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.
Jacksonville Jaguars1 week ago
Jaguars 2018 Position Group Breakdown: Wide Receiver
Jacksonville Jaguars2 weeks ago
Jaguars 2018 Position Group Breakdown: Quarterback
Jacksonville Jaguars1 week ago
Jaguars LB Donald Payne taking advantage of Myles Jack’s limited role at OTAs
Jacksonville Jaguars3 days ago
Jaguars’ Defenders Compared to Classic Hit Songs