How should the Jaguars address the running back situation?
It’s clear T.J. Yeldon is the team’s No. 1 back, and the Jaguars are pleased with what they got out of him in his rookie season: 740 yards rushing and 36 catches for 279 yards receiving in 12 games. They believe those numbers will improve in 2016, especially if the offensive line becomes more consistent.
After Yeldon, however, things become unclear. The Jaguars need a reliable back to share the workload with Yeldon, but nobody stepped into that role in 2015.
Denard Robinson, the team’s leading rusher in 2014, battled a sprained MCL early in the 2015 season and had ball-security issues at the end of the season, fumbling four times in three games. Toby Gerhart got only 20 carries because of a sports hernia that eventually required surgery in early December. Bernard Pierce’s most notable moment was his block instead of a tackle against Tampa Bay. The Jaguars gave Jonas Gray some work in the final two games (14 carries) and he’ll get a further look throughout organized team activities and camp. Corey Grant made the roster as a kickoff returner, and that’s the role he’ll have going forward if he remains with the team.
Robinson, Gerhart and Gray are under contract for 2016, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Gerhart was cut. Injuries have limited him to 370 yards and two TDs rushing in two seasons with Jacksonville, and he’s due a $500,000 roster bonus in March and is scheduled to make $3 million this year. There is a possibility Jaguars GM David Caldwell will approach Gerhart about redoing the final year of his contract.
The Jaguars should explore other options via free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2015 (1,402), is the top back scheduled to become a free agent, but he’s not a player the Jaguars will target. The second-best back out there via free agency is Matt Forte, and that’s someone the Jaguars may be interested in signing. He’s a bit older (30), but he’s been extremely productive (8,602 yards and 45 TDs rushing; 487 catches for 4,116 yards and 19 TDs) in his eight seasons in Chicago. The Jaguars have enough cap space (approximately $78 million), so they could certainly offer him a better deal than other teams.
If the Jaguars were to draft a running back, it likely wouldn’t come until the fifth round or later because Caldwell is planning on using the bulk of his eight draft picks to fix the defense. This isn’t viewed as a great running back draft, either.
Regardless of which path the Jaguars choose, they need to find Yeldon some help in 2016 and beyond.