What, did you think the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year was over after just four weeks? Did you think no other player would improve this season, or that teams wouldn’t adjust and get the ball to their best weapons?
Then you haven’t been paying close enough attention to everything happening in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are more than just Blake Bortles making plays in garbage time. In fact, after a 30-9 walloping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s abundantly clear this isn’t even Bortles’ team any more. It’s Fournette’s.
Just look at how the rookie bullied the Steelers’ defense on Sunday as he racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Fournette proved he can, and will, beat teams any way he wants. The Steelers learned this on three separate plays. Each made them look more foolish than the last.
Act I — Athleticism: Early in the second quarter, and with the Jags at the goal line, Fournette rushed up the middle before launching himself clear over the line of scrimmage from the four-yard line and landed squarely in the end zone.
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2017
Maybe Pittsburgh would’ve had a chance to stop Fournette if their defensive line grew an extra three feet taller before the play. Otherwise there’s no chance against a guy who needs only two strides before launching himself over the trenches.
Act II — Strength: It’s one thing to know you’re the strongest guy on the field pound-for-pound. It’s another to dare your opponents to test that theory. Well, that’s what Fournette did early in the fourth quarter when he encouraged Steelers safety Mike Mitchell to try and contain him.
LEONARD FOURNETTE WAVED ON THE HIT! pic.twitter.com/5MaNCZ5zMd
— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) October 8, 2017
Mitchell gets up and starts celebrating, but it’s kind of a hollow act when the guy who begs you to stop him still gains nearly three yards after contact. That’s the kind of swagger you see from an established star, not a rookie playing only his fifth game.
Act III — Speed: There’s good reason why Fournette was compared to Adrian Peterson coming out of LSU last year. Fournette breaks defenses wide open whenever he finds a hole. Often times he can use his strength to create one if it isn’t there. There was no need to do so late in the game against the Steelers.
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2017
No defender gets close to Fournette on this 90-yard touchdown run. Once he gets moving in the open field he continues gaining speed until those chasing him give up.
This is why the Jaguars were ecstatic to take Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the draft. For all the talk about Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and Hunt, it was still tough to find a running back with more upside than the Jags’ first-round selection. Whatever injury concerns he may present, Fournette is the type of player every team dreams of — a do-it-all-by-himself offensive star who makes everyone around him better. Normally you find that in a quarterback. Rarely do you see it in a running back.
Naturally, a lot of this gets lost with him playing in Jacksonville. It’s easy to look at the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, see Hunt breaking off big run after big run and think he’s the best offensive rookie in the game.
But Hunt needs others to create space for him to show off his speed. Fournette can create his own. Jacksonville’s tailback now has 466 yards and five touchdowns on the year. He earned a career-high 28 carries against Pittsburgh, and he’s yet to finish a game with less than 14 rushes. Those numbers will continue to go up as the offense learns what it can do to support its star player and defenses learn what Pittsburgh did on Sunday — Fournette is going to get his yards any way he needs to.
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