The 10 Most Important Jaguars For 2020, No. 7: Leonard Fournette
2020 is a make-or-break year for the current regime leading the Jacksonville Jaguars. While this may sound like a broken record after being overly repeated since the disappointing 2019 season drew to a close, it is the simple truth.
In the last two years, the Jaguars have finished in last place of the AFC South each season while compiling a 11-21 record. In fact, 2019's meager 6-10 record, as bad as it was, was actually one of the better records the Jaguars produced during the 2010s decade. The past has been ugly for the Jaguars and the team will assuredly put as much energy as possible into changing this in 2020.
As the Jaguars attempt to reverse their look and field a winning team in the fall, they will need all 53 members of the active roster and every coach on the staff to step their game up. But among those on the team, there are a select few players who will be especially pivotal to Jacksonville's success.
As we continue to move forward toward the start of the 2020 NFL season (pending one actually taking place), we will take a look at which players we think are especially important next season.
The list started with nose tackle Al Woods at No. 10, then second-year right tackle Jawaan Taylor at No. 9, and yesterday we moved onto No. 8 and took another look at the defensive side of the ball in linebacker Joe Schobert.
Now, we go back to the offense for the No. 7 most important Jaguars player for 2020: running back Leonard Fournette.
Fournette is entering a pivotal year in 2020 as he attempts to make a final impression on the Jaguars and the other 31 teams throughout the league before he becomes a free agent during the offseason. 2019 was, by most accounts, a strong year from Fournette but the former No. 4 overall pick still had his fifth-year option declined by the Jaguars.
So, why is Fournette so important to Jacksonville's success in 2020? We examine here.
Why Leonard Fournette is important for the Jaguars in 2020
If any player held the keys to Jacksonville's offense last season, it was Fournette. The fourth-year pro ended up posting career-highs in rushing yards (1152), yards per carry average (4.3), receptions (76), and receiving yards (522 yards), and he also set a career-high in regular season games appeared in with 15.
Add in the fact that Fournette played a staggering 83% of Jacksonville's offensive snaps and the 341 total touches he had, and it is obvious the Jaguars' strategy on offense last season was to attempt to ride Fournette to victories.
Will that repeat in 2020 with Jay Gruden replacing John DeFilippo at offensive coordinator? Gruden's history as a play-caller suggests it could (as our own Kassidy Hill explained), while the fact that Fournette will likely be playing his final year in Jacksonville also suggests the Jaguars could be comfortable with giving him a heavy workload.
"Essentially what this all says is that when a guy is producing chunk yardage, Gruden is comfortable continuing to feed him the ball. He doesn’t have to be breaking off highlight plays every other drive. He just needs to continue to pound away. In two of his three seasons with the Jaguars, Leonard Fournette has been one of those guys—in addition to becoming a valuable pass-catching back—lending to the theory Gruden can lead him to do the same. Fournette’s rookie season, he had 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns on 268 carries (seventh-most touches in the NFL) in the regular season. In the postseason that year, he added 70 carries (a postseason league most) for 242 yards and four touchdowns. In that entire span of time, Fournette had four plays of 20+ yards. This past season, Fournette had 265 carries (again seventh in the NFL) for 1,152 yards and three touchdowns. Seven went for 20+ yards. "
Add in the fact that the Jaguars skill position group will look more or less the same in 2020 and all signs point to Fournette once again being the centerpiece of the offense. The wide receiver group is solid with DJ Chark, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and rookie Laviska Shenault, but it lacks a bonafide second option across from Chark. Meanwhile, questions abound at both tight end and running back, and chances are Gruden will opt to lean on Fournette while second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew transitions to the new offensive scheme.
If Jacksonville wants to make things easier on Minshew, they will likely depend on Fournette to help take the pressure off of him. And since Jacksonville has few enticing options to get the ball to on any given play, logic would indicate Fournette will see a large workload.
“I think Leonard did everything that we wanted him to do – you talk about a workhorse. A guy that carried the load, a guy that had a ton of receptions. He did a lot of great things for us coming out of the backfield, his protection was probably one of the things he did a heck of a job on this year," head coach Doug Marrone said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
"Unfortunately it was not just Leonard [who didn’t score a lot], I think it was everyone, we didn’t get into the end zone enough. I think as we get better around ourselves and the players and we get better in the year coming … I think we have to do a better job coaching-wise situationally in the red zone to score those touchdowns, and I think they will come.”
With Minshew's youth, the lack of weapons around him and an offensive coordinator who has proven he is willing to lean on a workhorse back, Fournette is set to be key to Jacksonville's potential success in 2020. There are major questions beyond 2020 but, for now, look for Fournette to once again be one of the team's most important players, much as he has been since he was drafted in 2017.