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With Fournette out, four candidates to step in as Jaguars' lead running back

A veteran, two second-year players, and a pair of undrafted free agent rookies. Who will ascend for Jacksonville?

The short answer to the above question is easy:

It's going to be someone with little to no experience that is charged with filling the void left by Leonard Fournette's stunning release.

There are now five running backs on the Jaguars 80-man roster (plus a fullback in Bruce Miller -- who hasn't played a down in the NFL since 2016). Chris Thompson is the only running back with more than one year of NFL service time. Sure, he has nearly 1,200 rushing yards in his seven-year career, but the former Washington Redskin wasn't brought in to be a three-down back. He was brought in as the scat back the Jaguars sorely missed last season -- as well as a veteran who knows Jay Gruden's offense as well as anyone. Thompson won't be seeing 70-percent of the offensive snaps in 2020 like Fournette did in 2019.

Will anyone?

Doug Marrone said Monday that "committee is a word that gets used a lot."

Here's what the Jaguars running back committee looks like right now, by their career numbers.

Thompson: 66 Games. 1,194 Rush Yds. 1,172 Rec Yds. 15 TD.

Ryquell Armstead: 16 Games. 108 Rush Yds. 144 Rec Yds. 2 TD.

Devine Ozigbo: 10 Games. 27 Rush Yds. 23 Rec Yds. 0 TD.

Nathan Cottrell: N/A (UDFA, Rookie)

James Robinson: N/A (UDFA, Rookie)

And here's what they'll be replacing, solely via Fournette's release:

Fournette: 36 Games. 2,631 Rush Yds. 1,009 Rec Yds. 19 TD.

I'll save you the math: Fournette has more than 1,300 career rushing yards and two touchdowns on that entire running back room. He's only played three seasons (really two-and-a-half). Is there any way this group of five (har, har) can replace -- let alone exceed -- Fournette's 2019 production?

Again, Thompson is not going to be the preferred choice between the tackles. The Jaguars need a bruiser like Fournette. 

Here are their options.

Ryquell Armstead (2nd Year, 2019 5th Round Pick)

Exceedingly popular inside the Jaguars' building, the 5'11'', 220 lb has the size and the most experience of the four. Jacksonville's selection of Armstead initially surprised many who thought the Jaguars would target a receiving back to compliment Fournette in the 2019 NFL Draft. Armstead caught just 29 passes in his four-year college career at Temple.

He did rush for 2,812 yards, though, and 34 touchdowns -- including 13 his senior year. Heaven knows the Jaguars -- who had a league worst three rushing touchdowns in 2019 -- could use some of that. 

With Fournette playing more than 70-percent of the offensive snaps in 2019, the Jaguars struggled to carve out a role for Armstead. Of his 35 carries, 10 came in the season finale in which Fournette did not play. Ironically, both his two career NFL touchdowns were receiving touchdowns. 

Moral of the story: we still really don't know that much about Armstead. That's only been amplified in training camp, as he began the summer on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and has now been hampered by soft tissue injuries and a non-COVID illness.

Devine Ozigbo (2nd Year, Claimed off waivers from Saints)

Arguably the star of the Saints 2019 preseason, the Jaguars were not the only team to put in a claim for the former Nebraska stand-out last August (the Browns and Lions also reportedly did). The Saints were hoping he'd fly under the radar and revert to their practice squad. But alas, he ended up in a Jaguars 2019 running backs room where he played third fiddle, and his pass catching ability (23 receptions, 203 yards his senior year) went almost entirely ignored. 

Ozigbo fits the style of offense the Jags are hoping to play under Jay Gruden: more east-to-west and intermediate passing. He's been the second or third running back in every drill at practice (prior to Fournette's release), so it's clear the team values his skill-set. 

Moreso than Thompson, the 6'0'', 225 lb Ozigbo can also move between the tackles. He topped 1,000 yards at Nebraska his senior year, and averaged more than four yards a carry after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, Ozigbo converted 42 of his 93 rushing attempts inside for a first down or a touchdown, a success rate of 45 percent. All while playing for a Nebraska team that began the year 0-6 in Scott Frost's first season back in Lincoln. 

Ozigbo also proved his worth on special teams during his brief stint in New Orleans. By the looks of the Jaguars running back room, though, it probably is best if they save Ozigbo's fresh legs for snaps on offense. 

Nathan Cottrell (Rookie, UDFA)

Thompson called Cottrell "the fastest running back in the Jaguars room." The former Georgia Tech stand-out has showcased just that both in the backfield, in the receiving game, and on special teams throughout Camp. Much like his former-turned-current teammate (and Jaguars' sixth round pick) Tyler Davis, Cottrell benefited greatly from Georgia Tech sneaking its Pro Day in just before the coronavirus pandemic began: he ran a blazing fast 4.38, 40-yard dash and broad jumped 10'6''. He was recorded at a 4.33, 40-yard dash entering college, too.

At 5'11'', 193 lb, Cottrell is the smallest of the four backs, and having spent the bulk of his college career as a reserve slot back in Paul Johnson's triple option, Cottrell wasn't running between the tackles all that much. But he does, as Doug Marrone hinted at Monday, provide a "different look."

Cottrell has the most special teams experience of the four (he primarily played special teams for Geoff Collins his senior year), which will help his case come Cut Day on Saturday. If the Jaguars do cut him, expect them to place Cottrell on their practice squad... that is if he doesn't go the same way as Ozigbo did for the Saints one year ago. 

James Robinson (Rookie, UDFA)

In this sports reporter's opinion, this is the back most likely to benefit from Fournette's release. Do not let the 5'9'', 219 lb measurable fool you: this guy is a bulldozer. If the highlight reel doesn't impress because it's against "FCS competition," peep Robinson pancaking fourth-round draftee Shaq Quarterman out of the University of Miami.

Robinson is the all-time leading prep rusher in Illinois history (9,045 yards and 158 rushing touchdowns). He is Illinois State's second all-time leading rusher (4,444 yards and 44 rushing touchdowns). That included 1,899 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year, on a Redbirds team that went 10-5 and fell to powerhouse North Dakota State in the FCS Playoffs.... by a score of 9-3. Yeah. Robinson still had 94 rushing yards in the game. He had seven 100+ rushing yards in 2019. 

Leonard Fournette topped 100 yards three times in 2019. 

Here's where things get interesting: Robinson caught 16 passes his senior year. He had 21 the year prior. He's shown in training camp that he can be a pass catcher out of the backfield -- seemingly a must in Jay Gruden's offense. But if the Jaguars are truly going to be "running back by committee" in 2020... do they really need Robinson to catch more than that? They need him to be their bruiser of the bunch, first and foremost. 

For what it's worth: Maxpreps literally called Robinson "the next Leonard Fournette" back in 2015. Take with this information what you will.