Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Jacksonville Jaguars Buying Guide
With the preseason nearing, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams, beginning with the AFC South. Click here to read about the Titans and Colts check back daily for new team previews. On to Jacksonville…
Jacksonville’s fantasy assets are only slightly more appealing than the Jacksonville heat in late July. This is partly because in an era of turbocharged offenses and increased emphasis on the passing game, the Jaguars are the rare team that wants to win games 17-3.
If the Jaguars do indeed take things back to the era of sock hops and soda fountains by trying to win with an airtight defense and a ball-control offense, someone from this backfield could score a lot of fantasy points. We’re looking at you, Leonard Fournette.
There’s so much to dream on with Fournette. He was a beast* at LSU, particularly during a sophomore campaign in which he had 2,206 yards from scrimmage and 23 TDs in 12 games. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Fournette ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at 240 pounds. He’s a punishing, indomitable runner who brings the fight to would-be tacklers, and his acceleration and speed are impressive for a bigger back.
(*The Baton Rouge beastliness did not extend to games against Alabama; in three meetings, the Crimson Tide held Fournette to 145 yards, one TD and 2.5 yards per carry.)
Fournette’s ceiling is the Sistine Chapel. But, uh, there are some bright road flares here, too.
Fournette sprained his ankle in August of his junior year, struggled with the injury all season and missed five games. He dealt with foot, ankle and quad injuries as a rookie in 2017 and missed three games. Last year he missed time with a hamstring injury, served a one-game suspension for fighting with Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson in Week 12, and missed Week 17 with an ankle injury. When Fournette and T.J. Yeldon spent much of the Jaguars’ last game sitting on the bench looking disinterested, crotchety team president Tom Coughlin put the two players on blast, calling them “disrespectful” and “selfish.” The Jags were reportedly unhappy with Fournette’s rehab efforts and his weight, and the team voided the guarantees in his contract after the suspension for fighting. A January meeting between Fournette, Coughlin and other team officials supposedly cleared the air. But three months later, Fournette was arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license.
The Jaguars want to be run-heavy, they want Fournette to shoulder a big load, and they added no significant positional competition in the offseason. If Fournette can stay healthy and keep the peace, he’ll post gargantuan numbers. But how much risk are you willing to embrace?
In fantasy football, strength loves certainty, and weakness loves risk. If you’re a shrewd owner who consistently contends for titles in your league(s), you might want to swipe left when Fournette’s picture pops up on your Tinder app. Spend your second- or third-round pick on a safer player instead of an oft-injured one with the potential to do irreparable damage to your ship’s hull. But if you acknowledge that you’re not one of the sharks in the body of water where you swim, then Fournette is exactly the sort of player you should target in the second or third round, because you need to take big risks in order to rip the dorsal fins off all those sharks.
Alfred Blue is the most tenured of the Jags’ backup running backs. Members of the fantasy community turn up their noses at Blue because he’s a plodder who’s never scored more than two TDs in a single season, but Blue has staying power because he’s durable, he’s not terrible between the tackles, and he’s a good special-teamer. There’s a good chance Blue would become the starter if Fournette were to go down, which could make him fantasy-viable even though it would gross out a lot of people.
The other candidate to be the No. 2 is rookie Ryquell Armstead, a fifth-rounder from Temple with 4.45 speed and a pell-mell running style that will be exciting to watch but might also get him hospitalized when he faces the NFL’s bigger, faster defenders. Armstead, too, would be worth a speculative add if anything were to happen to Fournette.
Is Nick Foles good? I’ve been watching him play for parts of seven seasons and still can’t figure out the answer to that question. He was certainly good, bordering on great, during the Eagles’ championship run two seasons ago. He has a career passer rating higher than those of Dan Marino and Brett Favre … but lower than those of Andy Dalton and Matt Schaub. (So maybe we need to throw passer rating in the trash.)
Whether or not Foles is actually good, he’s certainly an upgrade over Blake Bortles. It’s quite possible, however, that Foles will be a less valuable fantasy quarterback than Bortles has been. For all the guff Bortles receives, he had a three-year run in Jacksonville in which he finished QB3, QB8 and QB13 in fantasy scoring. Foles probably doesn’t have that sort of upside because he doesn’t run as well as Bortles, and because the Jaguars’ offense was actually pretty pass-happy for much of Bortles’ tenure, finishing top seven in passing percentage every year from 2014 to 2016. Foles isn’t worth drafting in most leagues, but he could be a useful third quarterback in 2QB and superflex leagues.
The Jaguars’ WR situation is murkier than the deepest parts of Loch Ness. Dede Westbrook is the favorite to lead the Jags in targets and receptions, though the upside will be capped if the team continues to use him as more of a short-area receiver than a vertical lid lifter. Westbrook was a Heisman Trophy finalist after putting up huge numbers for Oklahoma in 2016, and he had a respectable WR32 finish in half-PPR formats last season. For those concerned about Westbrook’s 6-0, 178-pound frame, consider that over the past 20 years there have been 15 instances of 1,000-yard seasons by receivers weighing 180 pounds or less. DeSean Jackson and Emmanuel Sanders each account for several of those seasons, but the list also includes dudes such as Steve Breaston, Albert Connell and Brian Hartline. With so little serious competition for targets, maybe Westbrook can get there, too.
Marqise Lee missed all of 2018 after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and he’s been banged up for much of his five-year career. If only he avoided injuries the way he avoids the end zone; Lee has scored eight TDs in 53 career games.
Keep a torch lit for Keelan Cole. In 2017 he had a 42-748-3 season as an undrafted rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan. Last year he dipped to 38-491-1. Cole is athletically unremarkable, and last season was a major letdown, but man, he looked reallygood two years ago.
The Jaguars’ second-round selection of D.J. Chark in 2017 seemed like a major reach based on Chark’s scanty college production at LSU, but he’s 6-3 with 4.34 speed. Chark had a quiet rookie year, but it’ll be worth watching him in the preseason to look for signs that he’s more than just a sprinter.
With Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes setting the league ablaze last year, it’s not encouraging that Chris Conley had only 32 catches for 334 yards and five TDs despite playing 77% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps. Conley will face easier target competition in Jacksonville, but alas, he won’t be playing in a wide-open, Mahomes-triggered offense.
Draft a Jacksonville tight end and you’re basically just setting a pick on fire. Rookie third-rounder Josh Oliver is the most promising member of this group, though probably not for 2019. Oliver had a strong senior season at San Jose State but was facing watered-down competition and hadn’t done much during his first three years in the program. The other barely warm bodies here belong to Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy. I play in a 16-team league with 24-man rosters and no kickers or defenses, and Swaim and O’Shaughnessy won’t be drafted in that league.
|Nick Foles||QB28||QB28||QB24||2QB only|
|Ryquell Armstead||RB66||RB74||RB59||Watch list|
|Dede Westbrook||WR35||WR39||WR46||Late-round buy|
|Marqise Lee||WR78||WR65||WR82||Too fragile|
|Josh Oliver||TE57||TE51||TE30||Next year|
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking