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What should the Jaguars do with running back Leonard Fournette?

Demetrius Harvey

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Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs the ball down to the one yard line as Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) makes a tackle during the second quarter at New Era Field.
Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has become a hot topic as of late. As the focal point of what was a dreadful Jaguars offense in 2018, Fournette has gone from budding superstar at the running back position to seemingly a bust in the past five or so months.

Granted, injury issues during this past season can be used as an excuse for Fournette’s lack of production – 439 yards on 133 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and five touchdowns in eight games – but a second career suspension that led to his guaranteed money getting pulled from his contract, reportedly being out of shape by Week 16, and getting called “disrespectful” and “selfish” in a public statement from EVP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, all point the arrow in an incredibly negative direction.

Recently, Fournette and the Jaguars front office staff sat down to discuss various issues regarding the running back and have reportedly rebuilt their relationship. The Jaguars could still move forward with Fournette after all, however I would not rule out the team moving on.

Considering the lack of guaranteed dollars in Fournette’s contract now, the Jaguars could release their fourth overall pick in 2017 without any repercussions. With the season over, and free agency and the NFL Draft only a few months away, what should the Jaguars do with Leonard Fournette? Is he worth retaining?

PROS
Fournette has been the Jaguars lead back since arriving in Duval in 2017, and despite ankle/foot injuries he was able to play in 13 games and owned a key role in their victories. Fournette accounted for 1,342 total yards and 10 touchdowns in during his rookie season.

This was the type of rookie season one would expect out of a rookie running back, although, it would seem to be a tad bit short of top five pick expectations. But regardless, he served his role well and truly was the bread-and-butter to the offenses’ successes during their AFC South Championship of a season.

When looking at what Fournette positively has to offer the team right now, though, mainly points to what was almost two years ago now:

  • Impressive rookie season
  • Potential with natural talent
  • Funny Instagram Comments

I struggled to find very many legitimate pros for the Jaguars retaining Fournette considering current circumstances. What it simply boils down to is if you feel as though Fournette will live up to his potential. Sure, he has been able to provide a good running game for the Jaguars in spurts in his career, but for the most part, he has not been reliable. Fournette had a knack for getting the tough yards during his rookie season, and even though he only averaged 3.9 yards per attempt, he was instrumental in the offensive success.

During college, Fournette was touted as one of the brightest stars at running back and destined to become a star in the pros. This much was clear because of his stats – especially during his freshman and sophomore seasons. In total during his days at LSU, Fournette accumulated a total of 4,356 yards and 41 touchdowns with an average YPC of 6.2.

Jaguars Running Back Leonard Fournette's college statistics. Including his 6.2 yards per carry and 3800 plus rushing yards.

https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/leonard-fournette-1.html

These numbers are staggering and impressive at any level of football, and clearly demonstrate the potential Fournette possesses with his natural talent. Unfortunately, Fournette’s junior year was slightly derailed by an injured ankle which sidelined him for five games. However, even though he was coming off of a down year, his previous two were good enough for the Jaguars to take a shot and select him with the 4th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Finally, his Instagram comments. Clearly, this is a major point of interest from Jaguars fans based on a few responses to this tweet here:

In all seriousness, Fournette does bring a laugh to the Jaguars locker room as well as the fan base. While this is not a legitimate reason for keeping him, it is something to bring light to this situation at the very least. Hopefully, if Fournette does end up sticking around he will continue to have a bunch of laughs similar to this:

via @thecheckdown

CONS
The Jaguars running game was downright terrible this season. To start the season off, Fournette injured his hamstring not once, but twice which led him to miss seven of the first 10 games. There are a variety of reasons for the young RB’s lack of production, but his injuries do take the cake. They were constant enough to even warrant the Jaguars moving on at some point, as there’s definitely a trend with his injury issues.

Here’s a list of negatives that Fournette offers the team:

  • Injury issues
  • Lack of maturity
  • Lack of Success
  • Expensive cap hit

To put it bluntly, it was far easier to come up with cons for Fournette than it was to come up with pros to keeping him. This is simply because since the very start of his Jaguars career (during his rookie season) the running back has had various issues including but not limited to a poor maturity level and multiple injuries.

Fournette first injured his ankle in college, as noted above. However, the injury sprung up again during his rookie season with the Jaguars in 2017. Injured in the week six matchup against the Rams, Fournette went on to miss the next couple of games before returning against the Chargers. However, upon his return he still was hobbled by the injury, limiting his production severely. For example, prior to his injury, Fournette was averaging 4.58 YPC. After the injury, however, Fournette only averaged 3.2 YPC.

Fast forward to this 2018 season with the Jaguars and the injuries showed up again. This time, Fournette was out for much longer of a time. He missed a total of eight games this past season, and in the eight games that he actually played in, he was basically ineffective. During his injury skid, the Jaguars traded a 5th round draft pick to the Browns for RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde provided very little for the Jaguars offense as a whole and was subsequently benched.

Even upon his return, Fournette could not manage to do much of anything on the ground. Some of that had to do with offensive line injuries, however, a lot had to do with his own inability to use his vision and hit the right holes in order to gain yards.

For example, Fournette was touted out of college as a “north/south” runner, and yet his efficiency (total distance a player traveled on rushing plays as a ball carrier according to Next Gen Stats per rushing yards gained – the lower the number, the more of a North/South runner) was 4.44 which – 10th highest in the NFL, despite his limited carries.

What this means is Fournette was mostly ineffective and indecisive in his runs during the 2018 season. Fournette’s EFF during the 2017 season was much better at 4.01, considering the type of back he is.

The reason why the Jaguars even have an option of releasing or trading Fournette in the first place has been due to his antics. This includes getting suspended in 2017 for one game by the Jaguars for a violation of team rules, as well as this past season by the NFL for getting into a fight during the Buffalo Bills game. There have also been several reports of Fournette missing key treatments during his injuries.

Due to this, the Jaguars notified Fournette that the team voided the remaining guarantees in his four-year rookie contract. This includes $7.1 million over the final two years of what had originally been a fully guaranteed rookie deal. Keeping Fournette would pose an unnecessary burden on the Jaguars salary cap situation heading into the 2019 and 2020 season if they feel as though his production does not match his draft day value. If so, it would behoove the Jaguars to move on from the RB and create space to acquire better-suited talent.

However, Fournette is likely to file a grievance against the Jaguars action through the NFLPA. Whether or not he wins the grievance will be key to moving on from the RB. If Fournette wins, the $7.1 million will still be guaranteed and give the Jaguars less incentive to moving on.

Conclusion

What I believe the Jaguars should do in this situation is to simply move on. Leonard Fournette has been effective at times during his career with the Jaguars. However, his production has certainly not outweighed the negatives in his game, nor has it even come close to his draft-pick value.

The Jaguars are also moving forward with an OL coach who uses more zone blocking scheme principles which absolutely does not fit Fournette’s style of play. I believe the Jaguars should either use Fournette as a trade piece to move up in the draft or get something for him and draft his replacement. This years’ NFL draft is (once again) full of capable running backs who could not only carry the load but also allow for the Jaguars to be more innovative on offense.

The Jaguars have an opportunity to fetch at least a 3rd or 4th round pick from either the Oakland Raiders or the New York Jets. Both teams are hurting at the RB position and Fournette’s potential would be enough to get them to acquire him.

If the Jaguars would like to move on from Fournette, I believe they absolutely can, and it would happen around or near the draft. The Jaguars have invested a lot into the running back and going as far as reportedly hiring a RB coach who would most likely mentor the young back. However, if they want to get the most out of the back as they can before it is too late, they would trade him sooner rather than later.

Demetrius Harvey is the lead editor for the Locked on Jaguars website covering breaking news, breakdowns, and more. You can follow him at @Demetrius82 on twitter.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars to open seven training camp practices to fans in 2019

Demetrius Harvey

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Jul 26, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (17) signs autographs during training camp at the Dream Finder Homes practice facility outside of TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars announced today they will be opening seven practices during training camp to the public. The first four training camp practices will be open to the public. Practice on Saturday, July 27, is open exclusively to Jags365 Season Ticket Members and is scheduled for 8:45 a.m.

The team’s first practice in full pads will also be open to fans on Sunday, July 28 at 8:45 a.m. All seven of the Jaguars’ Florida Blue open practices are scheduled to take place at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex on the northwest corner of TIAA Bank Field.

2019 JAGUARS OPEN TRAINING CAMP PRACTICES

Thursday, July 25 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.
Friday, July 26 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.
Saturday, July 27 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. Open exclusively to Jags 365 Season Ticket Members
Sunday, July 28 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.
Tuesday, July 30 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.
Wednesday, July 31 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.
Thursday, August 1 8:45 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.

Fans are required to register here for each training camp session and tickets will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis. Gates will open to fans at 8:15 a.m., 30 minutes prior to the start of practice.

Parking is available in Lots M and N, and concessions and merchandise will be available for purchase on-site Limited player autograph availability will occur following each practice.

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53 Man Roster

Jaguars 2019 position group breakdown: Running Backs

Brandon Carroll

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Dec 23, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs down the field during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to their quarterback situation, the Jacksonville Jaguars have attempted to answer some questions in terms of the run game in this year’s offseason. Jacksonville went through a full remodel in an attempt to add veteran presence that can sustain the ground attack if injury strikes the team yet again in 2019. 

Two years ago, the Jaguars were a team that led the NFL in rushing at 527 attempts throughout the regular season. Nearly 50 carries ahead of any other team in the league. On those 527 attempted the Jaguars saw heights in production not seen since the Maurice Jones-Drew. 

That production staggered in yardage and overall sustainability of the offense with their lackluster quarterback play last season. This was all due to the injuries of star running back Leonard Fournette and the majority of the offensive line. Without Fournette, the Jaguars only accumulated half the yardage in 2018 Fournette produced in 2017 with T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde leading the affair. 

Being a strong part of the offensive system, the Jaguars win total saw a sharp decrease and the team swagger that carried them to the 2017 AFC playoffs had vanished.

Jacksonville looked to replenish their running back room and get back to the strong, effective run game they saw in 2017 that made them so successful. 

Adding Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, Thomas Rawls and more through free agency, as well as, drafting former Temple running back, Ryquell Armstead the Jaguars made a good move in adding reliable to back up Fournette in the backfield. 

Projected Running Back Depth Chart:
*italicized indicates starter, underline indicates picked up via draft/free agency
Leonard Fournette, Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, Ryquell Armstead.

Leading the pack coming into 2019 is Leonard Fournette. Fournette is a player that has all the major attributes to be a star player in the NFL if he could just stay healthy. Fournette missed eight games last season and seven due to injury which caused the Jaguars offense to stall in his absence. 

He is a player that combines strong downhill running with game-breaking speed. Abilities not many can combine nevertheless replace. He is a generational talent who looks to return to his rookie form in 2019. 

Fournette looks to be getting back on track this season and “refocused on football.” Him being able to stay on the field will be a huge plus for a Jaguars team that has struggled offensively for many years. 

The next two players on the depth chart are veteran backs Alfred Blue and Benny Cunningham. 

Blue being a signee from the Houston Texans roster and an experienced back who knows how to get yardage necessary to sustain drives. While receiving very little touches in the Houston offense he played the backup role well and was a reliable source of receiving out of the backfield.

Blue will be used more as a third-down back in the Jaguars offense. 

The same goes for Cunningham. Coming over from the Bears, which last season saw two top-caliber running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen sharing carries, Cunningham got lost in the shuffle. Cunningham is a great receiving threat out of the backfield and can play solid minutes in his role on his new team. 

Having two players that can play roles, and play them well is vital for any team in the NFL. Taking fatigue and potential injury into account getting Cunningham and Blue was one of the more important moves the Jaguars made this offseason. The Jaguars acquired two reliable backs for new quarterback Nick Foles to work with on downs where Fournette is not in the game. 

Next on the team’s depth chart is the Jaguars 2019 fifth-round pick out of Temple, Ryquell Armstead. In his senior year, Armstead scored 13 touchdowns and averaged nearly 6.5 yards per carry. Armstead’s progression through his college career was a sight to see. After starting his career as a bulkier strong runner, Armstead slimmed down to become a more complete back and utilized his opportunity at Temple to make it to the NFL. 

Posting 2,987 yards and 34 touchdowns over his career, Armstead looks to carry on those impressive numbers at the next level. Armstead is a runner with great field vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage. He bursts through the open hole and is willing to lower the shoulder to gain extra yardage. Armstead says that he models his game after former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. 

He describes himself as an angry runner. “I run angry, I run violent. I look for contact— that’s something that makes me unique.” Armstead stated in an interview with CBS sports. 

The type of physical running Armstead brings to the table is something the Jaguars have had success within recent memory. That willingness to create contact and run hard for his team to succeed is an attribute any team would love to have with their running back. 

A player that very strongly resembles Leonard Fournette in terms of running style was a guy the Jaguars looked at as a potential steal in the fifth round. An aggressive, one-cut runner who can run over opponents or bounce it to the outside and take off down the sideline. 

Armstead had the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash among eligible running backs at the 2019 NFL combine at 4.49 seconds. Being a player with blazing speed mixed with a downhill running style, Armstead could see minutes directly behind Fournette later in the season. Armstead is an intriguing prospect but his development as a pass-catcher out of the backfield will need to improve for him to solidify the playing time this season. 

While the Jaguars have many running backs on the roster, all of them cannot stay. Unless there is a huge jump of progression when training camp starts later in the month, Thomas Rawls and Taj McGowan have very little shot of making the team. 

After last season, the Jaguars have done whatever it takes to assure they have depth at this position. Being able to provide multiple sources of production is important for any team. By providing this depth, the Jaguars hope it can get the job done and they can return to the success seen in the running game just two seasons ago. 

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Jacksonville Jaguars

REPORT: Jaguars to sign former WVU WR Marcus Simms

Demetrius Harvey

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Oct 13, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Marcus Simms (8) runs the football against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars have made a roster move signing former West Virginia WR Marcus Simms according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Simms was slated to participate in the supplemental draft after filing the paperwork on June 20th.

Simms will make for interesting competition for the Jaguars as we inch closer to training camp. Simms accumulated 87 receptions for 1457 yards and eight touchdowns in his three-year career at West Virginia. Simms has also made his name known in the return game totaling 992 yards as a kick returner. According to reports, Simms ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4-4.49 seconds, with a vertical jump of 36″, a broad jump of 10-2 and three-cone time of 6.91 seconds. After his physical tomorrow, the Jaguars will have to make a corresponding move.

Simms will look to compete for a bottom-of-the-roster position with players such as Terrelle Pryor and Keelan Cole. If the Jaguars intend on retaining six receivers Simms will have a good shot at making the roster. By all accounts, Simms was a draftable player.

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