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Can TJ Yeldon take his game to a new level in 2017?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Jacksonville Jaguars had a winning season was in 2007. Back then, Maurice Jones-Drew was the feature back, and he helped his team to a 11-5  record that season. To add on, we also all remember the legendary 1999 Jaguars squad that finished 14-2 with former NFL running back Fred Taylor in the backfield.

Since 2007, Jacksonville’s had nine losing seasons — including an embarrassing 3-13 finish a year ago. Despite the defense showing improvement — ranked sixth in overall defense in 2016 — the Jaguars offense has been anemic. Third-year running back T.J. Yeldon wants to change all of that, but he must prove his status as a leader first and foremost. Although Yeldon will return to the team next season, he’s being put on notice with the addition of former LSU All-American running back Leonard Fournette — who was selected No. 4 overall during the 2017 NFL Draft back in late April.

Prior to being taken in the second-round of the 2014 draft, Yeldon was a quiet storm at the University of Alabama. Regardless of having few words, the 6-foot-1, 223-pounder recorded 3,322 rushing yards, 494 receiving yards and 39 total touchdowns (37 of which were rushing) under head coach Nick Saban from 2012-14. Before Alabama, Yeldon was a 5-star prospect and marquee name at Daphne High School — where he earned the status of “Mr. Football” in 2012.

In most cases, young running backs that are drafted high usually come in and find early success in the NFL. Whether it’s an offensive line issue or a fullback isn’t capable to block to pave the way, the half-back still finds a way to make magic out of nothing. Just take a look at Ezekiel Elliot, Melvin Gordon and David Johnson. These guys came in and made the most out of their situation while finding some success — even if they played poorly their first year.

In regards to Yeldon, let’s not forget that the Jaguars have some major red flags along the offensive line — which has been and continues to be a huge concern.

Per Black and Teal, the offensive line has struggled so much that Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked 140 times over the past three seasons — leading the league as the most sacked quarterback during his first two seasons under center. In total, it has cost the Jaguars 860 yards in production. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars currently have the 22nd ranked offensive line in the NFL.

With the Jaguars selecting former Alabama left tackle/Outland Trophy winner Cam Robinson in the second-round of 2017 NFL Draft, the ground game should be much improved this upcoming season.

One should also expect Yeldon’s performance on the gridiron to take the next step this year with future hall of fame coach Tom Coughlin as the executive vice president of football operations. Coughlin has an understanding of the Jaguars issues — considering he coached the Jaguars from 1995-2002. His ’99 Jaguars rank as one of the best NFL football teams of all-time.

This will be a do-or-die year for Yeldon, and he knows that with Fournette being added to the same backfield. Don’t be surprised to see Yeldon rush for over 800 yards and 8 touchdowns this coming NFL season — with Coughlin looking to do a 1-2 Thunder and Lightning punch with Fournette and Yeldon.


Michael Cannady is a contributor for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at: @mike_can21






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