Tom Coughlin wanted more offensive playmakers in Jacksonville. So it was no surprise to see him grab one of the best in college football over the last three years.
The Jaguars selected LSU star running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, giving Coughlin the bruising back he craves in his return to the floundering franchise.
Fournette is expected to provide an immediate boost to one of the league’s worst offenses and take some pressure off struggling quarterback Blake Bortles.
“He’s special,” said Coughlin, the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “We need playmakers. We need people to put the ball in the end zone. We need to do something about balance. We need to do something about creating a better situation where the quarterback doesn’t have the entire game on his shoulders. Certainly we have to improve the offensive line. Certainly we have a lot more work to do.”
Fournette is a solid start. He ran for 3,840 yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons in Baton Rouge, despite missing five games with an ankle injury in 2016. Fournette also opted to skip his bowl game in hopes of being healthier for the NFL combine.
It turned out to be a smart decision since he covered the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at combine, more than fast enough for a 230-pound back.
“A lot of people think I’m a big, bruising guy who can’t make anybody miss if I don’t run them over or hit them or anything,” Fournette said. “I have a lot to show this season coming up — and I will.”
Fournette averaged 6.2 yards a carry in his college career, providing must-see highlights on a weekly basis. He ran over linemen, made linebackers look silly and outran defensive backs.
The Jaguars have rushed for 13 touchdowns the last two seasons — the second-fewest in the NFL in that span — and five of those were by Bortles. So running the ball better was a priority for Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell and new head coach Doug Marrone.
Fournette’s arrival means Chris Ivory and 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon are headed to the bench.
The Jaguars gave Ivory a five-year contract worth $32 million in free agency last year. The deal included $10 million guaranteed, more wasted money for a franchise that has won just 17 of its last 80 games. Yeldon has two years remaining on a four-year deal worth nearly $6 million.
The Jaguars picked in the top 10 for the 10th consecutive year, and in the top five for an NFL-record sixth straight year.
They botched a number of top picks along the way — defensive end Derrick Harvey (2008), quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2011) and receiver Justin Blackmon (2012) among the worst — but seemingly hit with cornerback Jalen Ramsey a year ago.
Jacksonville can only hope Fournette plays as well as Ramsey did as a rookie.
Coughlin and Caldwell said they had four players targeted for the No. 4 spot: Defensive end Myles Garrett, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, Fournette and safety Jamal Adams.
Fournette filled the biggest need since Jacksonville addressed most of its defensive holes by adding defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church in free agency. Those moves freed up the front office to go heavy on the offensive side of the ball in the three-day draft.
It started with Fournette.
“We want to be able to run the ball, take care of the ball and be physical and tough,” Caldwell said. “This guy is all of that. … One of our guys said it best: We’re on the road on Saturdays, watching late-night SEC games before our game and this is the guy you’re watching on TV every Saturday night and you’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is going to be the first pick in the draft.’
“You knew from the time he stepped on campus at LSU that he was going to be a special player, and usually those guys tend to do very well at our level, too.”
The Jaguars have two more picks Friday, Nos. 35 (second round) and 68 (third round). Look for them to continue to bolster the offense or add a defensive lineman in a draft considered deep at that position.