JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the running back position in this post-2019 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars’ roster…
Position: Running back (7).
Projected starter: Leonard Fournette.
Others: Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, RyQuell Armstead, Thomas Rawls, David Williams, Dimitri Flowers (fullback).
Arrivals: Blue (unrestricted free agent, Houston Texans), Cunningham (unrestricted free agent, Chicago Bears), Rawls (free agent, Cincinnati Bengals), Armstead (2019 NFL Draft, Round 5).
Departures: T.J. Yeldon (unrestricted free agent, Buffalo Bills), Corey Grant (unrestricted free agent), Carlos Hyde (released, Kansas City Chiefs).
Offseason breakdown: The Jaguars have spent the offseason rebuilding depth around Fournette, with Hyde/Yeldon/Grant representing most of the depth behind Fournette last season. They signed Rawls in January, then signed Blue and Cunningham in late March before selecting Armstead from Temple No. 140 overall in the draft.
Oehser analysis: Though the Jaguars have done major work here in recent months, this position likely will be defined next season by the same player who defined it the last two seasons. That’s Fournette, whose physicality and speed helped define an efficient, ball-control offense in 2017 and whose injuries and inconsistency defined it in 2018. Fournette therefore is an offseason Jaguars storyline second only to new quarterback Nick Foles. Fournette according to team officials is in good shape as the 2019 offseason program begins, and all Jaguars decision-makers – Head Coach Doug Marrone, General Manager David Caldwell and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin – have said they like his offseason approach. That’s a good start. Now, Fournette must build upon that and show throughout the offseason and training camp that he is focused and ready to show 2018 was the outlier – and that he is ready to live up to his status as the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Yes, the Jaguars added depth behind in the offseason. Yes, the addition of Armstead gives the Jaguars a Fournette-type back – and the addition of Blue gives the team veteran insurance at the position. But this position’s success or failure next season almost certainly will depend on Fournette.
Sexton analysis: The word is Fournette is in great shape and the word is Fournette is working to get back to where he was when 2017 ended. I hope whoever is spreading those words is correct. Fournette is a powerful runner without fear of running downhill on a defense when he’s right. Thankfully, I guess, getting right is more mental than physical – though you can’t discount the hamstring injury that nagged at him from Week 1 to the end of the 2018 season. Clearly, he has a great chance – with a legitimate passing attack expected to contribute this fall – to be able to run against defenses that aren’t focused on stopping him and him alone. That should keep him healthier and make him much more effective. He’s not the generational runner I thought he would be when they picked him No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he can be one of the NFL’s better backs if his head is in the right place. Armstead gives them the same kind of runner for which I advocated in last year’s draft. When you’re built to run with power you need a stable of power runners because they’re going to get hit. Armstead looks the part at 220 pounds and has the speed and instincts to offer coordinator John DeFilippo the chance to stick with the offense without Fournette on the field. Beyond them a slew of veterans – Blue, Rawls, Cunningham and Williams – are on board to show if they can a create a role in the new offense. Someone must become the third-down back, the receiving threat out of the backfield and a change of pace to the power of Fournette and Armstead.