With Leonard Fournette Released, There's Fantasy Football Value in the Jaguars' Backfield

The Jaguars' release of Fournette is a bit of a surprising move, but they've got a unit behind him that can provide fantasy value.

In an NFL offseason that has had some -- understandably -- subdued takes and talk, one player who has been a rather divisive fantasy football pick is Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.

That discourse will change because he is now ex-Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette after being released.

There's now a glaring opening at running back for an NFL team, albeit one with a win total of only 4.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook.

But there's still value in the Jaguars backfield, even if there aren't a lot of wins coming their way in 2020.

Next Man Up

Currently, the list of options on the roster is rather short: Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Chris Thompson, James Robinson (Illinois State), Nathan Cottrell ( Georgia Tech).

Only one of them -- Thompson -- has more than a year of NFL experience, and Robinson and Cottrell are rookies. Given the lack of NFL-level work, it'll be hard to predict this group's effectiveness, but we do have data on the three most likely candidates to see extended run. Plus, with the youth in the mix, we can still consider their athletic testing numbers. (All data is from PlayerProfiler, and percentile ranks are in parentheses.)

Ryquell Armstead5th Round5'11"220112.2
Devine OzigboUndrafted5'11"22291.0
Chris Thompson5th Round5'7"19296.2
James RobinsonUndrafted5'9"21994.5

Absent from this table is Cottrell, who ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and broad jumped 10.5 feet at Georgia Tech's pro day. At his listed height (5'11") and weight (193), that would work out to a size-adjusted speed score of 104.9.

Anyway, even without the former fourth-overall pick in Fournette, the Jaguars have athletes who can compete at the NFL level.

As far as the NFL-level data goes from 2019 (for just Armstead and Ozigbo, both of whom played for the Jaguars last year and should have the first shot at the top of the depth chart), there is a clear leader.

In Week 17, it was Armstead who took the lead without Fournette playing in the game. Armstead played 62.3% of the snaps (compared to 33.3% for Ozigbo). He had 10 carries (to Ozigbo's 9) and drew more targets (9 to 5 while scoring through the air). The edge should belong to Armstead, unless his positive COVID-19 test allowed Ozigbo to blow by him.

Last season, only Fournette (265 carries), Armstead (35), and Ozigbo (9) toted the rock as running backs for the team. The volume should inspire confidence for Armstead, though he notched a 25.7% Rushing Success Rate, per our metrics. (A successful rush occurs when a player increases his team's Net Expected Points (NEP) on a given play.) That's a dreadful mark, but we have just 35 carries to go off of here. The volume should matter more under the same head coach, Doug Marrone, and Armstead mixed in before Week 17.

Armstead also saw 24 targets to Ozigbo's 5 (and Fournette's 100), and Armstead scored twice on 14 catches last season.

That said, the receiving role and third-down work should belong to Chris Thompson. Thompson, since 2015, ranks 15th in Reception NEP per target among 104 backs with at least 50 targets in that span. He's had at least 48 targets of his own for five straight seasons. Thompson's PPR and even half-PPR value is apparent on a team that should be trailing frequently with their lowly win total. He's the player to target in this backfield.

Don't Forget Laviska

The Jaguars drafted Laviska Shenault, a do-it-all wide receiver from Colorado early in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Shenault is 6'1", 227 pounds and is a hybrid player who played receiver, tight end, running back, and even wildcat quarterback in college. Head coach Doug Marrone has been vocal about Shenault's flexibility.

Given this, Shenault should be expected to steal some carries, but the odds that he becomes a two- or three-down running back for the Jaguars is probably unlikely.

The bigger problem? Wildcat formations in the red zone could muck up the red zone carry value for whichever back is deemed the early-down starter. This -- and the assumption that Thompson soaks up significant receiving volume -- dings the value and breakout appeal of Armstead and Ozigbo.

The Bottom Line

As of the release, the Jaguars don't have a single back who can replace Fournette, who handled 365 opportunities in 2019.

However, Armstead and Ozigbo (and possibly Robinson) have the size and athleticism to handle early-down work while Thompson carves out the third-down work and Shenault mixes in to cause headaches to defenses and fantasy football managers.

I'm an Armstead fan, and there's likely some value on his name entering the heat of fantasy draft season, but a two-down back on a team with the worst win expectations in football probably won't help us win any fantasy championships. For that reason, we should keep Armstead and Ozigbo hype down.

The best target in this backfield is going to be Thompson, who should churn out a massive target total in 2020 if he stays healthy. He's be a prime ZeroRB candidate.