Coming off a season in which the Jaguars rushing attack led the NFL in yards (2,262) and found the end zone 18 times, the team will look to continue their dominance on the ground.
In our second position preview of 2018 we will take a look at the Jaguars running back group from top to bottom. The Jaguars RB crew will be largely the same as it was last year, with one exception: Chris Ivory is no longer with the team after a disappointing two year run with the Jags. Ivory showed flashes of brilliance in Duval, but was far too inconsistent and put the ball on the ground too often to earn the money he was being paid by the Jaguars.
The top three backs will be familiar faces for fans.
Let's get it!
Starter: Leonard Fournette
The fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft did not disappoint as a rookie. In the regular season he put up 1,342 total yards and found the end zone 10 times, despite missing three games. Fournette proved to be much more than a 230 lb. power back. He silenced the critics who claimed he wouldn't be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, hauling in 36 of his 48 targets (75% catch rate) for 302 yards. For those who didn't think he was explosive enough to be selected in the top five of the draft, all he did was record the two fastest speeds on the field of any ball carrier in 2017. The Jaguars rookie RB proved he could get the job done when it mattered most: in the divisional round of the playoffs he scored 3 TDs and accounted for 119 total yards; the next week in the AFC Championship Fournette found the end zone once and put up 89 yards from scrimmage. His power, size, speed, and swagger on the field earned him the respect of players around the league as he was voted the 58th best player in the NFL's annual Top 100 List. Now, he wasn't perfect as a rookie. Fournette did miss two games due to injury and a third for violating a team rule. The Jaguars would obviously like to see him suit up for all 16 games and have the maturity to not violate any team rules moving forward. There are those that point to his 3.9 yards per carry last season as a weakness. But Fournette faced more stacked boxes than anyone last season and was rushing behind an oft injured O-Line. The Jaguars replaced the mediocre Patrick Omameh at left guard with All-Pro Andrew Norwell. Fournette is already and elite NFL running back and has the potential to be considered a top five back year in and year out.
The Backups: TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant
TJ Yeldon may not have lived up to his draft grade to this point in his career (he was the 36th overall selection in the 2015 draft), but he is a valuable commodity at running back. He can do anything and everything asked of him at the position. In 2017 he averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 49 carries and crossed the goal line twice. He's also the best pass protector at the RB position for the Jaguars. And he's an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He caught 30 passes for 224 yards last season. Yeldon is an excellent back up, but he likely will never be a true work horse back - In Jacksonville he doesn't need to be, that is assuming Leonard Fournette stays healthy. Yeldon did, however, prove that he can be the guy for the Jaguars during a short stretch throughout a given season.
Corey Grant is the ultimate X-Factor. He's got blazing speed and underrated field vision and elusiveness. In 2017 he had just 33 regular season touches, but was dynamite with the ball in his hands, averaging 8.3 yards per carry and 13.7 yards per catch. The Jaguars used him extensively in the first half of the AFC Championship and he produced in a major way, catching three passes for 59 yards. But the Jaguars coaching staff predicted the Patriots would key in on Grant in the second half and stupidly decided to take him out of the game plan. In 2018 Grant will still be a change of pace back, but should easily see an uptick in touches and will see plays designed specifically for his skill set.
Likely off the team or practice squad: Tim Cook and Brandon Wilds
Tim Cook was an undrafted free agent for the Jaguars in 2017, but showed flashes throughout training camp last season. He was stashed on the Jags practice squad last season, and will likely end up there again this year. He has a nice skill set and with his massive size and blocking ability could one day become a full back or power back in the league.
Brandon Wilds has bounced around the league since being added as an UDFA by the Jets in 2016. He has nice size at 6 foot, 220 lbs. but is up against it when it comes to trying to make the Jaguars active roster. Because he's only seen four games of regular season action in the NFL, he'll also be a candidate for the practice squad.
The Jaguars could elect to keep four RBs, although it seems likely that if they did go that route it would be someone who is currently not on the team. While the Jags did keep four backs in 2017, I think the added depth on the offensive and defensive lines this season will force the team to be thinner at some other positions, including running back.
Overall the Jaguars have a really nice group at RB. Leonard Fournette is an elite talent at the position and his backups each provide something different. Yeldon can do everything and Grant can be useful in special packages and on special teams. The only way the Jaguars RB group could be any better is if they added another elite talent to compliment Fournette, forming a two headed monster of sorts.
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