JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' running backs in this position-by-position look at the '20 offseason
Position: Running back.
2019 starters: Leonard Fournette (15), Ryquell Armstead (1).
Others: Devante Mays, Taj McGowan, Jeremy McNichols, Devine Ozigbo, Paul Perkins.
2019 at a glance: Fournette, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, turned in the best season of his three-year career. He played in more games – 15 – than he played in either of his first seasons, rushing for a career-high 1,152 yards on 265 carries. He also caught a career-high 76 passes for 522 yards. Armstead, a fifth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, played relatively sparingly because of Fournette's durability. He showed flashes of effectiveness, rushing for 108 yards on 35 carries and catching 14 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Ozigbo was the only other back to get carries for the Jaguars in 2019, rushing for 27 yards on nine carries.
Offseason storyline: The team's approach to Fournette will be one offseason focus, as will how the team handles its depth and versatility at the position. Because Fournette was a first-round selection in '17, the Jaguars must decide this offseason whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The Jaguars also must determine if their 2019 approach at running back will remain the same moving forward. Armstead has a similar style to Fournette, and the team used Fournette almost exclusively at the spot – not only on running downs but in passing situations, too. Could new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden push for a change-of-pace back? Could the team try to use more backs in 2019 after using Fournette as an every-down back almost exclusively in 2019? Could the team return to a fullback after not carrying one in last season? Stay tuned.
Free agents as of March 18: Mays.
Oehser analysis: This position isn't getting much focus as an offseason area to watch, but that could change. Fournette – after dealing with off-field issues at times in his first two seasons – did everything the team wanted in terms of preparation last offseason, and he was more reliable last season than in any of his first two NFL seasons; he played all 15 games and played a remarkable 82.9 percent of the Jaguars' 1,091 offensive plays. But while Fournette made a strong case for the team's offensive Most Valuable Player, the Jaguars must determine this offseason if they want to take the same approach of building the offense around a run-first, physical offense. And will Fournette's bruising style be the focal point of the run game and offense? Or do they need a running back with more missability and elusiveness? And do they want to continue to have Fournette be the primary option on every down? There are many questions at this position that must be answered as the offseason continues.
Sexton analysis: Fournette was on track to break the franchise single-season rushing record when the Jaguars landed in London in early November. Fournette ran for a personal best 225 yards in the Jaguars' victory in Denver then posted 100-plus-yard days against the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals, looking like the guy who ran all over the Southeastern Conference while at Louisiana State University. Then the defense collapsed. The scoreboard went with it, leaving the Jaguars one-dimensional and unable to stick with what they thought they did best offensively. Fournette carried 15 times or fewer in six of the final seven games in which he played – primarily because the Jaguars trailed too often too early in many of those games. Still, his powerful running style kept defenses honest and Fournette finished with a career-best 1,674 yards from scrimmage. Maybe as impressive was the fact that he started the first 15 games of the season – also a career best – and wasn't even on the injury report until the final week of the season. That's unheard of for a back who runs with power like Fournette. He would benefit from an improved offensive line and should continue to be the workhorse in 2020. If a healthy starter didn't touch the ball enough, you know his rookie backup didn't, either. We saw an angry running style from Armstead last season, but he only carried the ball 35 times; like Fournette, he was effective in the passing game where he scored a pair of touchdowns. He has plenty of potential in his large and powerful frame and needs only more touches to show what he's capable of. The Jaguars don't need to do much here this offseason, unless they decide to pass on Fournette's fifth-year option – which is due in May.