Leonard Fournette's 2018 woes make running back sneaky need for Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Figuring out what to do at quarterback is the Jacksonville Jaguars' top offseason priority, but it's far from their only issue on offense. They have to address the offensive line, tight end and wide receiver, as well.

Somewhat forgotten -- mainly because of the lengthy list of needs and the attention surrounding the potential addition of QB Nick Foles -- is the team's major issue at running back. There's nearly as much uncertainty there as at quarterback.

After the way the 2018 season ended, there's no reason to have any confidence the Jaguars can rely on Leonard Fournette in 2019. He missed seven games because of injuries, was suspended for another, admitted he slacked on his conditioning and gained weight throughout the season. He also was ripped by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin for his demeanor on the sideline in the season finale.

Even though coach Doug Marrone said he's excited about the 2017 first-round pick's mindset following a clear-the-air meeting with Fournette, the Jaguars have to operate over the next eight months as if Fournette will flop again in 2019. To not do so and fail to put together a better backup plan than they had in 2018 would be irresponsible and could torpedo the offense again, regardless of which quarterback is on the field.

Other than Fournette, the only running backs under contract for 2019 are Carlos Hyde, David Williams and Thomas Rawls. The team is expected to part ways with Hyde, who was acquired in October for a fifth-round pick, sometime before the league year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 13. Williams, a seventh-round draft pick by Denver last year before joining the Jaguars' practice squad, played in six games and had eight carries for 36 yards. Rawls didn't have a carry last season.

The Jaguars have to add a complementary back to Fournette and it has to be someone they feel could handle the role as their main back if Fournette is injured or his level of play dips. They need a third-down back as well as a change-of-pace back, and if they're lucky, they can find that in the same person.

There are plenty of options available via free agency, if they're willing to spend at that position, as well as the draft. The Jaguars don't have to invest a high draft pick on the position, either. Tarik Cohen, Devonta Freeman, James White, Bilal Powell and Phillip Lindsay are backs taken in the fourth round or later (Lindsay was undrafted). If the Jaguars don't want to wait too long, they can still wait until the third round if they choose: Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, James Conner, Tevin Coleman and David Johnson were third-rounders.

Here's a look at some players the Jaguars could potentially target:

Free agency

Coleman: Coleman, who turns 26 in April, has increased his workload and production in each of his four seasons with Atlanta and is set to be one of the most sought-after backs in free agency after Le'Veon Bell. That also means he'll command a larger salary, which might keep the Jaguars away. He's got a good mix of speed and size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and can be a factor in the pass game. Plus, he's capable of being a feature back because he's done it for the Falcons when Freeman has been injured. Would he be willing to come to Jacksonville to share time, though?

Mike Davis: It took him a while to find a role with Seattle, but he settled in as the Seahawks' third-down back and had a solid 2018 season (34 catches). The 26-year-old would be a nice replacement for T.J. Yeldon and would come at a reasonable price.

Frank Gore: Yes, he'll turn 36 in May and is coming off a sprained foot, but he's still remarkably effective: He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 156 carries last season for Miami -- his highest per-carry average since 2012 (4.7). It's clear there was an issue in the Jaguars' running backs room last season and there's no better example of how to prepare and behave as a professional than Gore, who is fourth on the NFL's all-time rushing list (521 yards behind Barry Sanders). Plus, he's shown he's still capable of stretches as a feature back.

Mark Ingram: He had a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs to start the 2018 season and that might make teams a little leery of the 29-year-old, but he ran for more than 1,000 yards the previous two seasons. The same question regarding Coleman applies here, too: Would Ingram be willing to share time with Fournette -- as he did in New Orleans with Kamara the past two seasons -- or does he want to go to a team where he's the clear No. 1?

Latavius Murray: The 27-year-old has rushed for 3,698 yards and 34 touchdowns in five seasons -- plus he's missed only three games in his career. He ran for 578 yards and six touchdowns for Minnesota last season, but his 4.1 yards per carry was the second-best average of his career.

NFL draft

Darrell Henderson: He ran for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns at Memphis in 2018, but he lost out on his chance to surpass 2,000 yards when he skipped the bowl game to begin his NFL preparations. He caught 63 passes in three seasons and could find a role as a speedy change-of-pace back in the NFL.

Justice Hill: The former Oklahoma State standout probably fits better as a third-down back, which is something the Jaguars need as a replacement for Yeldon. Hill is a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but he does have very good speed and also could find a key role on special teams.

Elijah Holyfield: Could he be the next Georgia back to make an impact in the NFL after Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? Holyfield (5-11, 215) isn't as big as Gurley or Chubb, but he is a physical runner who would be a good complement to Fournette's style.

LJ Scott: He missed eight games with injury in 2018 and never rushed for more than 994 yards in any of his four seasons at Michigan State, but Scott is an interesting prospect. He's a big (6-1, 225), physical runner, too, and that could be of use near the goal line and in short-yardage situations to save Fournette some pounding.

Benny Snell Jr.: If the Jaguars do make the position a priority in the first three rounds, Snell would be a good option. He was highly productive in the SEC and dominated both Florida and Mississippi State in 2018. Both of those defenses are loaded with NFL talent, including four players among Mel Kiper's Top 25 prospects. Snell (5-11, 223) ran for 3,873 yards and 48 TDs in three seasons at Kentucky.