Jaguars 2019 Position Review: Leonard Fournette Carries the Load for Improved Running Game – Sports Illustrated

Posted: February 17, 2020 at 12:43 am


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With the Jacksonville Jaguars fully geared up to move forward in 2020 and try to put a dissapointing 2019 behind them, it is time to review last season and what it could mean moving forward.

The Jaguars' 6-10 record in 2019 was the result of issues and, in many cases, regression on each side of the ball, but one area of the team that improved compared to 2018 was the rushing offense.

After the Jaguars' ended 2018 ranked 19th in rushing hards and 26th in yards per rush attempt, and these figures jumped to 17th and 15th in 2019. The team only scored three rushing touchdowns, but the running game was instrumental in a number of victories (Week 4 vs. the Denver Broncos, Week 7 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals).

Third-year running back and former No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette had one of the better seasons of his career during a rejuvenated 2019, while rookies Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo provided depth behind him and got their chances to carry the rushing offense in Week 17.

In reviewing the 2019 performance of each running back, it leads to a few observations for the group's outlook in 2020 under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Leonard Fournette

2019 was a season of new highs for Leonard Fournette, a third-year running back who had a lot to prove to enter the season. He played in the most regular season games of his career (15) and set career-highs in rushing yards (1,152), first downs rushed for (55), yards per attempt (4.3), receptions (76) and receiving yards (522). He also showed great improvement as a pass-blocker, displaying physicality and awareness in blitz pickups that wasn't always present in his game.

Fournette only scored three touchdowns, the fewest amount in his career, but this was largely due to inconsistency along the offensive line and a poor red-zone offense.

The veteran running back's most impressive stretch of the season came from Weeks 4 to 7, when he rushed 101 times for 536 yards (5.31 yards per carry), a period where he rushed for over 100 yards three times and set a single-game career-high in rushing yards with 225.

Thanks to his improved durability, the offense was centered around Fournette for the vast majority of the season, playing 83% of the team's offensive snaps, one of the highest usage rates on the team.

Fournette's rushing production faltered in the second half of the season, not rushing for 100 yards in any of the final nine games and recording less than 70 rushing yards in five of the final eight games of the season. While he improved in nearly every facet of his game as a rusher, including better moves in open space, vision, elusiveness, and ability to run after contact, Fournette still failed to find the end zone enough to earn him any honors such as the Pro Bowl.

He still has a few areas of his game he needs to work on, such as finishing long runs and removing the tendency of cutting runs back when there is no room, which leads to big losses of yards, but the improvement he showed in 2019 indicates he has the ability to continue to build upon his game the self-awareness to know he has to do so.

Ryquell Armstead

Jacksonville's fifth-round draft pick in 2019 (140th overall), Ryquell Armstead didn't get many chances to show what he could do due to Fournette's work-rate, but the rookie out of Temple did impress at times.

Playing only 150 snaps (14% of the team's offensive snaps) despite being active for all 16 games, Armstead fell victim to Fournette's role in the offense. He recorded more than three carries in only three games, with his best game coming vs. Denver in Week 4 (Eight rushes for 42 yards). Overall, he totaled 35 carries for 108 yards (3.1 yards per carry average) and 14 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

As a runner, Armstead displayed an aggressive downhill mentality, willing to run behind his pads and not shy away from contact. He had issues with his vision and overall patience in 2019, but he displayed more positives than negatives considering he only got a few carries here and there.

Where Armstead really shined was as a pass-catcher. His two receiving scores were the only receiving touchdowns by Jaguars running backs in 2020, and he displayed traits to indicate he could be an effective change of pace running back moving forward. He had solid hands, a good feel for space, burst after the catch, and natural ability to make plays when targeted. Each of his touchdowns was the result of good awareness and route-running, two things that will help him immensely moving forward.

Armstead had modest running numbers in the only game he started in 2019 (Week 17 vs. the Indianapolis Colts), rushing 10 times for 33 yards, but he shined as a receiver, catching five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.

It remains to be seen how Armstead would perform if the Jaguars had to lean upon him because the Jaguars never had to depend on him to carry the running game for a long stretch in 2019. He did, however, do enough to earn some confidence moving into his sophomore season.

Devine Ozigbo

An undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2019, the Jaguars signed Devine Ozigbo after he was cut by the New Orleans Saints before the season began.

Like Armstead, Ozigbo didn't get much playing time due to Fournette's place in the offense. He appeared in 10 games but played only 29 offensive snaps, with 23 of those snaps coming in Week 17. Ozigbo recorded only nine carries for 27 yards (3.0 yards per carry) and three catches for 23 yards, but all of those came in Week 17 as well.

Ozigbo showed impressive athleticism, hands, and instincts in his limited snaps, but the sample size was so small that it is hard to project Ozigbo or his role in the offense moving forward.

Overall

Moving forward, the Jaguars have an interesting and youthful running backs room but it is largely unproven. Armstead and Ozigbo weren't given enough chances in 2019 to make much of a name for themselves, though they did have encouraging flashes in Week 17. Fournette is once again projected to be the offense's workhorse under Gruden, though it remains to be seen if he plays the same large role that he did last year.

When looking at the Jaguars' running backs group, it is clear the Jaguars are missing a true passing-down back, though Armstead has the potential to develop into the kind of player. Expect for the Jaguars to keep each of their backs but also be open to adding a running back who is a different style of player compared to their current backs.

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Jaguars 2019 Position Review: Leonard Fournette Carries the Load for Improved Running Game - Sports Illustrated

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February 17th, 2020 at 12:43 am

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