Jaguars counting on Leonard Fournette to start, boost struggling run game

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars could have as many as nine new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:


Quarterback (Blake Bortles): Cutting down on turnovers (NFL-high 63 since he joined the league in 2014), being a more accurate passer (58.8 career completion percentage) and having better pocket awareness are things Bortles must improve upon to show the Jaguars he can be the long-term starter at the position.

Running back (Leonard Fournette): The expectations aren’t for him to have the same kind of season that Ezekiel Elliott did for the Cowboys last season (1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns), but rather to rejuvenate a run game that has been among the NFL’s worst since Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (92.1 yards per game from 2012 to 2016).

Fullback (Tommy Bohanon): The Jaguars are bringing the position back after a two-year hiatus. Bohanon played in 36 games with the New York Jets from 2013 to 2015 and gets the nod over rookie Marquez Williams.

Tight end (Marcedes Lewis): He’s entering his 12th season with the Jaguars and at this point in his career is mainly a blocker. He has 351 career catches but just 36 in the past two seasons.

Left tackle (Branden Albert): He missed all of organized team activities because he wanted a new contract, but he reported for minicamp in the spring and said he’s not going to hold out during training camp. The two-time Pro Bowler turns 33 in November but remains the team’s best option at left tackle.

Left guard (Cam Robinson): The 34th overall pick likely spends his rookie season here before moving outside to left tackle in 2018.

Center (Brandon Linder): He said he spent his offseason watching tape of some of the league’s best centers, particularly Atlanta’s Alex Mack and Oakland’s Rodney Hudson, to help him in his second season as the Jaguars’ starting center.

Right guard (A.J. Cann): He played better as a rookie in 2015 than he did last season and has little margin for error now because the Jaguars like Patrick Omameh -- who played solidly at left guard last season -- and won’t hesitate to make the switch.

Right tackle (Jermey Parnell): He was bothered by a groin injury for much of last season but played better toward the end of 2016. If he struggles it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Robinson get reps here.

Wide receiver (Allen Robinson): His per-catch average dropped more than 5 yards in 2016 (to 12.1 from 17.5), though he caught only seven fewer passes. Robinson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a big season gets him a big payday.

Wide receiver (Marqise Lee): He was finally healthy in 2016 and responded with the best season of his career (63 catches for 851 yards and three touchdowns and added a kickoff return for a score). He’s also in the final year of his rookie contract and needs to prove he can stay healthy and make big plays if he's to earn an extension.


Defensive end (Yannick Ngakoue): His 8.0 sacks last season broke Tony Brackens' single-season franchise rookie record. Defensive-line coach Marion Hobby loves Ngakoue’s drive and the fact that he’s not satisfied with anything he’s done.

Defensive tackle (Malik Jackson): He set a career high with 6.5 sacks last season and was the Jaguars’ best defensive player. He should be even more productive as an interior pass-rusher with Calais Campbell next to him.

Nose tackle (Abry Jones): He takes over as the starter for Roy Miller after signing a four-year, $16 million contract extension in February.

Defensive end (Calais Campbell): The Jaguars guaranteed him $30 million and need him to beef up the pass rush and improve the leadership in the locker room. Coach Doug Marrone says Campbell has already done the latter. The 30-year-old has 56.5 career sacks and has had at least five in each of the past eight seasons.

Weakside linebacker (Telvin Smith): He’s another player who's entering the final season of his rookie contract. Smith has made the second-most tackles in the NFL (309) since he became a starter in Week 12 in 2014.

Middle linebacker (Myles Jack): The Jaguars gave him the starting job here and moved Paul Posluszny, who's played his entire 10-year career at middle linebacker, outside to strongside linebacker. Jack’s strengths are his athleticism and speed, but, entering his second NFL season, he’s got a long way to go before he’s comfortable with all the checks and adjustments.

Strongside linebacker (Paul Posluszny): He clearly was not happy about the move outside and said it’s taking a while for him to adjust to what he’s seeing. He has different keys and a different sightline, which he aims to spend a lot of time with in film study so he can get recognize what’s happening more quickly.

Cornerback (Jalen Ramsey): He might be limited in the early part of training camp because he’s recovering from surgery to repair a core-muscle injury, but he’s on pace to become one of the league’s best cornerbacks.

Strong safety (Barry Church): He missed all of OTAs and minicamp but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. The Jaguars believe he’s a coverage upgrade over Johnathan Cyprien.

Free safety (Tashaun Gipson): He also missed all of OTAs and minicamp. His first season in Jacksonville was a disappointment, but defensive coordinator Todd Wash says more flexibility in the secondary means Gipson will have more opportunities to make plays in 2017.

Cornerback (A.J. Bouye): He got $26 million guaranteed as a free agent after a breakout season in Houston and pairs with Ramsey to give the Jaguars the top cornerback duo in the NFL (according to former Pittsburgh cornerback and current NFL Media analyst Ike Taylor, anyway).

Special teams

Kicker (Jason Myers): His field goal percentage of 82.8 in his two seasons ranks first in franchise history (minimum 25 attempts). He cut his missed PATs from seven in 2015 to three in 2016.

Punter (Brad Nortman): He ranked eighth in the NFL in punting (46.6 yards per punt) in his first season with the Jaguars.

Kick returner (Marqise Lee): His 30.3 yards per return would have ranked second in the NFL had he had enough returns to qualify. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Houston in Week 15 was the team’s first since Jones-Drew on Nov. 4, 2007.

Punt returner (Rashad Greene): He averaged just 6.2 yards per return and muffed three punts last season.