Should Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette Win Offensive Rookie Of The Year?
Entering Week 6 of the NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars — owners of the only winning record (3-2) in the AFC South — have generated 50.9% of their total offensive yards through their ground game. That’s the highest such total in the NFL, by more than five percent. In fact, the last team to have more than half of its yardage total come on the ground was the 2011 Broncos.
While Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs is the rookie running back generating all the buzz, for the obvious reason that he leads the NFL in rushing yards, yards per attempt, and and most runs of over 20 yards, you could make the argument that Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars has been the most important player to his team’s success, and maybe even the better running back.
The fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette was a force of nature during his time at LSU, and one of the most physical — if not violent — runners to come out of college since Adrian Peterson himself. Jacksonville drafted Fournette to be the centerpiece of their offense this year. So far, he has done that, and more. Do you realize he’s on pace for just under 350 rushing attempts and another 40 receptions this season? He is #2 in the NFL in rushing yards (behind Hunt), despite being the focal point of the Jaguars offense.
No team has faced more eight-plus-man boxes than the Jaguars, yet they’re still able to consistently move the ball on the ground. The Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing (165.2 yards per game) behind Fournette’s 466 yards, which is an impressive turnaround from the past five seasons, when they averaged the fewest yards per game over that span. It’s a testament to just how committed coach Doug Marrone is to the run game — and to minimize the reliance on Blake Bortles, a strategy that’s almost unheard of in this quarterback-driven era. But it’s even more around the fact of how good of a player Fournette really is.
On Fournette’s game-sealing 90-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, he accelerated past Steelers cornerback Sean Davis, who himself ran a very respectable time of 4.46 seconds in the 40 yard dash. Meanwhile, the NFL says Fournette reached a top speed of 22.05 mph. It was the fastest any ball carrier has run this season; not just the fastest among running backs — the fastest among anybody who has run with the ball. And that was after a full day’s work, when he recorded upwards of 25 total touches in the game already.
Against the Steelers, the Jaguars ran the football 18 straight times in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers could do nothing to stop it; Jacksonville accumulated almost 140 yards rushing in the quarter. All of it came from Fournette.
The difference between Hunt and Fournette is that the former is playing with a quarterback who is a legitimate MVP candidate, while the latter is the team MVP himself. Fournette doesn’t have the luxury of playing with a quarterback that’s in the top five in the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passer rating. Rather, his team is asking him to put the offense on his shoulders, and take the ball out of the hands of his own quarterback.
And that’s his accomplishments this season should be considered the most impressive of any rookie running back from the 2017 NFL Draft class.