As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco reminded readers, Leonard Fournette
’s career appeared to be at a crossroads when he left the Jacksonville Jaguars' facility in January.
After a disappointing season filled with injuries, a suspension and questions about the running back's work ethic, maturity and professionalism, it was fair to wonder if Fournette would even make it to the end of his rookie contract after the 2020 season.
Nine months later, there’s a different feeling inside the organization about Fournette, the fourth overall pick in 2017. While nobody is ready to proclaim him the model for how a professional football player should act and behave, there's a sense Fournette has taken huge steps forward and there's cautious optimism that will continue.
The changes started over the offseason, when Fournette went to the University
of Wyoming to work out with a former LSU strength coach during the offseason instead of training in New Orleans. Fournette didn’t attend every OTA, but head coach Doug Marrone said he was pleased with the way Fournette practiced and worked when he did attend. Fournette reported to training camp in good shape and hasn’t missed a practice.
Fournette hasn’t appeared on the injury report yet this season. He’s playing 92 percent of the Jaguars’ offensive snaps, is third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (773) and rushing (584), and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo called him the team’s best pass-blocking back. He knows the offense. And there hasn’t been even a rumor of any missed meetings or other issues.
There are also other small signs Fournette is different. He played in only one game in the preseason, but when he wasn’t on the field, he wore a headset so he could hear DeFilippo’s play calls -- and that was at his request. When the young backs came off the field, Fournette would spend some time with them, too.
It was Fournette who stepped in to pull Marrone away from cornerback Jalen Ramsey during their sideline argument in Houston.
So there is progress. There’s still much more for him to prove, but there is progress.
And to be clear: The safest fantasy bet in Jacksonville is Fournette.
As ESPN's Al Zeidenfeld notes, when healthy, Fournette has always come along with heavy volume for the Jaguars. However, it's his massive increase in both targets and catches that has proven to be most valuable this season. Through six weeks, Fournette has four-plus catches all but one game.
Yes, Week 7 is on the road, but the matchup with the Bengals couldn't be better. Cincinnati has allowed the most RB fantasy points, including 126.5 rushing yards per game and 6.67 catches per game. Everything lines up for another big week here. ...
Meanwhile, as SI.com' Jordan Shipley
put it, "After a month of dazzling the NFL, rejuvenating the Jaguars offense and racking up rookie awards, Gardner Minshew
had his rookie moment in Sunday's 13-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints. ..."
Shipley went on to explain that, unfortunately for the Jaguars, the rookie moment lasted from the first snap to the last and prevented the Jaguars from scoring a single touchdown for the first time all season.
No team scored fewer points than the Jaguars aside from the Tennessee Titans, who were shut out.
Against the Saints, Minshew put forth a terrible statistical game for the first time this season. He finished 14-for-29 passing for 163 yards with an interception and zero touchdowns.
So, what did the Saints do exactly to derail Minshew Mania so drastically?
As most Saints defenders who spoke to the media after Sunday's game said, they simply made him play a different style of football than he had played in previous starts.
"But when you talk about us being accustomed to a scrambling-type quarterback, we had a game plan set in motion. I feel like we went out and executed just that," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said Sunday.
"We made him a pocket passer, and we created opportunities for our defense to create turnovers, and we capitalized on one out of a possible three.”
Some of Minshew's best plays this season have come when he was able to either extend plays inside of the pocket by evading defensive lineman or when breaking outside of the pocket and throwing on the move. It was obvious to the Saints coming into the game that stopping this would be their No. 1 priority as defense.
From not allowing Minshew to extend plays, to locking down D.J. Chark
with two defensive backs, the Saints simply had a perfect game plan to stop Minshew and the Jaguars offense.
The worry for the Jaguars offense moving forward is what happens when teams replicate the Saints strategy to slow down Minshew. Most defenses aren't as talented as the Saints, but defensive coordinators will likely model what they saw on Sunday regardless.
Beyond that, as ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out, Dede Westbrook
has racked up 46 targets in six games this season but has cleared 53 receiving yards only twice and hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 1.
Volume hasn't been an issue for the third-year receiver, as he's enjoying a career-high 23 percent target share, which includes 8.75 targets per game since Week 3.
Efficiency has been the problem, as he's caught only 57 percent of his targets despite an extremely low 6.7 yard average depth of target.
Clay added: "Westbrook has managed four top-36 fantasy weeks already this season, and there's room for more if his efficiency improves. Consider Westbrook a solid flex."
Westbrook (shoulder) is officially listed as questionable
for this game. ...
Also worth noting. ... Josh Oliver
(hamstring) is expected to make his regular-season debut tomorrow. Not sure anybody should be forcing him into lineups this week, but he's a player to watch. ...
One last note here. ... Marrone believes Nick Foles
will return to practice next week; the veteran signal caller has been out since breaking his collarbone in Week 1.