Would the Jacksonville Jaguars have been better off drafting a quarterback at number 4?

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes /

The Jacksonville Jaguars made the AFC Championship largely in part due to rookie running back Leonard Fournette, but Aaron Schatz still thinks drafting him was a mistake.

We’re still reeling from the Jacksonville Jaguars AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots, but it’s time to begin looking back.

The Jaguars had unquestionably their most successful season since 1999 in 2017, and a large part of that was the great play of rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

In 16 games this season (includes the postseason), Fournette rushed for 1282 yards and 13 touchdowns, while gaining 346 yards through the air with another touchdown. His yards per carry average wasn’t stellar (under 4.0 ypc), but he did a good job with the blocking up front.

Overall, it’s hard to argue the Jaguars would have gotten as far as they did in 2017 without Fournette.

Aaron Schatz contributed on an article for ESPN – re-drafting the top 5 of the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite Jacksonville’s success this season with Leonard Fournette, he went in a different direction:

"4. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Patrick Mahomes IISchatz: After a 10-6 playoff season, I’m sure the Jaguars still feel good about their selection of Leonard Fournette. But I’m a strong believer that you don’t take a running back this high in the draft — especially one who won’t even average 4 yards per carry as a rookie…And a team that wants to build on defense and running the ball needs a quarterback with a big arm who can take advantage of the play-action opportunities deep. So, say hello to Mahomes, who in our re-draft world is now the heir apparent to Bortles in Jacksonville instead of Alex Smith in Kansas City. Mahomes was the highest-rated quarterback last year in Football Outsiders’ QBASE projections, and the success of Goff and Case Keenum in 2017 means less reticence about drafting a quarterback out of an Air Raid college system."

I don’t buy this. The Jaguars were a quarter away from the Super Bowl this season with Bortles and I highly doubt they would have gotten there with Mahomes. The rookie QB didn’t sniff the field this year and when he did finally play, it was in a meaningless game at the end of the season. Bortles improved significantly in 2017 and part of that was protecting the ball and letting a dominant defense lead them to a majority of their wins.

In the analysis, Schatz discusses how he isn’t really impressed with how Bortles progressed this season:

"No, the Jaguars need to be honest with themselves about their need at the most important position in the game: quarterback. Yes, Blake Bortles ranked 12th in ESPN’s Total QBR metric this season, but that was his best career finish by far, and the positive performance was grouped into a handful of games. Overall, Bortles was the least consistent quarterback in the league.He has four years of experience now. It’s probably never going to get better than this. The Jaguars need to find a quarterback who can carry the team even on days the defense doesn’t have a stellar performance"

All of that may be valid, but reaching on a quarterback, even in retrospect, is not the way to go. If he gave the Jaguars Deshaun Watson it would be a different story, but Mahomes has proven nothing and odds are he would have been more of a hindrance than an asset as a rookie on this Jacksonville squad.

Fournette wasn’t perfect this season and he has a lot to improve upon if he wants to live up to his draft status, but his rookie season was too promising to dismiss outright.