Should you take a gamble on Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette in fantasy football this year?
Members of the Jaguars’ front office have been shoveling piles of free-agency cash and draft capital into the team’s defense like boiler men feeding coal into the steam engine of an old locomotive. The train is picking up speed, with the Jaguars now fielding one of the better defenses in the league. Unfortunately, fantasy owners may discover that the Jacksonville offense is still more of a handcar, powered by a couple of poor schlubs pumping as fast as they can.
When Jacksonville selected LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in this year’s draft, many of the Jaguars fans assembled for the team draft party at EverBank Field reacted as if they were in the throes of Beatlemania, shrieking their approval in much the same way thousands of teenage girls did when the Fab Four took the stage at Shea Stadium in August 1965. Whether Fournette is worthy of such adulation will be a subject of much debate in the weeks to come.
The numbers Fournette compiled during his time in Baton Rouge have been deemed by some as less than breathtaking. But Fournette played in the nation’s best conference, the SEC, operating in a Stone Age offense that attempted fewer than 300 passes in each of his three seasons and issued opponents a formal invitation to stack the box with eight or more defenders. I’m an unabashed Fournette advocate, though I worry that his TD ceiling is high single digits due to the Jaguars’ indifferent run blocking—they ranked 27th in that category last year, according to Football Outsiders—and the limitations of the Jacksonville passing game (not to mention the likelihood that the Tom Coughlin/Doug Marrone blueprint was drawn up with a goal of winning games 17-10).
Fournette’s ADP is RB12. I count 10 to 11 running backs (including Fournette) likely to be used as beasts of burden this season. I suppose it’s fair to put Fournette at the bottom of that pile since he’s the only one without an NFL track record, but I like his odds of producing more fantasy points than at least a few other members of that group. I’m willing to take the plunge at his current price. And please don’t even think about passing up Fournette to take Marshawn Lynch, who now carries a ludicrous ADP of RB11.
The Jaguars are manacled to Chris Ivory for another season due to an ill-advised contract so large that not even Joey Chestnut could eat it. Third-year RB T.J. Yeldon quietly had 50 receptions last season, and his pass-catching ability makes him more likely to retain fantasy value one-dimensional plodder like Ivory. Also in the mix is Corey Grant, who ran 18 times for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Colts last season in Week 17. None of these three are currently draftable in average-sized leagues.
If Fournette inspires something close to Beatlemania among Jags fans, it’s safe to say that there are no longer any traces of Bortlemania. In a pre-draft Facebook poll of Jaguars fans, 40% wanted the team to draft a running back with pick No. 4, but 35% wanted a quarterback, even though this year’s QB crop was of dubious quality.
Blake Bortles had fantasy finishes of QB4 in 2015 and QB9 in 2016, due mostly to a volume of garbage pickup that would put your friendly municipal trash collector to shame. Over the last two years, Bortles has thrown for 1,551 yards and six touchdowns in the first quarters of games, 2,722 yards and 24 touchdowns in the fourth quarters. Those fourth-quarter numbers might prompt comparisons to Joe Montana were it not for the fact that the Jaguars have gone 8-24 over the past two seasons and have found themselves well behind in many of those final periods. It’s also worth noting that Bortles ranked sixth in passing attempts in 2015, third in 2016. With the Jaguars now fielding a potentially exceptional defense and hoping to lean on a Fournette-powered running game, Bortles’ passing volume could go from grape to raisin.
Bortles hasn’t fooled investors; his ADP is QB21. That’s a fair assessment. Bortles is a hold-your-nose option even in 2QB leagues.
|Allen Robinson||WR18||WR15||Approach cautiously|
|Allen Hurns||WR63||WR72||Politely decline|
Fantasy analyst Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) noted on Twitter this spring that in 2015, Allen Robinson became only the fourth player since the merger to amass 1,400 or more receiving yards and 14 or more touchdown catches in a single season while averaging 17.0 yards per catch or better. The other three players were Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson. Despite getting the exact same number of targets (151) that he had in that sublime sophomore season, Robinson had 73 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns last year. And those numbers were propped up by a late surge: 14 catches for 229 yards in Weeks 16-17.
There are myriad statistics to illustrate A-Rob’s calamitous nosedive in efficiency. The “why” of Robinson’s collapse is more significant. In a piece for Pro Football Focus, Aaron Resnick (@aaronmresnick) pointed out that in 2015, Robinson caught 24 of 45 targets for 704 yards on go routes. In 2016, Robinson caught just nine of 42 targets for 186 yards on go routes. That 518-yard difference accounts for the entirety of A-Rob’s year-to-year yardage drop-off (plus an extra yard to spare). With the anticipated decrease in the Jags’ passing volume, it’s hard to see A-Rob catching 24 balls on go routes again, though his catch rate on those routes might improve if a stronger running game helps Bortles sell play-action. Buyers have been somewhat wary of Robinson, giving him an early ADP of WR18. That’s a reasonable target price for a young receiver destined to settle into a sea lane somewhere between the trade winds of 2015 and the horse latitudes of 2016.
Stunted by injuries in his first two NFL seasons, Marqise Lee had 63 catches for 851 yards and finished WR42 in both standard and PPR formats despite reaching the end zone only twice. A second-round draft pick in 2014, Lee isn’t among the top 70 wide receivers in Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP listings. I think he has promising late-round value as the No. 2 receiver on a team that won’t use its tight ends in the passing game very much. Lee has surged past Allen Hurns, who posted a 64-1,031-10 stat line in 2015 but slipped to 35-477-3 last year, catching fewer than half of his targets and missing the last five games of the season with a hamstring injury. Hurns has an ADP of WR67. A Hurns bounceback isn’t out of the question, but nor is attrition, especially if slightly built rookie fourth-rounder Dede Westbrook, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, cuts into Hurns’ snaps from the slot.
|Marcedes Lewis||N/A||TE34||Abandon all hope|
When the vacuous Capt. Stillman first laid eyes on Sgt. Hulka’s platoon of misfits in “Stripes,” he declared it a “fine group of men.” The captain would have difficulty ginning up such praise for Jacksonville’s ragtag collection of tight ends, which includes Marcedes Lewis, Mychal Rivera and Ben Koyack. This group has no discernible fantasy value. To borrow a line from Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg, the Jacksonville tight ends are “waitin’ to be forgotten.”