By drafting Leonard Fournette 4th overall, the Jacksonville Jaguars all but admitted that drafting T.J. Yeldon was a big mistake.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been horrible at running the football over the last few years, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. In fact, general manager David Caldwell has actually shown quite a penchant for investing in the running back position.
After signing Toby Gerhart to what is now one of the most comical free agent contracts in recent memory, Caldwell drafted Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson in back to back drafts. None of those acquisitions hit, but in the grand scheme of things they didn’t harm the team’s prospects long-term (Robinson and Johnson were 5th and 7th round picks respectively).
Not satisfied with his rushing attack, Caldwell made arguably the worst draft pick of his tenure in 2015, taking Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon at the top of the second round of the draft. The hope was Yeldon would become the bell-cow back needed to support franchise quarterback Blake Bortles as he developed.
After a fairly unremarkable rookie year, Yeldon was a massive disappointment in 2016. His failure to become a productive rusher is further highlighted by the success of almost every other running back in that draft class.
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This is personified best in a recent piece published by NFL.com’s (NOT NFL Network’s) Gregg Rosenthal, where he ranked all the running backs from the 2015 draft class. Despite being the third guy taken in that draft, Yeldon ranked at the bottom:
"10) T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville JaguarsOriginally drafted: Round 2, No. 36 overall.Sometimes “playing it safe” can be the riskiest move a general manager can make. Jags GM David Caldwell drafted Yeldon with the notion that the Alabama product was proficient at everything, even if he wasn’t great in any one area. Yeldon was supposed to be the type of back you could turn a running game over to without a lot of drama. That proved true, but in the worst way possible.Yeldon is not a player I recommend watching late at night. He gets what’s blocked and not much more. His lauded receiving skills are fine, but not special enough to make him a logical third-down role player. A victim of his draft slot, no one would complain about Yeldon if he had been drafted in the fourth round. Taking him No. 36 overall, ahead of six of the players ranked above, has proven to be a fiasco for Caldwell, one he’s been trying to cover up ever since."
I don’t think this is really much of a discussion – outside of Bortles (if he completely flops after this year), this pick is Caldwell’s worst. Let’s take a look at the rest of his 1st and 2nd round picks:
- 2013 – Luke Joeckel and Johnathan Cyprien
Both of these players are no longer on the Jaguars (the entire draft class is gone actually), but 2013 was a historically awful draft and the stakes were pretty low in Caldwell’s first year. Cyprien was actually decent last year as well, at least enough to warrant another contract from a different team.
If Blake Bortles gets better, this is probably Caldwell’s best draft. Lee appeared to turn the corner and became productive last year and Robinson is a Pro Bowl caliber receiver.
- 2015 – Dante Fowler Jr. and T.J. Yeldon
Yikes. Fowler Jr. was behind the 8-ball from the beginning after tearing his ACL and he didn’t impress too much in 2016, but people are still relatively high on him. Yeldon has since been replaced and his touches should be significantly lower than they have ever been.
I won’t look at 2016, mostly because it’s too early and we already know Jalen Ramsey is good.
Of all his picks, I think Caldwell bumbled the Yeldon selection the most. He could have selected literally any other running back at any other point in the draft and this would have worked out better. Caldwell also could have addressed another need in the 2nd round instead of forcing the issue with an unspectacular tailback.
I would like to say Yeldon still has time to justify his draft position, but it certainly won’t be on the ground. Leonard Fournette is going to dominate the stat sheet on offense and Yeldon will likely be called upon rarely, and mostly to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Bortles aside, I think it’s hard to argue that Yeldon hasn’t been the most disappointing draft selection.