I was having a discussion with my expanded Panthers crew/family via direct message on Twitter this morning because I don't do nearly as much public "tweeting" as I used to do...especially on non-Panthers matters. Okay, so I post cat pics too but that's neither here nor there. My point is that, after discussing Fournette ad nauseum for what seems like eons & decades now, I think I may be on to something. Hear me out, FWIW:
Coughlin is a Defensive Line Builder First
This should be fairly obvious given his history in New York. Eli Manning might be one of the "clutch Playoff QBs" in NFL history, but the heart & soul of their Super Bowl wins was through their stifling defense more than having a finely-tuned offense. While certainly, the offense had their moments in the Super Bowl, namely Tyree's "Helmet Catch" and Mario Manningham's "Sideline Squeeze," it was the defense that won the games for them. Michael Strahan put a stop to yet another Tom Brady last-minute comeback with a sack in one, for instance.
That play dovetails into the current situation, albeit in an odd way.
The Jaguars Need More than Simply Helping Bortles
First, let's take a step back to address the young QB and offense as a whole. The team decided Bortles didn't have enough weapons to throw to and solved that in the same draft they GOT Bortles in....taking Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson. Then, they drafted RB T. J. Yeldon in the early second round the following season. While they did add a pair of guards in consecutive years in the third round, the team really hasn't further built up the offensive line.
While that's not necessarily a crime these days (look at the Seattle Seahawks), it IS a symptom of groupthink. While I'm no expert on Jacksonville's personnel, admittedly, the consensus is that their offensive line is ragged. That's a tough thing for a developing QB to deal with.
Where the Strahan reference "dovetails" is in the fact that the defensive line, while young and strong overall, can still use a second defensive end to pair with last year's third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue.
With Andrew Luck looming in the division and Coughlin being a defense-first type of guy, I think Stanford DE Solomon Thomas doesn't get past #4, if available, when the Jaguars pick. If not Thomas, Safety Jamal Adams would pair with CB Jalen Ramsey to give Coughlin a nasty young, athletic secondary that could be quite devastating with a good pass rush in front of them, and the Jags are almost there.
Fournette's the Wrong Fit for their Offense
Even the most beastly athlete ever at the RB position, Bo Jackson, had his Kryptonite.
Bo's career ended on a tackle that most everyone else likely would have been fine from, but tore his hip from shearing force and his own momentum and power on that fateful play. It's a picture of why large RBs don't last as long in general as those that aren't as big or strong. It's physics, but that's not why Fournette isn't a fit in Jacksonville. It's their offensive line.
Fournette's "Kryptonite" is obvious...being a big back, he needs a few steps to build up that momentum. When he can't do that, he's neutralized by a swarming defense and gang-tacking....which is exactly what will happen to him behind a below-par offensive line.
Speaking of Seattle and THEIR sieve-like OL, is it really much of a head-scratcher that Beast Mode retired after the 2015 season? His running style was very, very similar to that of Fournette, although Fournette is the superior physical athlete by far, and no disrespect to Marshawn Lynch intended....he was a LOAD.
Smaller, quicker guys can often step out of foot or ankle tackles in the backfield due to the fact that it's part of their game to do exactly that. Smaller, lower center of mass backs are used to dealing with defeating guys one-on-one in space in that manner where Fournette simply bashes them into the Training Room, if the defender is lucky.
However, nothing's free, so the flip side to that is that if you get to Fournette early, you take him out of the game. That much is on the offensive line, which the Jags don't possess. Sure, Fournette has elite balance, but that expresses itself in his case with his ability to keep his feet after violent contact on the second level. He can spin out of early penetration occasionally, but that's not his wheelhouse. In fact, I'll go so far as to say either Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey are a much better fit for the current personnel on-hand than Fournette is.
Neither of those guys warrant a #4 overall pick, however, despite the increasing prognostications that Fournette will go to these same Jaguars. This and the fact that Tom Coughlin can nearly see the end in sight for his defense THIS SEASON if they draft well tells me all this hawking of Fournette at #4 to the Jags is really a lot of smoke & mirrors. Meanwhile, the Jags are happy to let others think the wrong thing.
Ezekiel Elliott is not the Comparison to Make
It really isn't. Dallas has the NFL's best run-blocking offensive line with perhaps only Doug Free being not an above-average player. Don't even MAKE me mention the fact they acquired Byron "The Turnstile" Bell in the offseason. At least he'll be a bench guy while Free is aging in his 11th season in the NFL.
Elliott came into a picture-perfect offense for a running back and wound up getting fully unexpected help from yet another rookie in Dak Prescott, but again, with a line so fine as that in Dallas, the rookies had that little bit of extra help from their team that most don't have the luxury of having. The result was Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, and did so with a LOT of help from his friends, not just a little.
This isn't to take away from Elliott, either....he isn't the athlete Fournette is, but NOBODY is. However, he was MUCH more polished entering the NFL than Fournette will be and entered an offense that was much further evolved than that in Jacksonville. The line often gave him a five-yard head-start and gaping holes and then Elliot's talent took over from there.
Yes, I'm GLAD the Cowboys are drafting low because it would be UNFAIR to have a guy like Fournette running behind that OL to the point it would be laughable to watch defenders making "business decisions" all OVER the place!
So, no, Zeke Elliott being taken 4th overall last year is apples and oranges with the Jags going RB 4th overall this season. The Jags simply have too many holes still to fill on the offensive side of the football to use such a high draft pick on what, at this point, would be a luxury for them.
If the Jags Take Fournette at Four Overall, they've Committed to Offense for the Draft
This is the most likely situation IF I'm wrong and the Jaguars DO take Fournette at #4 overall. If they take him, look for them to do a rush-job building that offensive line, doing for the running game what they did for the passing game during Bortles' draft year in 2014. That year, their top four picks were all on offense.
The same will have to be true for 2017 should they take Fournette, but it's actually not quite as far-fetched as it might seem. Tom Coughlin doesn't do anything at all half-way, other than telling people not to give 100% but 80% in the commercial. You don't become Super Bowl champions by playing it safe.
It's not so far-fetched because, in part, Fournette IS the "Next Coming of Earl Campbell." If Earl was worth a #1 overall when he played some 40 years ago, and with Fournette being a similar type of runner both in physicality, athleticism, and pure power & violence in his game, then Fournette's certainly worth a #4 today.
The biggest reason it's not as far-fetched as it sounds is the fact that this draft has no top-heavy class of offensive tackles, and some good upgrades WILL be available in the second and third rounds for Jacksonville. Coughlin and the cronies will then be forced to draft at least two, possibly three, offensive linemen, and in the top half or so of the draft, to even have much of a chance to allow Fournette's full abilities to express themselves on the field of play.
That's quite an investment to make, and looking at the New York Giants' drafting history under Tom Coughlin's regime, I simply do not see that sort of investment ever being made into the ground game. Again, the Jaguars have made strides but still have a ways to go before becoming competitive on a regular basis and in that process, I think Coughlin will be looking to put some finishing touches at all levels of the defense before worrying about his ground attack as he currently has Yeldon, a second-round pick only two years ago, still on the team.
You Draft to Win the Division First
Sure, an effective beast like Fournette would smooth-over a number of issues by allowing the offense to hang onto the ball longer, but the AFC South has two dangerous QBs....the aforementioned Andy Luck and the young playoff QB named Marcus Mariota.
Coughlin's defense still needs improvements to have a prayer of competing in the division in 2017 and he darned well knows it. LB Myles Jack was arguably the steal of the entire draft last season and proved it on the field his rookie year as his health improved from a college injury. Coughlin looks to keep THAT momentum going forward, drafting heavily on the defensive side of things, likely with an offensive tackle somewhere perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd round while an aging Branden Albert is a placeholder for a year or two.
Bringing Albert in, by itself, doesn't tell me anything at all regarding their draft intentions because there's two ways of looking at it - 1) He's there to jump-start the OL with the idea of bringing in young linemen to grow into starting roles or 2) They don't want to spend much draft capital ON the offensive line so that they CAN finish building their defense. Either one makes sense.
However, Albert does at least upgrade one position there while Coughlin does his best to improve the team through whatever path he chooses to take.
Safety First for the Jags
As things stand, if Fournette has been Tom Coughlin's target all this time, the Jags' off-season would seem to be a haphazardly way of approaching things. They let a good safety walk in Jonathan Cyprien, so I think the more obvious pick at fourth overall is indeed going to be a safety.
Picking fourth with Myles Garrett almost assuredly going tops to Cleveland nearly assures the Jaguars of having their choice of FS Malik Hooker OR SS Jamal Adams, and both have been consistently graded in the top-ten if not the top-five of this year's entire draft class.
The Jaguars can get younger, cheaper, and even better at the position over Cyprien with a single pick at #4. When you combine that with such a DEEP draft at the RB position, I think the Jaguars are looking elsewhere than the offensive backfield with their first selection.
MAKE NO MISTAKE though....TAKE NAMES of those who do NOT put Leonard Fournette at the top of the incoming class this year so you can mock THEM when Fournette is smashing defensive backs and linebackers, both, into the grass.
Jacksonville simply isn't yet set up for his style of play, and that's a great thing for we hopeful Carolina Panthers fans as many of us hope that Leonard Fournette will be the long, cool drink of water the offense needs....and that the black cat in the thumbnail enjoys.
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