The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette with visions of a team-carrying star and a breakaway rushing threat that could put fear into the hearts of defenders every time he touched the ball. Last Sunday, Fournette carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and he scored a touchdown. His longest rush was 17 yards.
Coach Doug Marrone was happy with the effort. The Jaguars would be pleased with that stat line each week. But if that was the first time any of you saw Leonard Fournette play football, you haven’t seen anything yet.
But does Fournette’s effort Sunday or his potential for even better things make him a must-start in week two? I can’t think of a reason to sit him, but let’s take a deeper look anyway.
How is he feeling?
Fournette did not appear on any injury lists this week and has participated fully in practice. I was among those worried about the foot injury that hampered him throughout the preseason. Apparently, my concerns were not warranted.
Marrone got excellent work from Chris Ivory that allowed Fournette to be rested at intervals during the game. Ivory averaged over five yards per carry. TJ Yeldon also participated in practices without limitations this week. It is unclear if he will take some snaps from either back.
Will the offensive line hold up for him?
Funny you should mention that. The Jaguars offensive line got a lot of good press for the rushing yards and the fact that Bortles got through the game without a sack or an interception. However, the film review indicates that Fournette gets solo credit for anywhere from 40-60 of his yards. That’s because he never, ever failed to fall forward, even when he was met at the line by a pack of Texans. Two-yard runs became four-yard runs. What looked like a loss became a small gain.
The line still deserves much credit, especially when you see Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt combining for only two tackles on the day. But don’t make the mistake of thinking all their issues were miraculously cured.
Which begs the question, can Fournette handle that volume of hits over 16 weeks? If Ivory continues to fill in like he did Sunday, the roughly 2/1 carry ratio should keep Fournette fresh enough. If he starts showing wear, Yeldon and Corey Grant might be able to help Ivory rest Fournette even more.
What next week look like
The Tennessee Titans come to Jacksonville trying to prevent the Jaguars from jumping two games ahead of them in the division. The Titans boast a solid front seven, but they just allowed Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard to rush for 98 yards on 23 carries. It would appear Fournette might be able to inch his 3.8 yards-per-carry a little higher.
It is true that a healthy Houston defense is better than the Titans’ unit. But it is also true that while Fournette might prove to be on par with Lynch, the rest of the Jaguars squad are not the Raiders. Veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will see what everybody else saw on the Week 1 films. He is sure to devise some scheme to force Bortles into throwing more.
Marcus Mariota is developing into a pretty good quarterback. With his array of pass catchers and the Titan running game, the Jaguar defense will have a harder time than they had with the Texans, especially with both starting cornerbacks held out of practice today with injuries. Could that affect the run/pass mix?
The verdict is…
As far as Fournette being a must-start this week, absolutely yes. Jacksonville will have a much tougher week against the Titans. They face a significantly better offense and a defense that has a week of game film to see what they are up against.
But whatever happens, Leonard Fournette will handle the ball 25 times or so. Whenever he has the ball in his hands, Jacksonville is one good block or defensive mistake from scoring a touchdown. Keep playing the rookie and watch for big plays that are sure to come.
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