Leonard Fournette had the best debut by a Jacksonville Jaguars running back in franchise history. That's saying a lot considering that Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew were among the NFL's top backs during their playing careers with the team.
Fournette ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in the Jaguars' 29-7 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, making him the first Jaguars running back to surpass 100 yards in their first NFL game. In fact, Fournette is just the fourth Jaguars rookie running back to rush for 100 or more yards in a game.
"I thought he played well. I thought he was good after contact. I thought he's good in his routes. I've been saying that all during camp," said Jaguars coach Doug Marrone. "Being able to catch the ball and make things happen. I think he's a tough runner. Every time you see the pile, the pile's going forward. I think he's got to do a good job of not letting people get to him, letting people poke at him afterwards and things of that nature. He's just got to stay focused and stay in his game."
The Jaguars' offensive line, which had struggled throughout the preseason, did a good job of neutralizing the Texans' defensive front and gave Fournette plenty of creases to exploit. Fournette did the bulk of his work in the first half, carrying the ball 17 times and catching three passes for 24 yards. He scored his touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the Texans' 1-yard line, finishing the run by driving his helmet into the chest of linebacker Brian Cushing at the goal line.
"Basically, it was really a mind thing today. I know everyone was talking about how great their defense was, but I believed in my offensive line," said Fournette. "Each and every day at practice, I tell them we can do it. Just give me a couple of seconds and I'm going to take it. They did a great job for me and an excellent job overall. It was kind of shocking to everybody [outside the organization] that they were blocking so well."
In addition to Taylor (the franchise's all-time leading rusher) and Jones-Drew (second on the team's all-time rushing list), T.J. Yeldon also ran for more than 100 yards twice in 2015. Taylor did it six times in 1998, and Jones-Drew did it twice in 2006.
Fournette's longest run was 17 yards, but it was his ability to elude potential tacklers at the line of scrimmage and avoid negative plays that was the key to his success.
"I think that gives him a boost of confidence. We've never really seen him run. We got to see him in preseason once against New England Patriots. We knew he was a good back, but I hadn't really seen it and he came out today and he showed the world what type of football player he is," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said.
The Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall after a three-year career at LSU in which he ran for 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns. Fournette left the Tigers with 23 school records, including rushing yards per game (119.7) and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (nine).