Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette got a lot of attention in New England on Thursday night in his preseason debut again the Patriots.
Not so much for what he did during the game, but what he said after it.
Fournette is noted for having a lot of confidence, and he certainly showed it after he gained 31 yards in nine carries and a touchdown in the Jaguars’ eventual 31-24 victory.
“It’s a lot slower than I really thought,” Fournette told NFL.com after the game. “That’s how I’ve been since I first got into the NFL. A lot of people were like, ‘It’s going to be fast.’ But by me playing in the SEC, that kind of helped me a lot. I think, to me, it was really easy.”
Naturally, he said he could match what Ezekiel Elliott did in his rookie season for Dallas last year. Elliott rushed for 1631 yards, the third-most ever for a rookie running back.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said.
The Jaguars hope he’s right, because they bet the season on him. Instead of bringing in a veteran quarterback to push Blake Bortles, new boss Tom Coughlin decided to feature the running game when he took Fournette with the fourth overall pick.
But Fournette faces a couple of major obstacles Elliott didn’t face.
With Bortles at quarterback, he’ll likely face a lot of eight-man fronts. And since the Jaguars’ offensive line isn’t the caliber of the Dallas line, he’ll have to make a lot of yardage on his own. The Jaguars’ line isn’t likely to open big holes for him.
And the opener against New England wasn’t a true test. The Patriots held out more than 35 players, so Fournette played against the backups and didn’t see the speed of the game that he’ll see in the regular season.
Still, he’s already won over his teammates.
Linebacker Myles Jack said, “I wouldn’t bet against him.”
“I’m a confident guy and I try to give my offensive line confidence, too,” Fournette said. “You have to feel like you can’t be stopped.”
Naturally, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone gave him good reviews.
“I think you can see he is a powerful kid, powerful running back and I just wanted to make sure about ball security,” Marrone said after the game. “Things like you don’t see when you are at this level, you want to see — obviously it is a physical game, and you want to see how he reacts to it, and he had no issue with that at all.”
“I’ve had pressure my whole life,” Fournette said. “I’m built for it. No matter what the circumstances, I’ve never let the game get bigger than me and I’ve always stayed humble. That’s No. 1.”
Fournette is likely to find out the NFL is faster than he thinks it is — and that it’s definitely not easy.
He figures to have a good season for a rookie, but I doubt it will overshadow what Elliott did last year.
And Fournette is likely to find out in his regular season opener what the NFL is really like for a rookie running back.
The Jaguars open in Houston, where Fournette will face a defense spearheaded by a healthy J.J. Watt.
That game — not a meaningless preseason contest — will be a lot better barometer of Fournette’s rookie season.