It’s the “Fourth of July,” and America is celebrating it’s independence. To that end, Thursday not only means patriotism, but plenty of “F’s,” as in, family, food and of course, fireworks. So, with that in mind, we decided to take a look at three players for the state NFL teams that are poised for “explosive” seasons.
First, the criteria is that they are offensive players (yes, we’ve heard “defense wins championships”) and specifically, guys that can turn ordinary plays/small gains into long memorable touchdowns to be replayed repeatedly on social media and the internet.
With that in mind, here are the three names we came up with and why:
Ronald Jones- RB, Buccaneers
To say that that Jones’ rookie year was wasted by head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken would be pretty accurate. As we have previously written, Jones, a second round pick a year ago out of USC, was a healthy inactive for the opening three games of the season. He was then gradually given small opportunities to carry the ball in October before hurting his hamstring in a game in Cincinnati.
However, the biggest puzzlement was, when Jones returned healthy in the final month of the season, and with Tampa Bay eliminated from playoff contention in their final three games, Jones was active but not playing.
Again, as we wrote above, a waste.
So, with Koetter and Monken fired and new coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich hired, it’s already been been obvious that they want to include Jones more in their game plans. They have been very complimentary to this point about how hard Jones is working and how they look forward to using his speed in space.
And, anyone that watched his repeated big plays at USC, knows that if you get him that space, he will give Tampa Bay’s offense a dimension that it hasn’t had in years- a back that can race 70, 80 yards for touchdowns at any moment.
Kenny Stills- WR, Dolphins
He’s Miami’s top target and big play threat over the course of his last four seasons in South Florida. Stills was still very productive a year ago, despite the shoulder injury to QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins’ season fizzling out. That eventually led to the firing of head coach Adam Gase.
Stills’ 37 catches were his fewest since his first year in Miami in 2015 However he still averaged almost 15 yards per reception and his six touchdowns matched his output from 2017. Now, with new head coach Brian Flores and his new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, Stills will be looked upon to help stretch the defense.
It will help him and the scheme, if injured big play threats Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant return healthy to the lineup this fall. And, another bonus for Stills is that veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick demonstrated at the beginning of last year that he could hit Buccaneer big play threats DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans with big plays early on in the season.
Of course, that supposes that Fitzpatrick beats out second-year quarterback Josh Rosen, who Miami acquired from the Cardinals on draft weekend.
But no matter the QB, the 27 year old Stills has the best chance to be the Dolphins best big-play weapon for their offense this upcoming year.
Leonard Fournette- RB, Jaguars
A player that is in desperate need of an explosive season is the former 4th overall pick for Jacksonville in the 2017 draft. Fournette showed his home-run hitting capability in his rookie season with a 90 yard touchdown run to seal the upset regular season win over the Steelers. And then, displayed his great speed and explosiveness again with a 75-yard touchdown run on the opening play from scrimmage against the Rams at home. This led to Fournette having a thousand-yard season and being a key part of Jacksonville making the playoffs in 2017.
But, what a difference a year makes as 2018 rolled around, and Fournette was injured in the opening game with the Giants. His hamstring injury kept him out of six of the next eight games and the Jacksonville offense sputtered without him eventually seeing coordinator Nathaniel Hackett being fired in November.
The Jaguars have replaced Hackett with former Eagles quarterback coach and Vikings offensive coordinator last season John DeFilippo. And more importantly for Fournette and the offense, they brought in Eagles free-agent quarterback Nick Foles. So, it’s really the first time in Fournette’s career that the deep past game will become a complimentary weapon to help open up some run opportunities for him.
Fournette had issues with discipline a year ago, including being ejected for fighting in the loss to Buffalo in November and suspended the following week by the NFL. He also was publicly rebuked by V.P. of Football Tom Coughlin for his behavior and seeming disinterest in the season finale’ loss to the Houston Texans.
Fournette was also arrested for speeding and outstanding unpaid traffic violations earlier this year in Jacksonville. However, that has been cleared up without Fournette seeing additional any jail time.
Now, it’s time to see if his third year will be a big bounce back one for Jacksonville’s ultimate weapon out of the backfield.
And if he’s healthy, look for Fournette to make plenty of those game-changing plays.