In the past few weeks, the mainstream media have suggested that Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Carson Wentz are the top candidates for NFL MVP; due to the statistics they have compiled and their team record. Although these players deserve consideration, the media should also consider Leonard Fournette because of the impact he has had on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Over the past three NFL seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made Blake Bortles the focal point of their offense. This is because the organization wanted to give Bortles as many opportunities as possible to prove to the public that drafting him with the third pick in the 2014 draft was the right decision. Due to this, the team would design game plans that allow him the opportunity to demonstrate how he is capable of making all the throws necessary to win games. However, this strategy has backfired on the team because Bortles is very inaccurate on passes that were thrown over ten yards. According to ESPN, over the past two seasons, Bortles has a completion percentage of 35.5 and 46.9 on throws from 11-20 yards in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The inaccuracy on passes thrown over ten yards can be attributed to being under pressure in the pocket. For instance, against the Ravens, there were a couple of plays where Bortles had to hold the ball for an extended period until his primary receiver got ten to fifteen yards downfield usually running a dig route. By the time that the receiver reached his destination, Bortles was already feeling pressure from the opposing team as a defender was only a few feet away from him.
Due to this, he was often forced to throw the ball off his back foot or in the process of sidestepping a defender which altered his passes. As a result of this, the offense was unable to keep the ball for extended periods of time during most games, which forces defense having to go back on the field without the proper amount of rest. In fact, according to team rankings, the offense was only on the field for 29 minutes and 9 seconds, which means that the defense is on the field for 30 minutes and 51 seconds. Eventually, the defense ran out of energy and couldn’t stop the other team from scoring.
However, it has been an entirely different story this season because the team made wholesale changes to the offensive system. This is because the Jaguars decided to select Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the draft. As a result, the team will once again feature their first-round pick as a focal point of their offense because; they want to give him as many opportunities as possible to prove to the public that he was the right pick. Therefore the Jaguars have implemented an offensive system centered around the running game and the play-action passing game. For instance, during the first two downs of a series, Blake Bortles would hand the ball off to Leonard Fournette in an attempt to force the opposing team to stack the box and set up a manageable third down. If the strategy were successful, the Jaguars would call a play action pass where Blake would fake the handoff and go in the opposite direction to throw the ball to the flat or the crossing route fifteen yards downfield. However, on occasion, Blake would fake the handoff to freeze the defense momentarily which allowed the receivers to get some separation as they try to complete a slant, in, out or crossing route. As a result, the defense spent less time on the field meaning they had more time to rest between drives. According to teamrankings.com, the unit has been on the field for an average of 28:17 minutes which is about two and a half minutes less than previous seasons.
Furthermore, the decision to feature Leonard Fournette as the focal point of their offense has helped Blake Bortles have a career year. According to pro-football-reference.com, during his first three seasons, Bortles had a completion percentage of 58.2 percent; while throwing for an average of 3747 yards with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. However this season, Bortles had a completion percentage of 60.2 percent; while throwing for 3687 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
In conclusion, the presence of Leonard Fournette has improved the performance of the offense and defense and helped the team compile a 9-4 record. The combination of all these factors is why he deserves consideration for the NFL MVP award.