Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon can give Jaguars top-5 rushing offense
Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars earned PFF’s 10th-highest rushing grade with rookie T.J. Yeldon at the helm of the ground attack. Yeldon logged 629 snaps and carried the ball 182 times, with a solid 4.1 yards-per-carry average. He was particularly effective rushing to the right-side B-gap and wider, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on those runs, which contributed to his seventh-best rushing grade at the position (82.3).
Behind Yeldon, Jacksonville didn’t fare quite as well; Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart saw the second- and third-most carries, with 67 and 20, respectively, earning rushing grades of 58.8 and 75.1 on these small sample sizes. The team responded by releasing Gerhart, whom they picked up in free agency two offseasons ago, and signed former Jets running back Chris Ivory to a five-year, $32 million deal.
Is that acquisition enough to give Jacksonville a top-five rushing offense in 2016? Based on previous production and talent, the Ivory-Yeldon duo figures to be close. Ivory has averaged 4.5 yards per carry over his career, and earned positive cumulative grades in every season since 2010 (+31.3 career rush grade; 0.0 is considered average), ranking in the top eight at the position in two of his three seasons with the Jets. He doesn’t offer much value in the passing game (71.6 receiving grade last season), but that’s not overly-important in the Jaguars’ offense. Plus, sharing time with Yeldon is probably ideal, given his previous durability issues—he’s logged more than 500 snaps just once in his career (2015).
It’s also worth considering the team’s run-blocking unit. Last season, the Jaguars’ offense collectively graded well-below-average (ranked 24th in the league). Tackles Jermey Parnell, Luke Joeckel, and Sam Young were the only non-wide receivers on the team with above average run-block grades, although none of the three were exceptional in that area.
Elsewhere on the line, the Jaguars saw Stefen Wisniewski and Zane Beadles sign elsewhere in free agency, but both graded negatively in the run-game last season. Otherwise, they added Kelvin Beachum and Mackenzy Bernadeau, both of whom project to start at this point.
Beachum hasn’t graded particularly well in run-blocking, with a cumulative grade of -3.1 there over four years, including -0.8 there in 329 snaps last season. However, there’s not a substantial difference from Joeckel, and at his best, Beachum is a massive upgrade in pass-protection (81.5 grade in that regard last season over six games). At guard, Bernadeau fared well in his last full season (2013), but he’s played just 171 snaps over the last two years with below-average results. Of the Jags’ returning lineman, A.J. Cann had a rough rookie campaign, but could improve with another offseason under his belt, while Brandon Linder graded positively run-blocking in 2014, although at guard.
Overall, there doesn’t appear to be a substantial difference in run-blocking, based on recent play. Blocking might matter less, however, after signing one of the league’s most-elusive backs from 2015, who can gain extra yards at the end of runs, where the Jaguars, as a team, ranked 24th last season (2.17 yards after contact per attempt). In comparison, Ivory averaged 2.61 yards after contact, and for his career, he’s at 2.9 with 183 broken tackles (47 forced missed tackles against the run last season, fourth-most in the league; fifth-best elusive rating).
Yeldon has also proven exceptional in this regard, with a ninth-ranked 34 forced missed tackles and an average of 2.32 yards gained after contact (seventh-best elusive rating in the NFL last season).
So barring injuries, the Jaguars should be in good position to potentially crack the league’s top-five rushing offenses next season.