Fantasy Impact of Jaguars Releasing Leonard Fournette: Are Gardner Minshew, Laviska Shenault the Real Winners? - Roto Street Journal
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Fantasy Impact of Jaguars Releasing Leonard Fournette: Are Gardner Minshew, Laviska Shenault the Real Winners?

Leonard Fournette was one of 2020’s easiest “Fantasy Fades.” Hopefully, his sudden, yet unsurprising, release from the Jaguars hasn’t left you scrambling from an early fantasy draft.

Although we were avoiding him, Fournette’s release still carries serious fantasy implications. He vacates insane volume, as his 365 opportunities (carries + targets) and 341 touches both ranked third-most in 2019.

Yet, will the biggest fantasy gains come from the backfield? Or does his departure signal a greater overall offensive shift? The Wolf dives in below:

Reevaluating the Jaguars Backfield

Before breaking down the new values of Ryquell Armstead, Chris Thompson, and a thing called “Devine Ozigbo,” I need to first ask:

Does it really matter?

Fournette or no Fournette, this backfield was always headed towards an RBBC under new OC Jay Gruden. 

A bunch of meh players, siphoning one another’s touches, in perhaps the league’s worst offense, behind a bottom-three line, isn’t exactly an investment any fantasy owner should sprint towards.

Still, volume is volume. Let’s break down how this backfield should look, and where (if anywhere) you can mine value.

Ryquell Armstead:

Armstead projects to be the first man up. Woo!

He averaged a whopping 3.1 YPC on his 35 rookie-year carries, all while hauling in a meager 14 receptions on 24 targets.

Sure, his 4.45 forty is mildly tantalizing at 220 lbs. Yes, Armstead played 62% of the Jags’ offensive snaps in Week 17 when Fournette was out. Cool, he racked up 19.5 PPR FPs on the back of 5 catches, 5 receiving yards, and 1 TD that game.

Yet, Armstead interests me next-to-zero in fantasy. The majority of his scoring came through the passing game, and Armstead shouldn’t receive nearly any of this work in 2020 because…

Chris Thompson

If I was forced to add a single Jaguars RB, Thompson would be my runaway choice, primarily because of his experience and success with Jay Gruden:

Thompson will be the unquestioned third-down RB on a team that’ll constantly trail. For PPR leagues, Thompson carries realistic 50+ reception upside.

Thompson has also been “one of the stars” of Red Zone drills during camp, an area he previously thrived with Gruden. Beat writers expect him to “play a big role in the passing game,” as he routinely operates as a safety valve for Gardner Minshew.

Thompson’s health remains a major concern. He hasn’t topped 11 games since 2016, and now turns 30. You’re unlikely to get Thompson for the full year, but his role could provide plenty of PPR usability for however long he lasts.

Devine Ozigbo

The last “name to know” is Devine Ozigbo. Perhaps his most compelling case to fantasy relevance?

Ironclad chemistry with Minshew.

In all seriousness, Ozigbo doesn’t bring any “sizzle” to his game, but he is a 220 bruiser with soft-enough hands.

He’s reportedly been among the Top-5 most impressive non-starters in 2020 camp, particularly while Armstead’s missed time with COVID:

“On running plays and drills, Ozigbo is hitting the hole hard and showing a lot of power to go along with his explosion. He hasn’t shied away from contact at any point, and has even had a few bruising reps vs. linebackers in which you can say he dealt the punishment. As a pass-catcher, Ozigbo has been consistent in terms of his route running and ball security out of the backfield, even scoring on a checkdown during red zone drills on Friday…so far he has been one of the highlights of the position.”

Still… when looking to draft Ozigbo, ask yourself a simple question:

Why?

Ultimately, I rank the backs:

  • Thompson: 134 OVR (+11 ECR)
  • Armstead: 138 OVR (-40 ECR)
  • Ozigbo: Just outside Top-200. Watchlist name.

Clearly, I’m not sprinting towards any of them.

However, I do think Fournette’s release could have a sneaky large impact on…

Jaguars Passing Game: Minshew Mania & Shenault Time

A More Pass-Centric Offense Boosts Minshew’s High-End QB2 Appeal

With a defense that grows worse by the day, the Jaguars already projected to chuck a ton in 2020.

Now, without their plodding Lenny heartbeat, and under pass-obsessed OC Jay Gruden, Minshew’s attempts could skyrocket even further.

Sports Illustrated speculated a more Air-centric attack is a likely outcome:

With the presence of Fournette no longer dictating the Jaguars’ offensive scheme, could they finally become a more pass-oriented team? It seems like there is at least a chance.

The Jaguars have the best passing-game weapons they have had since 2015… Add in a healthy Tyler Eifert and Chris Thompson, and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and it appears the Jaguars may finally be moving away from their ground-and-pound style of play.

This was reinforced by Marrone’s comments in his Monday press conference:

“Everyone wants to be able to run the football when they need to, but I think the most important thing is scoring points.

“I think we did a very good job going out and getting some playmakers. We’ve got some really good talent at the receiving position. We’ve got talent at the tight end position. We’ve got guys in the backfield that do a very good job in the passing game.. At the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to score more touchdowns.”

Minshew himself already had sneaky QB2 upside due to his underrated rushing ability — he ranked 5th in QB rushing yardage in only 14 GP last season. More pass attempts, with Minshew now the offensive centerpiece, raises the ceiling further.

Meanwhile, Gruden has a solid track record squeezing out solid fantasy production from his QBs:

This also should only helps DJ Chark, who has been unstoppable in camp amidst his ascent to an Alpha WR1.

However, the guy I’m most intrigued by for fantasy, in light of Fournette’s release, is:

Laviska Shenault:

The Draft Network’s Trevor Sikkema joined our Fantasy Fullback Dive podcast to breakdown rookie WRs (show notes and audio here). One of the more shocking moments?

He ranked Laviska Shenault as his No.3 Rookie WR for Redraft Leagues!

“I love the fact they can use him anywhere. They don’t have that go-to offensive weapon. I think that’s what they’re searching for and Laviska gives them the chance to have that… He is a true X-Factor kind of player. I think they’ll use him in a variety of ways.”

Sikkema continued to praise Shenault’s Red Zone upside, calling him “the Jaguars most valuable option inside the 20, easily. You can put him in the backfield, the slot, out on the end with a safety uncomfortable covering him. He has such an all-around game.”

Note: this praise came before Fournette’s release. Now? His TD ceiling is even higher.

Marrone and Gruden have already talked about using Shenault “in the backfield. He can play Wildcat,” Marrone said. “You can put him as the F tight end. You can do a lot of things with him.”

Indeed, Shenault is a 227 monster. He often lined up as the Wildcat QB and pounded in 7 TDs, and Shenault led the NCAA in yards after contact the past two seasons (44), per PFF.

Now, Shenault could be in line for 7-8 designed backfield touches, and he’ll surely do more than Fournette ever could with them.

He’s certainly impressed throughout Jaguars camp:

“In individual drills, Shenault has been a perfectionist. He has caught nearly every pass thrown to him.

“Laviska is a freak, man. I knew it when we played him at Colorado,” Minshew said. “He’s a lot better route runner, a lot better at catching the ball than I even expected.”

The Jaguars think he can be even more explosive with the ball in his hands than when he played in Colorado. He could emerge as a multi-threat in offensive coordinator Gruden’s system that could include getting handoffs on end-around plays.

On a team desperate for playmaking and especially for scorers, Shenault’s ceiling was already sky-high. Now, without Fournette sucking usage away, he could truly explode for 10+ scores.

What about Leonard Fournette now?

So is life hopeless for owners who burned a third-rounder into the Fournette trap? Or could he come out of this actually improved?

Well, considering he couldn’t carve out a role in the league’s worst backfield, the arrow isn’t exactly pointing up. Marrone said the team “couldn’t get anything” in a trade for Leonard Fournette before waiving him Monday. “Not a fifth, a sixth, anything.”

Granted, the lack of interest may have been more related to Fournette’s $4.167 million salary. But he was historically inefficient in 2019, and doesn’t bring a whole lot beyond early-down power — a highly replaceable commodity in 2020.

Ultimately, certain backfields could provide fantasy promise. Here are the current betting favorites:

Of the list, Tampa would create Fournette’s highest fantasy ceiling the bountiful TD upside here. The Bears seem to be the most logical fit given David Montgomery‘s recent groin strain.  Chicago, Washington, and New England would be the least consequential, fantasy-wise.

In addition to that list, some potential nightmares: could the Eagles kick his tires, especially if Miles Sanders’ injury lingers (please, God, no)? Neither LA team is particularly stacked in the backfield room (Ekeler, ouch), and my gut screams the Rams (sorry, Akers). Hell, could the Chiefs, who were rumored to be interested on draft day, potentially give his phone a call? Helaireious. Don’t do it.

Most likely: Fournette isn’t going to come into too much value himself. At this point, zero landing spots have the available volume that he required to be relevant last year.

He does, however, feel near-certain to sap someone else’s fantasy upside. Thus, alongside the lingering Devonta Freeman, Fournette’s release now creates one more potential bomb owners must track before the season kicks off.

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