Beller: No. 26 RB, No. 63 overall | Fitz: No. 37 RB, No. 95 overall | Consensus: No. 31 RB, No. 79 overall
As a power runner joining a pass-happy team, will Chris Ivory change the offensive culture in Jacksonville or be devoured by it?
Ivory is fresh off the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his six-year career. He also set new personal bests in touchdowns (eight) and receiving yards (only 217 ... but hey, it’s a start). In three seasons with the Jets, the rugged Ivory banged out 2,724 rushing yards and did his best to dispel the notion that he’s injury-prone by playing in 46 of 48 games.
Entering his age-28 season, Ivory has a hearty career average of 4.6 yards per carry and hasn’t averaged fewer than 4.1 yards per carry in any season. He was not much of a receiving threat in the past, but he had 30 receptions last year, which was more than in the five previous seasons combined.
After three-year stints in New Orleans and New York, Ivory was lured to Jacksonville with a five-year, $32 million deal that included $10 million in guaranteed money. At first blush, Jacksonville didn’t seem like an optimal landing spot for Ivory, since the Jaguars used T.J. Yeldon in a featured role last season and seemed pleased enough with the rookie from Alabama, whom they’d selected with the 36th pick in the 2015 draft. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell seemed to go out of their way to reassure Yeldon that he wasn’t being replaced. Bradley said the Ivory signing was a way to help Yeldon stay healthy. Caldwell said in March that Ivory and Yeldon would likely split carries.
Ivory carried the ball 20 or more times on six different occasions last season, but it’s hard to envision him getting to be a beast of burden as long as Yeldon is healthy. At least the two running backs have complementary skill sets. Despite his career-best receiving numbers last season, Ivory has never been much of a pass catcher. It only makes sense for Yeldon, who had 36 receptions as a rookie, to serve in the third-down role. But Ivory figures to get the vast majority of carries near the goal line. He had 33 carries from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line last season, and five of his seven touchdown runs last season covered three or fewer yards.
This could very well end up as a value-killing platoon, with Ivory and Yeldon sharing carries almost equally, and neither one being more than an RB3 for fantasy purposes.
“Most expect Ivory to be the starter and Yeldon a third-down back,” Jaguars beat writer Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union wrote recently. “But don’t be surprised if it ends being a more even split (55–45 range).”
Perhaps the key question is whether the Jaguars’ offensive approach will change now that they have a pair of credible running backs. The Jaguars ran the ball on 36.8% of their offensive snaps last season, and their 354 rushing attempts tied for the second-lowest total in the league. If Jacksonville continues to be one of the NFL’s most pass-heavy teams, Ivory owners probably won’t get much of a return on their investment.
Let’s try a few projections on for size.
First, we’ll consult Murphy’s Law and assume that circumstances conspire against Ivory. The Jaguars continue to be pass-heavy, Ivory and Yeldon split carries evenly, and Ivory’s yardage per carry slips. So let’s say Ivory and Yeldon combine for 310 carries. (Jacksonville RBs combined for 295 carries last season. A half-share of that would give Ivory 155 carries. If he dropped from 4.3 yards per carry last season to 4.0 YPC this year, that would put him at 620 rushing yards.
Now, let’s assume a rosier scenario for Ivory. With the additions of Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara and Myles Jack, plus the return of 2015 first-rounder Dante Fowler, the Jaguars’ defense is vastly improved. The Jaguars become much more balanced on offense and run the ball 430 times (12 teams had 430 or more rushing attempts last season). Ivory and Yeldon get 375 of those carries, and the split is 65–35 in Ivory’s favor, giving him 244 carries. And let’s say he maintains his lofty career average of 4.6 YPC after being beneath it in each of the last two seasons. That would give Ivory 1,122 rushing yards.
So, barring injury, that gives us an approximate range of 620 to 1,122 for Ivory’s yardage total. It’s an awfully wide range, and even though it’s based on some very rough projections, it illustrates just how hard it is to peg Ivory’s 2016 yardage output. He might be the rare running back whose TD production is easier to project than his yardage production, even though trying to predict TD totals is basically a fool’s errand.
The off-season move from the Jets to the Jaguars figures to put a dent in Ivory’s fantasy value. Had he gone to a place where he would have faced less competition for carries, he might have ranked among the top 20 running backs, but with Yeldon destined to get a significant share of touches, it’s hard to view Ivory as more than a fantasy RB3. I think it’s reasonable to expect about 825 rushing yards, 125 receiving yards and seven TDs from Ivory if he’s able to stay healthy all year.