The Jacksonville Jaguars have had a rough go of it in recent years and that bad luck continued when their 2015 first-round pick, defensive end Dante Fowler, suffered a torn ACL days after arriving in Jacksonville.
However, there could be some bright spots in 2015 for the Jaguars and I believe that rookie running back T.J. Yeldon will be one of them. I’m predicting that he will put together a bigger year than most are anticipating. The Jags have a young, talented quarterback in Blake Bortles, but he’s still learning the position. A solid running game could go a long way in helping his development and that’s what I think they’ll get in Yeldon.
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Yeldon wasn’t the most coveted running back taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. The marquee names were Todd Gurley out of Georgia and Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin. That said, Yeldon did a lot of great things while at Alabama and he’ll have a chance to make his mark in the NFL early on. Many Jacksonville fans are very excited to have him and he was given some extremely high draft grades.
The Jaguars finished a lackluster 21st in rushing in 2014 and 28-year old running back Toby Gerhart is the team’s starter (at least on the depth chart right now). Although I believe that Yeldon will challenge him, and running back Denard Robinson, over the summer and secure a starting role.
At Alabama, Yeldon racked up 3,322 rushing yards in three years despite never being the lone featured back. He also scored a whopping 39 touchdowns with the Crimson Tide. He’s a relatively big running back at 6’2″ and 221 pounds, but he possesses a good amount of shiftiness to compliment his frame.
In the NFL he’ll have to prove that he can be a threat out of the backfield, especially to help his second-year quarterback Bortles. Yeldon caught just 46 passes in Alabama, but he proved that he has good enough hands — now it’s all about proving it at the next level.
It is very likely that we will see a better Bortles in 2015 and that will mean that defenses will be a bit more apprehensive to stack the box against Jacksonville. This should help Yeldon be able to get to the second level of the defense with a lot more regularity than running backs Robinson and Gerhart did in 2014.
Gerhart has ran for just 326 yards last year with an abysmal 3.2 yards per rush average last year. Robinson did a bit better as he averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per rush, but still posted just 582 yards on the ground in 2014. Yeldon has much better speed than Gerhart and much better strength than Robinson. In 2015, he should be the featured back and if this offense improves, as Bortles improves, Yeldon should get the ball quite often with ample opportunities to produce.
Of course, just getting the ball doesn’t mean that Yeldon will instantly be in the discussion for AP Offensive Player of the Year. The Chargers’ Gordon and the Rams’ Gurley will both be looking to take home the award. As will the Raiders’ wide receiver Amari Cooper and the Bears’ Kevin White.
In the SEC, Yeldon averaged 5.8 yards per carry for his career and scored exactly 39 touchdowns in 39 games — despite always sharing the backfield. In Jacksonville he’ll have a chance to be the main attraction at running back from game one. That said, he will have to prove a lot to the coaches over the summer, but I think he will do just that.
Can Yeldon win the AP Offensive Player of the Year award? Yes, I truly believe he can. Will he? Well, lets just say that I’m not putting down any money on it at the moment.
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