With the season rapidly coming off the rails for the Jets, it is time to start looking to the future. If the season ended today, the Jets would own the 5th pick in the draft. The current mid-season mock drafts have the Jets using that pick on either Leonard Fournette or Jabrill Peppers. Our Joe Malfa explores which player would be the better option for the Jets:
People were calling for LSU’s star running back to take this season off in order to avoid injury, which shows just how pro-ready Fournette may be. He is the closest thing to Adrian Peterson since … Adrian Peterson. Fournette’s combination of size and speed is rare, which allows him to beat defenses in more ways than one. His 6-foot-1, 236-pound frame allows him to run through tackles and deliver hits as opposed to receiving them, while his speed allows him to blow by defenders.
We have seen a bit of a “Running Back Renaissance” over the last couple of seasons between Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. Fournette is arguably the best of the bunch talent-wise, and it may not even be close. He has carried the ball 604 times for 3,790 yards and 40 TDs in his three seasons at LSU, averaging 6.27 yards per carry over that span. What is even more impressive, however, is the fact that LSU has not had a competent QB over this span, meaning he is doing this against eight or nine man fronts every game.
The only place where Fournette needs to improve is on 3rd down as both a pass blocker and a receiver. He is not a very polished pass blocker and sometimes looks uncomfortable catching passes and running routes, but these issues can be easily fixed. He has the natural talent and abilities to patch these holes and emerge as an effective 3rd down threat.
In a single game this season, Peppers has played 10 different positions for the Wolverines: linebacker, safety, nickel cornerback, running back, wide receiver, quarterback, punt returner, kick returner, field goal block, and as a wing blocker on a field goal. The man does it all and he does it all well, but his calling card will be his ability to play the “Money Backer” role that is becoming more and more popular throughout the league. He has tremendous closing speed, a knack for flying around the edge to get to the quarterback, and is explosive with the ball in his hands.
Peppers is capable of stepping up to the line to cover a tight end or slot receiver, but coverage is the one area of his game that needs improvement. There are times when he struggles with quicker, shiftier receivers who run good routes. He finds himself flat-footed and breaks a bit too late, which allows the opposing targets to get free for receptions. The other knock on Peppers is the fact that he is not a ball hawk a la Tyrann Mathieu, but his instincts and ability to force turnovers will improve as he gains more experience.
Peppers has to potential to be an elite defender who is also among the most explosive return men in the league.
Which Way Should the Jets Go?
There are still six more games to be played so a lot can change, but the Jets currently hold the 5th pick in the draft. Even if they do not stay at number five, it is looking like a safe bet to say they will end up somewhere between four and eight. In this portion of the draft, they will have a shot at both of these guys, but which way should they go if both are on the board?
Disclaimer: I personally believe the Jets should go with one of the top offensive linemen. The offensive line is arguably the team’s biggest weakness, and it is time to build it through the draft. Ever since the ’06 draft yielded both D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, the Jets have only once used a pick in the first two rounds on an offensive lineman (Vladimir Ducasse in 2010).
However, the purpose of this article was to address the choice between Fournette and Peppers since current mock drafts have the Jets selecting one of these two players. With that being said, the Jets should draft Leonard Fournette.
Gang Green has desperately needed an infusion of youth and speed at the linebacker position, but Darron Lee already brings that to the table. Granted, it would not hurt to have another player in that mold who is actually faster, more versatile, and better in coverage, but it is time to start building the offense. The last time the Jets used a first round pick on an offensive player was Mark Sanchez in 2009.
There are many people skeptical of drafting running backs early since they are a dime a dozen and their success hinges upon the play of the offensive line, but Fournette is not your average running back. Fournette can be to the Jets what Gurley is to the Rams and what Elliott is to the Cowboys. He would be the face of the franchise and provide the Jets’ offense with both stability and an identity.
At the end of the day, Fournette and Peppers both appear to be “can’t miss” prospects. The Jets would be lucky to draft either, but Fournette would be the better option.