JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' running backs as the 2020 offseason ends and the '20 season approaches
Position: Running back.
Projected starter: Leonard Fournette.
Others: Ryquell Armstead, Chris Thompson, Devine Ozigbo, Nathan Cottrell, Tavien Feaster, James Robinson.
2020 offseason additions: Thompson (unrestricted free agent, Washington Redskins), Robinson (collegiate free agent), Feaster (collegiate free agent), Cottrell (collegiate free agent).
2020 offseason departures: Jeremy McNichols.
Offseason overview: The Jaguars remained status quo for the most part at this position, with the most high-profile addition the signing of Thompson. He spent seven seasons with the Redskins, playing under new Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for Gruden's entire five-and-half-season stint there. He is expected to be a third-down, receiving threat out of the backfield. Also intriguing: Robinson, a first-team All-America selection at Illinois State who was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine before going undrafted.
Oehser analysis: The primary story of the offseason involved Fournette, and that should be the case in the coming months as well. The Jaguars this offseason declined to pick up the option on Fournette's option for the 2021 season. That means while the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft will play for the Jaguars in 2020, he will be scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason at the start of the 2021 NFL League Year. The team also reportedly explored trading Fournette around the draft, but reportedly plans to move forward with Fournette as the start of this season. That's a lot of offseason chatter, but the guess here is little of that will affect Fournette's play on the field – or his approach to the 2020 season. Fournette, who rushed for a career-high 1,152 yards last season after struggling with injuries and off-field issues in 2018, has every incentive to report for training camp in excellent shape and be focused during the season. He did so last season, when he played in the first 15 regular-season games and remained remarkably healthy and strong considering his physical running style. If he can do so again, he can set himself up for a lucrative second contract – whether that's with the Jaguars or not. The guess here is he will do just that. Another player to watch: Thompson, who figures to fit in well as a receiver in Gruden's West Coast offense. Look for Gruden to get Thompson matched up on defenders and take advantage of his experience and abilities as a receiver.
Sexton analysis: I fully expect Fournette to have a huge season. He showed last fall he has the ability to stay healthy; his 15 games translated into 341 touches and 1,674 total yards – and his season would have been considered a huge success had he scored more than three touchdowns. The most important numbers for him in 2021 will be the zeros at the end of a new contract. Fournette hasn't had to worry about money since he earned a healthy deal as the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Now, he does. If he wants the big payday – and as a running back it's highly likely he'll only get one shot – he must perform in 2020. I can't imagine he won't do that if he stays healthy. Fournette's health last fall kept Armstead off the field most of the season. He's a similar style back to Fournette, running with power and anger – but with just 35 touches in 16 games as a rookie last season we don't have a good idea what he might be able to do in 2021 if Fournette signs elsewhere. If Fournette has the kind of season I expect in 2020, there is a good chance we still won't know enough about Armstead except that he has tantalizing size and ability. Thompson joined the running-back group as an unrestricted free agent from Washington and is expected to be the change-of-pace back the Jaguars have missed since Corey Grant went down in Kansas City in 2018. The former Florida State Seminole also brings a keen understanding of what Gruden wants to accomplish and can help translate that in the meeting rooms and on the field. Cottrell, Feaster, Robinson and Ozigbo all have a shot at the roster with special teams being the deciding factor. I'd give Ozigbo the edge because he was with the club in 2019 and has the kind of size and power that fits the mold of Fournette and Armstead. That's useful when you want to run the ball as much as the Jaguars say they do.