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The offseason: Running backs

Posted Feb 9, 2018

Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars’ running back position in this look at the ’18 offseason

 

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars’ running back position in this look at the ’18 offseason.

Position: Running back.

2017 starter: Leonard Fournette.

2017 reserves: T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, Chris Ivory.

Also on roster: Tyler Gaffney, Tim Cook, Brandon Wilds.

2017 at a glance: Fournette, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, was the Jaguars’ primary running back as a rookie; he rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 3.9 yards a carry and starting 13 games. He also provided a hard-nosed identity to an offense that grinded its way to the NFL’s No. 1 ranking in rushing throughout the season. Yeldon, after being inactive for the first six games of the season, played well in mostly a third-down role after that; he was active in the final 10 regular-season games and two postseason games, rushing for nearly 300 yards and finishing with nearly 300 yards receiving while also playing a key role as a pass protector. Grant’s speed earned him a spot on the game-day roster in all 16 regular-season games and three postseason games, and he finished with more than 300 postseason and regular-season total yards. Ivory rushed for 382 yards and a 3.4-yards-per-carry average, but was inactive for three of the Jaguars’ last four games last season including postseason.

Offseason storyline: Ivory figures to be the only one of the Jaguars’ top backs from last season not to return. A 2016 unrestricted free-agent signee, the Jaguars can save $4 million against the cap if released before March 14. Grant is a restricted free agent, and the Jaguars like his speed and versatility in the offense and on special teams; he likely will be tendered and will return next season.

Free agents as of March 14: None.

Oehser analysis: With Fournette firmly in place as the team’s No. 1, franchise running back, don’t look for this to be a high-profile position this offseason. Ivory could be released before the start of the league year, and the combination of Fournette, Yeldon and Grant give the Jaguars a lot of what a team needs in a three-headed backfield with Fournette’s power and speed, Yeldon’s third-down versatility and Grant’s breakaway speed. The guess here is the Jaguars will look to Day 3 of the draft to add one more every-down runner to the mix, with the idea that that player could be a backup and spot starter if Fournette is injured or unavailable on a short-term basis. One area to watch here is whether the Jaguars develop more packages to use Grant in the offense. His speed and explosiveness helped the Jaguars to an 11-point first-half lead against New England in the AFC Championship Game; getting him more involved in the offense on a week-to-week basis seems like a real possibility.

Sexton analysis: The Jaguars have their feature back for the foreseeable future but that doesn’t mean simply checking running back off the list. Fournette plays like Earl Campbell, which means he plays with the brute force Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone wanted when they selected him. Campbell is an excellent comparison because he also had breakaway speed to pair with a downhill running posture. But that means he may never play 16 games in a season – and like Campbell, he could face a shorter professional football life than many positions.  The Jaguars will undoubtedly release Ivory and free $4 million dollars of cap space.  They also have another year with Yeldon’s rookie contract; Yeldon’s interesting because he can do so many different things. His 58-yard touchdown run in Indianapolis broke that game wide open and his 40-yard screen in Pittsburgh kept the Jaguars out of the Steelers’ reach. I fully expect the Jaguars to add another back in the draft because Marrone isn’t going to change his personality; he likes to run the football, and that will require a stable of runners – particularly considering Fournette’s style.

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