View from the O-Zone: Logic, talent, fit

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JACKSONVILLE – All day, rumors swirled and Twitter burned.

That was the nature of a wild-eyed, Draft-Day frenzy Thursday. But by nightfall, that was over and the time came for the Jaguars at No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft to act not on buzz or hype, but logic, talent and fit.

That player? Leonard Fournette.

Logic. Talent. Fit.

"We need playmakers," Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said moments after his first draft selection since returning to the team in January. "We need people who put the ball in the end zone. This guy can help us in regard to that."

Yes, it turned out all of the quarterback talk and trade-down speculation was so much smoke, rumor and speculation. And it turned out Draft-Day Twitter had little to do with Draft-Night reality.

Again.

It also turned out the Jaguars made their selection with the most basic of motivations:

Fournette, a powerful, fast, physically imposing running back from Louisiana State University, fit what the team wants to do offensively. He is talented. He is swift. He is strong.

Mostly, he just made sense.

And as General Manager David Caldwell told J.P. Shadrick and myself during his live in-studio appearance shortly after the selection, it essentially came down to the people doing the evaluating and making the decisions believing what their eyes long had told them:

Fournette, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as a sophomore and who many analysts long have called a once-in-a-decade talent, indeed is those things. And if he is those things, why not select him?

"We're on the road on Saturdays watching late-night SEC games before our game and this is a guy that you are watching on TV every Saturday night and you're like, 'This guy is going to be the first pick in the draft,''' Caldwell said. "You knew from the time he stepped on campus at LSU that he was going to be a special player, and those guys tend to do very well at our level, too."

Fournette's reputation as a physical player didn't hurt. Head Coach Doug Marrone said he spoke with the team Thursday about the need to be more physical, faster and stronger.

"I think Leonard fits that well," Marrone said.

Caldwell called it a situation "where value met need."

"We had him as our highest-rated player, and we had a need there," Caldwell said. "We just decided not to overthink it. You can poke holes into any pick you make: 'You should do this. You should to that. ….' "

"A lot of these players, you over-evaluate them. At the end of the day, you put the tape down, put the glasses down and you make a pick."

And at the end of the day, this much was clear, too:

All of the pre-draft speculation, all of the quarterback talk that focused Wednesday and Thursday on the Jaguars selecting Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson … all of that was just talk. Caldwell said after the draft that the rumors didn't come from him, and to his knowledge didn't come from the Jaguars.

"I have no idea where that came from," he said.

Caldwell, too, said the much-discussed idea of a trade down never came close to happening. He said he received a few early exploratory phone calls, but nothing more.

"Radio silence," he said.

Caldwell and Coughlin both said the team eventually focused on four players, a number that ensured they would get a player they liked at No. 4. One of the players was Louisiana State safety Jamal Adams, who went No. 6 to the Jets, and the Jaguars also were linked before the draft to player such as defensive end Solomon Thomas of Stanford (No. 3 overall, San Francisco) and defensive end Jonathan Allen of Alabama (No. 17 overall, Washington).

Why Fournette over the others?

"He's special," Coughlin said, using the word twice in succession moments after Caldwell also had used it throughout his post-selection conversation with the media.

And, really: that's what turned this one, above all else – a feeling that this was a special player who fit what the Jaguars need now.

The Jaguars need to help quarterback Blake Bortles, and they believe Fournette's presence can do that.

"We need to do something, as it has been said, about balance," Coughlin said. "We need to do something about creating a better situation where the quarterback doesn't have the entire game on his shoulders."

They also need to help what on paper looks like could be a young, improving defense – and they believe Fournette's presence can do that.

Mostly, they need players who can make plays on offense – and they clearly believe Fournette can do that.

"He can step on the gas and make a big play," Coughlin said.

The Jaguars haven't had nearly enough of that on offense in a long time. And considering his talent, and considering what the style this team wants to play under Marrone …

Logic. Talent. Fit.

Those three things indeed came together for the Jaguars at No. 4 overall Thursday – and as the draft-day buzz faded, the Jaguars made a selection that just made sense.

The Jaguars drafted LSU running back Leonard Fournette in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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