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Leonard Fournette can still turn around Jaguars career in 2019

The relationship between Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville Jaguars has been like a roller coaster for two years now -- you never know if it will climb to the top with majestic views or plummet at racing speed.

Since Fournette joined the team as the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, he has struggled to stay on the field, and his behavior of late has raised questions about his future with the team. He has missed nine games with injuries in two seasons, and he was also benched for a game last season for violating team rules and served a one-game suspension this season after being ejected from a Week 12 game against the Bills. The Associated Press reported the Jaguars later notified Fournette that the suspension voided the remaining guarantees in his four-year contract, and head coach Doug Marrone confirmed the team did indeed void those guarantees, though NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported it's not clear whether the Jaguars are even allowed to void guarantees in Fournette's contract, and that Fournette and the NFL Players Association will file a grievance if the Jaguars void the remaining guarantees in his deal.

However, Fournette and Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations, then met to clear the air, and it sounds like this rocky relationship could be headed in the right direction. If Fournette and Coughlin did in fact patch things up, the situation is salvageable for the foreseeable future. But there are still things both sides need to deliver for this to really click in 2019.

Fournette is a tremendous player when healthy, first and foremost. Since coming into the league, Fournette has faced eight-man boxes 44.9 percent of the time, more than any other running back with 300-plus carries in that span, according to Next Gen Stats. And yet, he managed to post the sixth highest per-game rushing average (70.4 yards) of anyone in that group. The fact that Fournette has produced under these circumstances -- especially in his rookie season (1,040 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns) -- tells me that he is a coverage dictator. He makes life easier for the rest of the offense, because he draws an extra defender into the box.

Unfortunately, the Jaguars haven't been able to capitalize on these opportunities, due largely to the lack of talent around Fournette. An Adrian Peterson-type back, Fournette has great burst and can hit an opening as well as anyone in the league. However, he isn't a creator like Buffalo's LeSean McCoy or the Rams' Todd Gurley, so Fournette really depends more on the players around him -- specifically the offensive line, tight end and quarterback -- to carry their weight. Adding more talent at these positions will allow Fournette to get back to his rookie form.

Fournette must also do his part to turn this thing around. He can start with improving as a professional. His issues with showing up late and missing treatment as a rookie have been documented (we all know Coughlin is a stickler when it comes to punctuality) and we can't have any repeats of the incident that drew Coughlin's ire after Week 17.

As talented as Fournette is, he can make his life a lot easier by fully dedicating himself to his craft in the coming months. He said in December that he could have been "in better shape" entering the season. Given his history with injuries, he must put his best foot forward this offseason to heal his body and come into training camp in great shape in order to reach his peak performance. Jacksonville is turning to John DeFilippo to fill the offensive coordinator position, and it remains to be seen how Fournette will be deployed by DeFilippo, who was fired by Minnesota in December after apparently not running the ball as much as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would have liked.

Fournette's third season will be his most important thus far, and he only needs to look around the league at his fellow young backs to see why. Gurley and Cardinals RB David Johnson were rewarded with long-term deals after their third seasons. We could see the same thing for Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott this offseason. His body of work speaks for itself -- Zeke has led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his three NFL seasons -- and he's likely to see the results of that in his bank account sooner rather than later.

Fournette has to give 2019 everything he has. It will determine whether he'll be the Jags' long-term starting RB or a player looking for a new home in a year or two.

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