Analyzing the Running Back Position for the Jacksonville Jaguars
It was no surprise the Jacksonville Jaguars released running back Chris Ivory this offseason. What was a surprise may have been that the team did not take a running back in the later rounds of the NFL Draft to possibly replace him on the roster.
The Jacksonville Jaguars go into OTAs and training camp with the usual suspects on the roster, with a look to improve the position despite leading the league in yards per game last season at 141.4 yards a game. With what looks to be an improved offensive line with the addition of guard Andrew Norwell, the Jaguars will stick to the same strategy of a strong rushing attack and an over-the-top defense to win games, while the passing game hopes to improve from its 224.6 yards per contest from last season.
It all starts with Leonard Fournette. In 13 games last season – two lost to injury, one for violating team rules – Fournette averaged 80 yards a contest. He looked slower in the second half of the season and dealt with ankle and hamstring injuries. In the playoffs, he looked more like the rookie from the first half of the season.
If Fournette plays all 16 games and gives the team the same productivity, he should near 1,300 yards on the ground. He could also improve on his 36 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown. Fournette, playing in his second season, should continue to be that bell cow running back Executive Vice President Tom Coughlin likes in a power rushing attack.
When Fournette needs a breather, TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant are more than capable of shouldering the load. After being inactive for the first six weeks of the season, Yeldon rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 27-0 win over Indianapolis. Yeldon is a straight-ahead runner who is big at 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds. He runs higher than most running backs, but is a solid No. 2 back in this offense. He should see more time on the field this season because he is also a solid pass catcher out of the backfield. Yeldon finished with 253 yards on 49 carries in 2017.
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Grant may have benefitted the most from Ivory’s departure and may finally get more touches instead of being best known for his special teams ability. While Grant had one carry for two yards in the AFC Title game, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was successful against the New England Patriots. He caught three passes for 59 yards and kept the Patriots defense on its heels, but the Jaguars coaching staff moved away from his success.
Grant’s best attribute is his speed, where he may be the fastest player on the roster. Grant is listed at 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, and could become a change of pace type runner on a more consistent basis in this offense.
The wildcard in this unit may be Tim Cook, a bruising back who could be used in goal-line situations. He is listed at 242 pounds and is the heaviest of the running backs on the roster. The former Oregon State player figures to lock down the fourth spot in the running back rotation and will be called upon to help on special teams.