Leonard Fournette wants you to try to tackle him. Come on. Try!
LEONARD FOURNETTE WAVED ON THE HIT! pic.twitter.com/5MaNCZ5zMd— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) October 8, 2017
On this play in the Jaguars’ dominant win over the Steelers, the rookie from LSU literally beckoned Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in his direction. Mitchell obliged. After the tackle, Mitchell stood up, puffed his chest, and screamed, having brought down the player who had the indignity to call him out.
Buddy, you didn’t win here. Fournette asked Mitchell to try to tackle him, and then rolled over Mitchell’s body for an additional 2 yards after the point of contact.
This disrespectful run was the smallest of Fournette’s successes. While Ben Roethlisberger launched five interceptions for Pittsburgh, Fournette ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns—the best running performance from any player this season. He jumped over the Steelers for his first touchdown:
Yo... Fournette jumped from the 4 with almost no start and landed a yard in pic.twitter.com/bvzY5TocYT— NegaHawk (@CeeHawk) October 8, 2017
We sometimes see players jump the line from the 1-yard line. Fournette did it from the 4.
And he ran past the Steelers for his second touchdown, a 90-yarder that sealed the 30-9 win.
FOURNETTE BREAKS FREE! 90 yard touchdown from the rookie and the Jaguars are alone in first place in the AFC South! pic.twitter.com/WH8DCkwnWQ— pick-sixonville (@zach_goodall) October 8, 2017
That run buoyed Fournette’s stats on the day, essentially doubling his rushing total from 91 yards to 181. But let’s not act like this run was entirely empty yardage: It’s one thing to have the agility and early speed to bust into the open field. It’s another to outgain defenders once you get past them. Fournette put additional space between him and the poor souls trying to track him down 50 yards from the line of scrimmage. That touchdown was his 28th carry, and he still had elite burst.
These three videos show Fournette to be faster, stronger, and most importantly, meaner than an entire NFL defense. A running back has to be exceptional to be worth the fourth pick in the NFL draft. Thus far, Fournette sure looks exceptional: He now has six (five rushing, one receiving) touchdowns in five games and is averaging 93.2 rushing yards per game.
And the Jaguars are looking kinda … good? They’re 3-2, on top of the AFC South, and have won all three of those games by at least three touchdowns. They have a plus-56 point differential, the best in the NFL. (The Chiefs can reclaim that honor with a big win on Sunday Night Football.)
Jacksonville’s main strength is a magnificent pass defense, which has 10 interceptions through five games. Sunday, the Jags didn’t really need to score, having put up 14 points on defense while allowing only nine. But Jacksonville has an opportunity to be good instead of just defensively strong, and that comes down to Fournette.
The Jaguars’ quarterback is still Blake Bortles, who went 8-for-14 for 95 yards and an interception Sunday. Jacksonville won because he didn’t need to throw. It’s a gift that the Jaguars have a running back as talented and durable as Fournette, capable of taking the ball often and taking it effectively.
The more I think about Fournette, the more I understand what Mitchell was celebrating. No, he didn’t force a fumble, or stop Fournette from getting a first down, or even stop his forward progress. But he didn’t get driven through the earth’s crust into its molten core. And with a player as fearsome as Fournette, that might be a win.