The brilliance we saw from Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette in his regular season debut against the Houston Texans on Sunday can’t be overstated. Sure we can focus on the 124 total yards he put up on 29 touches against an elite Texans defense.
But even that would be doing a disservice to what Fournette actually did on the field in Jacksonville’s surprising 29-7 win over the suddenly hapless Texans.
NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah put together an Instagram post with two different plays from the game. The first shows how Houston went about tackling Fournette in the first quarter. The second play is an example of just how worn down the Texans’ defense was in its attempt to contain the rookie ball-carrier later in the game.
The difference is night and day.
The first play depicts Fournette trucking recently extended Texans defensive back Andre Hall, who is known for his ability to lay the hard hit. Hal was in fundamental tackling position, but Fournette’s strength took hold big time.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Texans went with a completely different strategy. Apparently, the idea was just to throw themselves in Fournette’s general direction in hopes of somehow forcing him to the ground.
Here’s another angle. It obviously didn’t work.
— QB List (@TheQBlist) September 11, 2017
None of this should really be a surprise for those who had the pleasure of watching Fournette suit up for three years against elite SEC competition while he was a member of the LSU Tigers. Here’s a guy that once put up over 200 total yards against a Texas A&M defense that was anchored by future NFL players Myles Garrett and Justin Evans. He’s done it against the best football has to offer at every stop since putting away his Pop Warner uniform for the high school gridiron.
It was no different in Week 1 against a Texans defense we projected to be the best in the business this season.
Those two plays we focused on above are most definitely not the extent of it. Fournette’s Week 1 tape jumped out on the screen like an over-sized jackrabbit chasing down a blind squirrel.
Here, you will see Fournette go through the teeth of the Texans’ defense, Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt included.
— Brian Chojnacki (@BroadcastingBri) September 10, 2017
Sure it was nothing more than a simple one-yard touchdown, but it shows just how dominant the rookie can be in short-yardage situations.
For the Jaguars, this short-yardage ability is absolutely huge. Remember, it was fourth-and-goal from the one at the end of the second quarter. It also came with Jacksonville up just 6-0 despite the fact that its defense had dominated the Texans.
That’s the most-important thing to focus on here. Maybe Fournette will be able to duplicate what we saw from Ezekiel Elliott during his rookie season. Maybe not. But he provides a completely different dimension for an offense that was in the past too reliant on a turnover-prone Blake Bortles at quarterback.
Jacksonville dropped back to pass 21 times on Sunday. It ran the ball 39 times. That’s the type of run-pass mix we just have not seen from the Jaguars since Bortles took over as the team’s starting quarterback back in 2014.
Make no mistake about it, they did try to build a solid running back prior to selecting Fournette No. 4 overall back in April. The team exhausted a second-round pick on T.J. Yeldon back in 2015. Then, prior to the 2016 campaign, the Jags gave veteran Chris Ivory a five-year, $32 million deal. The two combined for less than 1,000 rushing yards and averaged 3.7 yards per attempt last season.
With Fournette, it’s rather apparent that the Jaguars are now centrally focused on the ground game. And even with Houston stacking the box against the rookie on Sunday, he battered his way for a 100-yard performance. That just goes to show us that Fournette is already in position to dominate NFL competition. In turn, it could also lead to a surprising season for the Jags.