Fantasy Football: How Jay Gruden impacts Leonard Fournette, D.J. Chark as Jaguars offensive coordinator
The Jacksonville Jaguars tabbed Jay Gruden as their replacement for John DeFilippo. How does his hiring impact the Fantasy options in the offense?
Jay Gruden will be the Jaguars' third offensive coordinator in as many years. He'll oversee an offense that has underwhelming options at quarterback, a workhorse running back who's entering a contract year, a receiving corps with a potential gamebreaker, a tight end group filled with unknowns and an offensive line filled with high draft picks and expensive contracts but that woefully underperformed in 2019.
And this is a team that can't wait for players to develop — coach Doug Marrone is on the hot seat after gathering 11 wins over the past two seasons.
If there's a positive for the Jags, it's that Gruden's version of the West Coast offense shouldn't be too far off from what they ran under John DeFilippo last season. He should also bring a more conservative approach — last year, the Jaguars ordered passes on 62% of their playcalls and only 3 of 27 offensive touchdowns came on the ground.
Marrone curiously answered a recent question about how Gruden has developed receivers and offensive linemen by mentioning how his new offensive coordinator had "shown in his past the ability to run the football." An interesting answer, perhaps suggesting that Marrone was unhappy with his team's passing nature last year, though it should be noted that Fournette's team-high 76 receptions were typically alternative ways to get him the football (his average depth of target was 0.2 yards).
The bottom line is that Gruden needs to come up with something to keep the Jaguars' offense on the scoreboard, or else he and the rest of the coaching staff will be looking for work again a year from now. With nine years of experience, there's plenty to dig into when previewing how the Jaguars might operate in 2020.
This is actually a little restrained for a former quarterback like Gruden, which is kind of surprising considering he called most of his plays for a pair of at-the-time burgeoning passers — Andy Dalton in Cincinnati and Kirk Cousins in Washington. So if he wasn't willing to let his quarterbacks go bananas back then, chances are he's not going to "free" Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew now. Expect the Jaguars to be run-centric.
RB rushes per game
24.2 with Bengals | 21.5 with Redskins
Gruden's running backs through the years weren't exactly ideal. Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Alfred Morris and Adrian Peterson experienced some success with Gruden and each had 250-plus carries and 1,000-plus yards under his tutelage, but he found them toward the back-half of their careers. Thus, there are five seasons where Gruden didn't have a great solution in the run game, didn't give one back 250 carries and didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher.
I don't think that's going to be a problem here. Getting to use Fournette in his fourth season (at age 25) represents perhaps the best running back talent Gruden's ever had. Fournette has his warts — a career 4.0-yard rushing average, 25 career runs of 15-plus yards (13 last year, though), a frustrating injury history — but he's still a good back who can handle a lot of touches. If Gruden can make solid years out of worse, older running backs then he should rev Fournette up for a good campaign. It'll especially help if the Jaguars can fortify their offensive line, rated 23rd in run blocking (worse than the Cardinals!) by Pro Football Focus.
15.5% RB, 61.4% WR, 23.1% TE with Bengals | 22.4% RB, 51.4% WR, 26.2% TE with Redskins
Gruden did a nice job drawing up plays for his running backs to catch the ball in Washington, with Chris Thompson the biggest benefactor. There's certainly a chance Gruden enlists in a passing-down specialist in Jacksonville (Thompson is slated to be a free agent), but the hope is that Fournette keeps getting chances to catch the football like he did in 2019. Naturally if the Jaguars add another back with a receiving profile, Fournette's Fantasy stock will sag. Until then, he's a contender for the first round as he's coming off a 1,600-total-yard season with plenty of bounce-back potential in the touchdown department.
The high percentage of tight end receptions certainly suggests that Gruden leans on that position. Back in Cincinnati it was Jermaine Gresham who found a bunch of work under Gruden, then Jordan Reed had some of his best years with Gruden. Even Vernon Davis found some decent numbers in D.C. Could that all be a by-product of Gruden utilizing the talent he had? It's possible, and I bring it up because the Jaguars' current tight end group (excluding free agents to be) has a combined 112 career receptions and four touchdowns. Second-year tight end Josh Oliver could impress in camp, and two ex-Gruden guys, Reed and Tyler Eifert, could become available. This is an area to watch.
Gruden wasn't a dummy and didn't waste A.J. Green in Cincy (three straight 1,000-yard, seven-score seasons). He wasn't as successful with his receivers in Washington. It's true that in 2016 he helped pave the way for Pierre Garcon AND DeSean Jackson to each have 1,000 yards (Jamison Crowder added 847 yards of his own). Jackson eclipsed 1,100 yards in 2014 as well. But otherwise, Gruden couldn't find even 800 yards for any other wide receivers in any of his years with the Redskins. Some of that had to do with Gruden's usage of tight ends, a little was because of the up-and-down play of Cousins and Alex Smith.
An optimist would say Gruden will see elements of Green in D.J. Chark and find ways to get his rangy receiver the football. A pessimist would point to his troubles giving his Redskins receivers receptions (only Garcon hit the 70-reception mark under Gruden). Tack on that the last Jaguars playcaller got fired for throwing the ball too much and it could be a little tough to expect another go-round of 70-1,000-8 for Chark. And it certainly doesn't paint a rosy picture for Dede Westbrook or Chris Conley to become a reliable Fantasy receiver. Considering the downside, Chark seems destined for a Round 5 ADP.
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