Despite the doubters, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has grown into his role as one of the best backs in the NFL this season.
This season was vital for running back Leonard Fournette, a player the Jaguars took 4th overall in the 2017 NFL draft. Some people were starting to label him as a bust, some wanted him to be traded, and many were starting to question if Fournette was worth the 4th overall pick especially with players like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson still available.
It was a vital season for Leonard to prove all of those doubters wrong.
It wasn’t a pretty start after a solid performance against the Kansas Chiefs, Fournette failed to score on a game-winning two-point conversion against the Houston Texans in a game in which he failed to reach 50 yards rushing. The next week, against Tennessee, he struggled to get anything going until late in the game. He scampered 69 yards on one run to give him positive yards on the ground for the first time in the game, well after the score was decided. After the Thursday night contest, however, something changed.
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Against the Denver Broncos, Fournette set his new career-high in rushing yards with 229 and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. It was the best game of his career. He continued that success having over 100 yards in two out of the next three games, and against the Saints where the entire offense struggled.
Taking a look at his stats so for in 2019, Fournette is averaging a career-high 5-yards-per carry and is second in the league in rushing yards. In fact, he’s already passed his rushing total for last season (439 yards). He is playing with more confidence which is important for a running back to have. But why is that? What has changed between this season and last season to allow Fournette to have so much more success?
New offensive coordinator who isn’t as predictable with his playcalling – Before the season started I did a piece on why Leonard Fournette would have a bounce-back season. One of the reasons why was because the Jaguars got a new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo who brought in a new sense of hope for our offense.
Gone were the days of running the ball on halfback dives with eight men in the box every single first and second down. While that does happen sometimes, there is also a lot more creativity in the offense and a lot less predictability.
Fournette doesn’t have to face defenses basically knowing every play that was going to be run before the ball was snapped.
A new quarterback who actually is a consistent threat to the opposing defense – In the article I wrote previously I discussed how Nick Foles would be a big part of Fournette’s success this season. Well, I was correct about the position but unexpectedly wrong about the player.
When Foles went down in week one against the Chiefs it really had all the makings of another doomed season for Fournette and this offense. However, Gardner Minshew, the sixth-round rookie came out and delivered.
With a quarterback who could slice through a defense, it means that Fournette isn’t seeing a lot of eight-man boxes. It allows for wider running lanes and provides more success for the entire offense.
Fournette is running with a lot more confidence – So far this season Fournette has run the ball with a lot more confidence than he has in years past. When a hole opens up, Fournette explodes through that hole instead of tiptoeing in the backfield waiting for defenders to crash.
He is using his rare combination of size and speed to his advantage. He isn’t playing like a pure power runner, after an offseason of conditioning in Wyoming, he added an element of finesse to his game as well.
Although at heart he is still that every-down power back that the Jaguars drafted him to be, his stamina and durability have improved and he is a bit quicker as well.
He looks healthier, which hopefully will continue – Last year was frustrating for Fourntte and the Jaguars. The offense couldn’t find any kind of consistency and Fournette couldn’t seem to stay on the field during the year.
He always seemed to be hurt and even when he wasn’t injured, Leonard didn’t look like he was completely healthy. This year (knock on wood) Fournette looks like he is in much better shape both physically and mentally.
He seems to be enjoying the game more, it seems like he is having fun with the game. His body is holding up so far this season and hopefully, he is able to ward off that injury bug moving forward.
So why is Leonard Fournette one of the league’s best backs? – The stats are speaking for themselves. He is the second-best rusher in the league so far. He brings an element of power than really very few running back are able to bring and he does this while still providing enough shiftiness to force defenders to respect his speed.
He is a true bell-cow running back. He does have to improve on certain areas of his game still. One of the most surprising things about this season is he only has one rushing touchdown in 2019.
Jaguars fans have to be happy with his performance and are without a doubt a lot more confident in their running back than they were at the beginning of the season.