I'm wrapping up the position group grades for the week with the Jaguars' running backs. For most of this franchise's history, the running game has been a vital element to overall success, and that hasn't changed under fourth-year head coach Doug Marrone.
Previously graded position groups: Tight End, Safety, Cornerback, Linebacker, Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, Offensive Tackle, Interior O-Line
The Jaguars' overall grade before including the running back group is a 78.
The running back position is headlined by none other than Leonard Fournette. There's been plenty of drama associated with Fournette during his time in Duval, but when healthy, he's been a consistent producer. He certainly hasn't lived up to his lofty draft status, but he has been a slightly above average starting running back for the Jaguars, despite facing loaded boxes more often than not. During his first year in the league, Fournette was invaluable, as he led the team in rushing and found the end zone 14 times including the playoffs. A lingering hamstring injury put a damper on his second season in the league, but in year three, Fournette proved he could be a complete back. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry, despite facing the fourth most eight-man boxes of any ball carrier in 2019. LF27 also led the team in catches with 76 and became an asset in pass protection. The Jaguars elected not to pick up Fournette's 2021 fifth-year option and even tried to trade their workhorse back prior to the draft. But in an interview with Pro Football Talk, after the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft, GM Dave Caldwell told Mike Florio that the team felt comfortable moving forward with Fournette. And as long as Fournette is in Duval, the Jaguars are going to feature him heavily.
Newly acquired running back Chris Thompson may not be second in line for a workhorse role after Fournette, but he'll be featured as a pass-catching back when healthy. Thompson has spent nearly his entire career under new Jaguars' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and will bring a wealth of knowledge to the running back room. Thompson has struggled with injuries for much of his career, but when healthy, he'll provide some juice to the backfield, and will be an excellent check down target for Gardner Minshew.
If Fournette were to miss time with injury, Ryquell Armstead would be next in line to be the feature back. He saw limited action as a rookie in 2019, but proved he could grind out tough yards and catch the ball out of the backfield. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 35 attempts, but caught 14 passes and scored twice as a receiver. He'll need to improve his efficiency in year two, but Armstead is a viable backup at this point in his young career.
Behind Armstead the Jaguars also have Divine Ogzigbo, who was drafted by the Saints in 2019. Ogzigbo had a strong preseason for the Saints, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but was relegated to the practice squad because of New Orleans' depth at the position. The Jaguars pounced at the opportunity to bring Ogzigbo into the fold, and he looked the part of an NFL running back in minimal duty.
The Jaguars signed Tavien Feaster, James Robinson, and Nathan Cotrell as undrafted free agents, but they'll face an uphill battle trying to make the roster in 2020.
The Jaguars clearly have a mold at running back. They want big-powerful runners who also have the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. The one exception is Chris Thompson, who is more of a prototypical scatback.
As long as Leonard Fournette and Chris Thompson are healthy, the Jaguars will get plenty of production out of the running back position. But if one or both of them should go down to injury, the backups — while promising — are unproven and inexperienced.
Grade: C+ (79.75)
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