Can Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars put the 2018 season behind him and show the NFL and the team he is still a special running back?
I recall having a discussion with a national media writer who covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and a member of the FSU athletic department about the potential of running back Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette three years ago at the Seminoles Pro Day in Tallahassee.
The conversation wasn’t long, but the three of us talked about both running backs and which one would fit the Jaguars needs in an offense that was stagnant and in desperate need of a punishing running game. Let’s just say we all had good things and better things to say about each player as the NFL Draft loomed less than a month away at the time.
Fournette, in his short career in Jacksonville, has teased the fan base with his running style as a potential home run threat every time he touches the football. After a rookie campaign where he ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, I think it is safe to say we all drank the Kool-Aid and believed we had our next great running back alongside the likes of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
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That was 2017, the year the Jaguars shocked the world. The 2018 season was equally shocking, in another direction. While Fournette’s absence from the team due to injury and a one-game suspension (we won’t mention it again) wasn’t the only reason for the 5-11 collapse, it did have an effect on an already fragile offense.
He led the team in rushing once again, but this time he gained only 439 yards in eight games and scored five touchdowns. It was mediocre at best and grumbling inside TIAA Bank Field led to comments made about Fournette’s lack of maturity and commitment to the organization.
Leonard Fournette needs a breakthrough season this year. It’s hard to look at such a talent and think this could be a crossroads season for the former LSU star, but in terms of production and staying healthy, the spotlight is squarely on the man who wears the No. 27 uniform in black and teal.
The Jaguars viewed Fournette as a “special” kind of running back when they drafted him in 2017, one who could become another Adrian Peterson. Now, with OTAs around the corner, he must prove he is that kind of runner to the team and the fan base once again.
The running back room is a bit different this year as the Jaguars made moves to add depth through free agency (Thomas Rawls, Benny Cunningham, and Alfred Blue) and the NFL Draft (Ryquell Armstead). Fournette is still the lead back, but the contrasting styles on the practice field give the team more flexibility and more options should he go down with another injury.
When he was drafted, Jaguars vice-president of football operations Tom Coughlin told Fournette he expected him to come in and score touchdowns. It was vital this organization established the run as a power offense. The team achieved that in 2017, leading the NFL in that category.
Last season was an abomination, where the running game fell to 19th in the league. The belief is a healthy offensive line, more stability at the quarterback position and a new offensive philosophy will change the fortunes of this offense this coming season.
Truly, however, it depends on Fournette and how he demonstrates he is ready to become a leader on the field with his legs. If he can gain tough yards, improve his yards per carry and remain on the field, there is a reason to believe the Jaguars will get the 2017 version of their lead back. If the passing game is better this season, it might lead to an even bigger season for Fournette.
That’s the plan. Now the team and the player must go out there and execute in tandem. Fournette came to the team’s voluntary offseason program in great shape. Hopefully, it is a sign of a season to come. That would make Jaguars fans happy. It would make the front office happy as well.
As for Leonard Fournette, playing at a more consistent pace will help him shrug off the negativity from last season and could lead to his best year in a Jaguars uniform.