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Leonard Fournette And Why Yards Per Carry Is A Flawed Statistic

Zach Goodall

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Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs the ball against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

As the offseason has worn on and folks have gone back to analyze how players and teams performed during the 2017 season, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has become the center of a hot topic: How well did Fournette play in his rookie year, and based on his first season, was he worth the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft?

The latter half of the question, no matter what your opinion is on the value of running backs, is irrelevant until further into Fournette’s career. It’s unreasonable to claim whether he was, or wasn’t, worth the pick until it’s clear how much of an impact he had on the team’s performance during his time in Jacksonville.

The former, however, can certainly be debated. Fournette wasn’t perfect (is any rookie ever perfect?), but he did well in his role in the team’s new power-running offensive identity, rushing for 1040 yards and 9 TDs, and recording 36 catches for 302 yards and a receiving touchdown in 13 games.

However, when looking at raw numbers, doubters tend to immediately call out his 3.9 yards average per carry. That ranked 27th among NFL running backs with 100+ carries. On the surface, that number isn’t ideal.

But the thing about football is that you can never just take a number at face value and run with it, and that’s what’s happening when Leonard Fournette’s yards per carry statistic is mentioned. There’s a ton of missing context.

Utilizing the always-resourceful FootballOutsiders.com, I found some in-depth numbers that give us a better perspective as to how the Jaguars tried to run the ball, and where they found success and failure doing so.

Football Outsiders tracked each one of Jacksonville’s 464 carries, and found that 64% of runs went through the interior offensive line. Compare that to the next highest spot along the OL: 11% to the left outside. Granted, not all 464 carries belonged to Fournette, but considering only one other direction got into double digit percentages, one thing remains clear: Jacksonville is an inside power run team, and Fournette 268 carries in 13 games makes him the bell-cow.

How successful was Fournette and Co. when running inside? Not very. Football Outsiders uses a stat called adjusted line yards (which is an incredibly interesting stat that you can learn about here) to determine offensive line value in running the football, and Jacksonville ranked 22nd in that statistic when running inside (4.01 ALY per carry). When running to the left end, left tackle, right tackle and right end, the Jaguars averaged 4.32 ALY/carry (13th), 4.34 ALY/carry (14th), 4.31 ALY/carry (7th), and 4.36 ALY/carry (10th), respectively.

Oh, and let’s not forget box-stacking against Fournette, which naturally has a negative effect on inside-the-tackle-box runs. Per Mitchell Renz of ChatSports.com, Fournette faced 8+ defenders in the tackle box on 49% of carries. That led the NFL by 6%, as Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard faced 8+ defenders in the box on 43% of his carries.

Despite all of these stats clearly showing the interior offensive line was a problem for the Jaguars rushing attack, Leonard Fournette had flashes of excellence that can be built upon as the line improves. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Fournette had 74 evaded tackles, which ranked 10th in the NFL despite the back missing three games. During the season, it was noticeable how often Fournette would be hit in the backfield by defenders, especially against stacked boxes, and yet he still found ways to get away from tackles, as seen by his evaded tackle count.

On top of evaded tackles, Fournette ranked 7th in yards created by PlayerProfiler.com’s research, gaining 420 yards after evading a tackle on any run play.

Perhaps the most important stat at PlayerProfiler.com when analyzing Fournette’s game, however, is his efficiency vs. a stacked front (5+ defenders along the line of scrimmage). When facing stacked fronts, which he saw on 16.8% of carries (3rd highest in the NFL), Fournette averaged 3.6 yards per carry, which ranked 13th amongst all running backs. These numbers help confirm that Fournette was an effective runner against stacked boxes.

Did Fournette have a superstar-esque rookie year? I wouldn’t say so, but the in-depth numbers suggest that Fournette had a much better rookie season than he’s given credit for from non-Jaguars fans. It’s easy to conclude that the interior offensive line was an issue that hindered Fournette’s performance and yards per carry, and the Jaguars seems to agree: They signed left guard Andrew Norwell to the biggest interior offensive line contract in NFL history this past March, as well as drafted NC State OL Will Richardson to potentially compete at right guard his rookie year before eventually sliding over to right tackle.

With an improved interior offensive line and the continuity of Jacksonville identifying as a power-run offense, Leonard Fournette is poised to build upon the in-depth numbers and his rookie success to break out as one of the league’s best running backs in 2018.

Zach Goodall covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for the Locked On Jaguars podcast and website. Follow him on Twitter @zach_goodall.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Thick2stick

    May 23, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    My question now is, how many times was first contact at and behind the LOS?

  2. EG

    May 28, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    That would be interesting to see what percentage of time first contact came behind the LOS. Great work, as usual.

  3. InTomWeTrust

    May 30, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    I prefer to look at YAC yards..

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Jacksonville Jaguars

2019 NFL Draft: Jacksonville Jaguars Senior Bowl Wish-List

Zach Goodall

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Sep 21, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; UCF Knights running back Taj McGowan (4) reacts after his rushing touchdown during the second half against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Senior Bowl, an annual NFL Draft prospect all-star game in Mobile, Alabama, has sent out its first wave of invitations for their 2019 exhibition. NFL scouts from every team will be in attendance, as the NCAA’s best senior football players will be putting their abilities on display.

Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has a strong history of liking Senior Bowl prospects. Last year, the team drafted two players they watched in Mobile in WR D.J. Chark (2nd round) from LSU and QB Tanner Lee (6th round) from Nebraska. Caldwell has also selected DE Dawuane Smoot, TE Ben Koyack, OL Brandon Linder, LB Telvin Smith, CB Aaron Colvin, RB Denard Robinson, CB Dwayne Gratz, and SS Johnathan Cyprien after watching them at the bowl game.

The 2019 Senior Bowl will be packed with talent that the Jaguars will need to keep a close eye on. Chris Thornton and I will be attending the week of practice and game, reporting on who the Jaguars meet with and eyeing prospects to watch for for the 2019 NFL Draft.

As invites continue to go out and get accepted, here is my wish-list of players who should be at the Senior Bowl, from a Jaguars need and fit perspective. For players who I haven’t watched in depth yet, I trust the scouts of The Draft Network’s analysis and have linked their scouting reports.

QB: Daniel Jones, Duke

There will be plenty of intriguing QB prospects in Mobile, and if Daniel Jones can graduate on time as a redshirt junior, he may be the most intriguing of the pack. The three-year starter comes from the Manning branch of QBs, as his head coach David Cutcliffe coached both Peyton and Eli during their college days and has the brothers attend the Duke offseason program yearly.

Jones is a West-Coast passing offense fit, which meshes perfectly with what the Jaguars run in a power-run offense. Jones doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as passers such as Justin Herbert (Oregon) and Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), which drops his stock for me to the late first/early second round, but in what is regarded generall as a weak QB class, Jones could skyrocket up draft boards this offseason. Here is an in-depth scouting report that I did on Jones last week.

RB: Taj McGowan, UCF

Taj McGowan has never been a starter during his four-year career at UCF, but he’s flashed enough to warrant a prospect bowl invitation for teams to see more of what he offers. The 6-1, 209 lb senior RB runs with a bruising style, and receives the buld of UCF’s goal-line and short-yardage carries. He has posted a career stat-line of 239 carries for 988 yards and 17 touchdowns.

McGowan fits the Jaguars power-run style of offense where backs mainly receive the ball and target the interior offensive line. While he won’t get drafted high at all come April, he deserves a chance to prove himself and potentially find a way to get his name called on Day 3, or at worst get signed as an undrafted free agent. The Senior Bowl can provide that opportunity.

WR: Anthony Johnson, Buffalo

While Tyree Jackson gets all the hype out of the University of Buffalo, Anthony Johnson is a draftable prospect from the MAC program and is Jackson’s No. 1 target in the pass game. The 6-2, 207 receiver is impressive at making sideline catches and adjusts to poorly thrown passes well, however isn’t overly athletic and has a limited route tree. He would be a bit of a developental prospect, but his size and ability to make plays are intriguing.

TE: Tommy Sweeney, Boston College

While watching guard Chris Lindstrom from Boston College, Tommy Sweeney caught my eye with his size and ability as a pass-catcher. He stands at 6-5, 255 and comes from a power-running system so he is familiar with in-line blocking, which he excels at.

He’s not going to win contested catches, but finds wasy to get open and bring the ball in with few drops. He’s not the most dynamic or intriguing tight end in this class, but he appears to be a high-floor type of prospect who could serve as a solid No. 2 behind Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

OL: Chris Lindstrom, Boston College

A true old-fashioned, power scheme guard who eats defenders alive in the run game, Lindstrom is the ideal A.J. Cann replacement and one of my favorite Jaguars-fit prospects in this draft. Lindstrom is a fantastic, athletic pull-blocker who understands man-responsibility and has a strong anchor and constantly drives through linemen when down-blocking. He mirrors well in pass protection as well but his pass block punches can be inconsistent. Lindstrom is a dream lead-blocker along the interior for a running back in any power scheme, so he’d become Leonard Fournette’s best friend in Jacksonville.

iDL: Cortez Broughton, Cincinnati

While working on a film room piece for BlackandGoldBanneret.com for the upcoming UCF vs. Cincinnati game, one player that stood out to me on the Bearcats defense was tackle Cortez Broughton. The 6-2, 290 lb senior has recorded 17.5 tackles for loss through ten games this year, which is more than several projected first round picks such as Alabama’s Quinnen Williams (14), BC’s Zach Allen (13.5), FSU’s Brian Burns (13.5), and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell (13).

Broughton is a great run-stuffer who usually takes on and beats double-team down blocks while maintaining ap responsibility. He isn’t an overly agile pass rusher and won’t “wow” you with his moves, but he could provide valuable depth as a rotating, run-defending nose tackle at the next level.

EDGE: Jalen Jelks, Oregon

Jelks is a big-bodied EDGE defender at 6-5, 245 lbs, who is considered a bit of a project among draft analysts, but has desireable traits with quickness off of the line of scrimmage and raw power.

This sounds similar to what we heard about Taven Bryan as a prospect last year, and the Jaguars clearly feel comfortable adding these types of project players to their defensive line. Jelks could immediately provide pressure as a Dante Fowler Jr. replacement at defensive end and develop into a long-term starter if Taven Bryan were to move back to defensive tackle (where I believe he belongs).

LB: T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

I never thought I’d say this, but the Jaguars are missing the presence of Paul Posluzny on defense. Not from a play standpoint, as he truly had slown down in the final years of his career which led to bad pursuit of runners and blown coverages in the middle of the field, but as communicator and gap shooter vs. the run.

That mold is what Edwards provides. The 6-1, 248 lb linebacker is a natural run-stopper and physical defender who controls the playing field and offers four years of valuable paying experience, where he has recorded 34.5 tackles for loss and nine interceptions. He isn’t considered rangy in pass coverage, but serviceable.

CB: Michael Jackson, Miami

The Jaguars are in need of outside cornerback depth, with the position getting banged up this year and keeping two undrafted free agents on the roster as the current depth. Jackson fits that mold and is also an excellent special teamer. He stands at 6-0, 205 lbs, plays physical in coverage and coming down to make a tackle, and has recorded four career interceptions and nine defended passes. He hasn’t recorded an INT this year, which may be concerning, but the Jaguars don’t need to go cornerback early so Jackson dropping down draft boards could be in their favor if they are interested in his services.

S: Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon

The 5-9, 197 lb safety is a little short, but he’s incredibly fluid and athletic in space as a guy who can roam and get the ball. A rangy coverage defender, Amadi can be the heir apparent to free safety Tashaun Gipson a la Ronnie Harrison to Barry Church at strong safety for the Jaguars.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars vs. Steelers: Friday Injury Report, A.J. Cann Questionable

Demetrius Harvey

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Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers have released their Friday injury report ahead of their matchup at TIAA Bank Field this weekend. The Jaguars will most likely be without Left Tackle Josh Walker as he is listed as doubtful. The Jaguars will be without Rookie Corner Quenton Meeks as he is listed as OUT for Sunday’s game. Ereck Flowers will start in Walker’s place at left tackle with Patrick Omameh very likely being his immediate backup.

Luckily for the Jaguars, although they will not have Meeks, they will have A.J. Bouye back from his calf injury suffered shortly before the Eagles matchup a couple of weeks ago. This should be a boost to the Jaguars secondary.

Nose Tackle Eli Ankou will also likely miss this Sunday’s game, which was worth keeping an eye on due to the fact that Marcell Dareus was battling an injury of his own and is listed as questionable this week. Luckily, Dareus will likely be able to at least suit up for the Jaguars this Sunday.

Guard A.J. Cann is questionable this week as well, and if he cannot play, the Jaguars will likely turn to either Chris Reed to start in his place or to newly signed guard/tackle Patrick Omameh.

Bouye, Gipson, and Telvin Smith are not listed on this weeks status report indicating they are good to go for this Sunday’s game.

Below are the teams’ injury reports:

JAGUARS:

CB Quenton Meeks (Knee): Out

OL Josh Walker (Foot/Ankle): Doubtful

DT Eli Ankou (Calf): Doubtful

OL A.J. Cann (Hamstring): Questionable

DT Marcell Dareus (Triceps/Back): Questionable

STEELERS:

DE Stephon Tuitt (Elbow): Out

OL Marcus Gilbert (Knee): Out

For the Steelers, they will be without tackle Marcus Gilbert for the fourth straight week, and they will also be without tackle Marcus Gilbert. James Conner, who practiced fully all of this week, will be good to go.

Because of the injuries the Jaguars will face a familiar face on the Steelers defensive line in DE Tyson Alualu. The Steelers will start Matt Feiler. This will be the fourth consequtive start for Feiler.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars vs. Steelers: Thursday Injury Report, Josh Walker likely Out

Demetrius Harvey

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Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers have released their Thursday injury reports ahead of this Sunday’s game at TIAA Bank Field. For the Jaguars, they are finally back healthy after weeks of having several starters miss practice during the week. Although they are not *fully* healthy, the Jaguars starters that are on the injury report will more than likely play, and will be practicing in some capacity today.

The only key injury worth noting this week has been to Left Tackle Josh Walker. Walker has started for the Jaguars for several weeks after Josh Wells went down with an injury. All indications point to Ereck Flowers starting for the Jaguars this week. He will have his hands full with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.

Jaguars Cornerback A.J. Bouye, who missed the past two games with a calf injury, looks good to go this week as he has so far been able to tough it out in practice.

The only additions to this weeks injury reports have been  Tashaun Gipson with a wrist injury and Marcell Dareus with a triceps injury. Neither of those injuries appears to be bad enough to miss this Sunday’s game, however, we will keep a close eye on the status report to be released tomorrow.

A late addition to the Jaguars injury report this afternoon was OL A.J. Cann. Cann suffered a hamstring injury and was limited today.

If the Jaguars miss Cann this week they are potentially in big trouble. Omameh would likely start for Cann.

Below are the teams’ injury reports:

JAGUARS:

CB A.J. Bouye (Calf): Full Participation

S Tashaun Gipson (Wrist): Full Participation

LB Lerentee McCray (Hamstring): Full Participation

LB Telvin Smith (Shoulder): Full Participation

OL Ereck Flowers (Knee): Limited Participation

DT Marcell Dareus (Triceps): Limited Participation

OL A.J. Cann (Hamstring): Limited Participation

CB Quenton Meeks (Knee): Did Not Participate

DT Eli Ankou (Calf): Did Not Participate

OL Josh Walker (Foot/Ankle): Did Not Participate

STEELERS:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (Coaches Decision): Full Participation

RB James Conner (Concussion): Full Participation

G Ramon Foster (Coaches Decision): Did Not Participate

OT Marcus Gilbert (Knee): Did Not Participate

DE Stephon Tuitt (Elbow): Did Not Participate

The Steelers will more than likely be without two key starters, and neither of those starters will be James Conner. Conner entered this week in the concussion protocol and the past two practices he has been able to practice fully.

Conner will suit up for his first start against the Jaguars defense that has to be hungry after completely ruining the Jaguars chance at victory last week.

The Steelers will be without Stephon Tuitt and Marcus Gilbert most likely.  No one else on the Steelers small injury report is in danger of missing the game.

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