Jaguars’ gamble of releasing Leonard Fournette has paid off for both Jacksonville and the running back

The Jacksonville Jaguars knew what they were doing when they controversially released Leonard Fournette two weeks ago, no matter how productive the former first-round pick was for them. Fournette was seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (2,631) over the past three seasons and tied for 13th in rushing touchdowns (14). He was coming off a career-high in catches (76), proving he could become a pass-catching threat out of the backfield if given the opportunity, despite averaging 6.9 yards per reception. 

Jacksonville decided not to pay Fournette $8.7 million on the last year of his rookie deal. Turns out, the Jaguars are actually better with undrafted rookie running back James Robinson getting the carries. 

The Jaguars took the gamble that Robinson and his $611,000 salary would pay off and have been rewarded through two games. Robinson is one of the top running backs in the NFL early in the season, ranking eighth in rushing yards (164) and ninth in yards per carry (5.1, min. 20 carries). Robinson has been the bell cow of Jacksonville’s offense with his 32 carries accumulating for 94.1% of the team’s rush attempts amongst running backs. 

“Oh, he’s our running back,” said Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark. “He’s running the ball between the tackles, and you have to respect it. As long as he’s doing that, we’re going to be on the outside blocking, and he makes blocking fun because you’re blocking for two, three seconds, then you see him running by you. It makes you want to go out there and get you a pancake or something.”

Robinson has 210 scrimmage yards in two games, the most by any rookie in the NFL this season. His 164 rushing yards are the most by any player in franchise history through two games and the most for any undrafted player in NFL history

While Robinson has been having success in Jacksonville, Fournette has found a home in Tampa after signing a one-year deal with the Buccaneers. Fournette made his impression on the Buccaneers offense in Week 2, rushing 12 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns — a strong 8.6 yards per carry — in sealing the Buccaneers’ victory over the Carolina Panthers. Fournette ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (6.35) among all players with at least 15 rushing attempts, and his rushing touchdown percentage of 11.8 is fourth in the league. 

Fournette isn’t the lead running back in Tampa, but they may soon change if he balances out the Buccaneers’ ground game — something the franchise has been searching for years.

“It’s nice to have a hell of a player with fresh legs in the fourth quarter,” said Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. “Overall, Leonard’s … as he keeps practicing, learning and doing some things, we’ll keep getting him more and more touches.”

The Buccaneers are more than pleased with Fournette, and the Jaguars’ decision to release the former first-round pick paid off by banking on the potential of Robinson. At the end of the day, both franchises are better. 

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