This article analyzes the Jaguars current running backs and those they might target in free agency or the 2015 NFL Draft.
Despite the fact the headlines these days are dominated by strong armed quarterbacks and receiver making three finger catches, there is still a position in football called running back. The Jaguars struggled last season to find their stride on offense. A major factor that lead to the lack of production on offense was their poor running game. Part of the reason that the Jaguars running game was so poor was the ineffective passing game. In general the offense was a mess. The Jaguars finished the season ranked 21st in rushing yards, yet had the 6th highest average yards per attempt…. Does not compute… well, actually it does make sense. The Jaguars were often behind in games, which forced them to throw the ball, a lot. The lack of rushing attempts crippled the Jaguars offense. In order for the running game to feel effective, Blake Bortles must cut down on the turnovers. Another reason that the running game seemed ineffective to most fans was Toby Gerhart. Gerhart suffered a foot injury early in the season, which essentially left him ineffective. A glimmer of hope came when Denard Robinson began to get the lion’s share of the carries. From week 7 of the 2014 season to week 10, over a four game stretch, Denard Robinson averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 18 attempts per game. Over the same four game stretch he averaged over 97 yards per game and scored 4 touch downs. He was performing like an All-Pro. Unfortunately, for him and the Jaguars, his season was cut short by an injury. The third running back on the team is Jordan Todman who played well at times and is an excellent kick returner. Todman is a restricted free agent and may not be back in 2015. The final piece in the Jaguars running back puzzle is Storm Johnson. He played very little in 2014, but did show flashes in a couple of games against the Ravens and Steelers. This leaves the Jaguars with some tough decisions to make. Is this group good enough to get the job done? Should the Jaguars go after one of the many free agent running backs? Or should they draft one of the many talented running backs coming out in the draft this year?
General Manager, Dave Caldwell, indicated at the end of the season that the Jaguars are very happy with their running back group (last year he also said he thought Johnny Football was the most NFL ready quarterback).
If the Jaguars do decide to sign a free agent running back, which seems unlikely, there are plenty of guys out there. Many of them are aging veterans, who have passed their prime. However, there are some young backs that could help the Jaguars out. The most intriguing name on the list is with out a doubt DeMarco Murray. He led the League in rushing last year, but had over 400 touches. He will cost a pretty penny, but his best years could be ahead of him. He is a physical, bruising back, who also has the moves to evade defenders. On top of his great rushing ability he is a great receiver out of the backfield. DeMarco is the complete package. The only red flags are the amount of touches he had last season and the contract he will demand. If the Jaguars want to bring in a free agent running back, DeMarco Murray would be the best and most expensive.
There are other, slightly, cheaper options. CJ Spiller is a back who has an electric running style, yet is too often hurt. He is only 27, and could have some healthy years in front of him, but if the past is any indication of the future, he will struggle to stay on the field. Despite Spiller’s struggles to stay on the field, his 5.0 yards per carry will attract some suitors. Similar to CJ Spiller, Reggie Bush is electric when healthy, but like Spiller, can’t stay healthy.
Frank Gore is an aging back who has had a remarkable career, but is likely over the hill. Mark Ingram is coming off an impressive season and could be a target for the Jags, but will likely cost quite a bit for someone who is relatively unproven. Shane Vereen is interesting because he is young and is such a good receiver out of the backfield. He can dramatically alter how a defense has to defend. Other names include Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Knowshon Moreno, and Ryan Matthews. All of which are old or have injury issues. It seems unlikely that the Jaguars will sign a free agent running back, with the team having so many other needs.
It appears much more likely that the Jaguars would draft a running back, if they do decide to augment the position. There are a number of very good running backs in the draft this year. There are two headliners,Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Todd Gurley would be a sure fire first round selection if it were not for his devastating knee injury in 2014. He is a beast. He can do it all; he’ll run past you or through you. In 2014 despite missing much of the season, Gurley was able to rack up 9 touch downs and 911 yards on only 123 carries. That gave him an yards per carry average of 7.4. If he was healthy teams would be salivating over the chance to add Gurley to their roster. According to Josh Norris, a draft expert, “there is a significant gap in talent between Gurley and the next running back”. While that may have been true before Gurley’s injury, it is not any longer. Melvin Gordon is a work horse. He can run, has very good strength, and can put moves on that make defenders look silly. Gordon had ridiculous numbers in his final college season. He racked up over 2,500 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, all while averaging over 8 yards per carry. He may not be as complete as Gurley was, but he is very good in his own right. It is very possible that both of these runners will be selected in the 1st round. If they are not it is possible that the Jaguars could go after one of them in the 2nd round. It seems more likely based on GM Dave Caldwell’s comments that if the team does select a running back, it would be later in the draft.
This leaves the team with quite a few options. There are a number of very good backs that will likely be selected in the middle rounds. TJ Yeldon was a highly productive back at Alabama who is somewhat overlooked because of Gurley and Gordon. Ameer Abdullah is a running back with great explosion and power, who is undersized. Jay Ajayi from Boise is a back who can do it all, but is overlooked because he went to Boise. David Cobb is a do it all running back who weighs in at just under 230 pounds and will run defenders over. Duke Johnson is an electric running back out of Miami who could be very difficult to game plan for in the NFL. There are so many quality backs in this draft. Other names to keep an eye on are Jeremy Langford from Michigan State; Matt Jones from Florida; Mike Davis of South Carolina; Javorius Allen from Southern California; Michael Dyer out of Louisville; and Tevin Coleman from Indiana.
This is truly a great draft for running backs and the Jaguars could and should take advantage of that in the later rounds.
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