Leonard Fournette, the 2017 fourth overall pick, is THE biggest key to the Jaguars offensive success. He’s the straw that stirs their drink. Prior to Sunday’s loss to the Colts — in which the Jaguars offense put up a more than respectable 26 points — Fournette had played in just parts of two halves this season. With Fournette back in the lineup, and healthy, on Sunday it was more clear than ever: Leonard Fournette’s impact, both tangible and intangible, is undeniable.
Missing nearly the entire first half of the 2018 season and two games due to injury in 2017, many around Jacksonville began to claim that Leonard Fournette was a wasted pick. But an injury plagued start to a career does not a bust make. Just ask Fred Taylor, the second member of the Jaguars' Pride (team hall of fame).
Without Leonard Fournette this season the Jaguars record is a miserable 1-5. With him playing in some part or all of a game they’re 2-1. His tangible impact is clear. A particular moment comes to mind.
It’s opening night of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Jaguars are on the clock. Leonard Fournette receives a phone call from a 904 area code. He’s greeted by Dave Caldwell, who tells him the Jaguars are going to select him with their first round pick. Caldwell hands the phone to Tom Coughlin, who tells him the Jaguars drafted him to score TDs.
Leonard Fournette has done just that. In his 16 regular season games Fournette has scored 12 times. He added four touchdowns in the 2017 playoffs. He’s been a scoring machine, when on the field. That’s his tangible impact. He scores from everywhere on the field, despite facing seven, eight, and nine man boxes more than just about anyone in the league. Against the Colts last week LF27 compiled 109 total yards on 29 touches and found the end zone twice.
But perhaps even more important than his tangible impact is the intangible effect that Fournette has on the Jaguars offense. Blake Bortles plays better football when Fournette is in the game, and seemingly, so does everyone else on that side of the ball. Things just click. The Jaguars QB, WRs, TEs, and O-Line just look more comfortable when Fournette takes the field. It’s hard to fathom that one player, who isn’t a QB, could have such a dynamic impact on everyone else on the field, but the tape doesn’t lie. The Jaguars are a much more confident, more productive bunch when Leonard Fournette takes the field. It certainly helps that defenses are so focused on stopping Fournette that, perhaps, they don’t worry as much about their other assignments. There’s always that little voice in the back of their head, “Where’s 27”? The Jaguars have averaged 25.6 points per game this year with Fournette in the mix. With out him? Just 13.8 points per game.
Fournette’s career average yards per carry (a flawed stat when grading RBs) leaves a lot to be desired. And so do does his line from Sunday’s loss to the Colts. He averaged just 2.2 yards per carry on the day. A lot of that had to do with the loaded boxes and the painful lack of push by the offensive line, at times, throughout the game. Part of it was due to his tentativeness. He clearly wasn’t fully himself yet. And can you blame him? He missed nearly the entirety of the Jaguars first eight games with a hamstring injury. But when Fournette did find his stride it was a thing of beauty. When he gets his legs back underneath him and wits about him on the field, he’s going to be tough to tackle and even harder to catch.
Leonard Fournette was not a wasted pick. He’ll need to figure out how to keep his body right in order to have long term success, but he has an invaluable resource at his disposal when it comes to advice on that subject. Fred Taylor still works for the team on the media side of things and, I’m sure, would be more than willing to help Fournette learn how to stay healthy along his NFL journey.
The Jaguars 2018 season may be all but lost, but Leonard Fournette’s reemergence gives hope for the present and the future to a previously stagnant Jaguars offense.
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