thompson are all smaller than Fournette. Specifically Thompson, who played for Gruden in Washington from 2014-2019.
If Thompson can stay healthy, he’s bound to be a productive part of the Jaguar offense. A name to keep an eye on in this room would be undrafted rookie running back James Robinson. According to camp reports from John Shipley of Jaguar Report, Robinson had a great scrimmage this past Saturday, and had several big runs.
This Jaguars offense is not going to be the same as the offense that will grind its way to the AFC title game in 2017. It’s going to be more spread based, more one cut zone running. Schematically, Fournette didn’t fit that mold, so the Jaguars did what they needed to do to maximize their offensive output.
They released him.