Say what you want about Leonard Fournette (and a lot is being said) but the Jaguars rookie probably wouldn’t be the one of the NFL’s most celebrated running backs right now were it not for boost he’s been getting from his offensive line.
Sure, Fournette is a workhorse who can grind out a lot of yards all on his own after contact and he proved last week when he hit 22.05 mph on that 90-yard touchdown run that he’s as fast as almost any player in the league as well.
But a good back is usually only as good as his offensive line and while there was some legitimate concerns about just how good the Jaguars line might be prior to the start of the season, that unit has proved through the first quarter of the season to be quite good indeed.
In fact, you wouldn’t be out of line to say that it currently stands as not just one of the best but the best in the league, at least in terms of how good a job it’s done creating running room for backs such as Fournette and Chris Ivory.
Through its Next Gen Stats platform, the NFL has discovered a way to determine just how much push an offensive line gets off the snap and how many yards the runners running behind it gain before they encounter a would-be tackler.
The metric actually measures how far a ball carrier is allowed to run free before a defender gets within a yard of reaching him, and according to those figures the Jaguars have created more room for their backs than any other team.
A unit that was the cause of some concern prior to the start of the season, the Jaguars have so far allowed their backs an average of 1.18 yards of free space before they get within a yard of a defender.
Fournette has been terrific but his O-line deserves a ton of praise, generating the most yards in the NFL before a defender closes in pic.twitter.com/HlQ7kwjmuv
— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) October 10, 2017
That’s nearly a full yard more than the NFL average of 0.30 free yards and Fournette has taken great advantage of it, using that free yard-play as a spring board while gaining a total of 466 yards, second most in the league, on 109 carries.
Now, a lot of those yards are Fournette’s own doing. As we noted about he’s done a great job of gaining yards after contact as well, especially with the Jaguars facing so many eight-man boxes.
But the line has been giving him a good head start, and as coach Doug Marrone pointed out this week, it’s not just the five linemen who are responsible for that head start.
“It’s a combination of things,’’ Marrone said. “It’s the offensive line, but it’s the tight ends also. And the receivers. When you’re getting that many people in the box and you get the ball to the second level, really everyone is doing their part. And that includes the running backs. They have run extremely hard and it’s good to see that. Again, it’s tough running.’’
It is, but the play of the O-line has definitely made it a little easier.
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