JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin want a physical offense built around the run game. That’s why they drafted running back Leonard Fournette fourth overall last month.
It doesn’t mean Fournette is automatically going to be installed as the Jaguars’ No. 1 running back, though. He has to earn the right to be the team’s workhorse, Marrone said Saturday.
“Obviously when we made the pick we were thinking about [how] he can be someone like that,” Marrone said after the second day of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp. “Obviously he’s shown that ability, but at the same sense, when you have the team, the one thing about a team is you have to earn that. So he’s going to have to go and show that he has to do that.”
Fournette ran for 3,830 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons at LSU. The 6-foot, 228-pounder averaged 6.2 yards per carry and 19.3 carries per game in his career, and his physical running style is a perfect match for the ball-control offense the Jaguars want to run in 2017. Yet he agrees with his coach’s approach that he needs to prove he should be the Jaguars’ top ball carrier.
“My role is to do whatever the team needs or coach asks me to do,” Fournette said. “My role right now is going out there and competing and getting better right now.”
Even so, the expectations for the fourth overall pick are not to share carries with Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. It’s to have the same kind of role that Ezekiel Elliott had with Dallas in 2016 after the Cowboys chose him fourth overall. Not duplicate Elliott’s numbers — he led the NFL in rushing (1,631 yards) while running behind the best offensive line in football — but to be the workhorse.
“I’m not going to automatically say that,” Fournette said. “I have to still learn from the vets. I know T.J., I know Chris. I’ve known them since I was in high school. Just go in there under those guys, learning from them as much as I can.”
The Jaguars have had the NFL’s worst ground game over the past five seasons. Since Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing in 2011, the Jaguars have averaged a league-low 92.1 yards per game. They’ve run for 34 touchdowns (only the Chargers’ 33 are worse), and that includes just 13 in the past two seasons — five of which came from quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Jaguars drafted Yeldon in the second round in 2015, but he has just 1,205 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons. The Jaguars signed Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed in March 2016, but he missed five games with injuries, ran for just 439 yards and averaged a career-low 3.8 yards per carry last season.
Fournette is the Jaguars’ best option to revitalize the run game.
“I don’t know that answer right now to the exact percentage of [how much Fournette will touch the ball], but obviously it’s someone that we’re looking for,” Marrone said. “That is our goal offensively, our goal as an organization, to have someone back there that we can do that with. That’s what we’re working and striving for.
“Whether we get there or not, a lot of that is going to be what the player earns.”