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Monday, 11 May 2015

TJ Yeldon Becomes the Rookie To Watch in Jacksonville

Can we take a break from the news about Dante Fowler, Jr for a few minutes? While the Jacksonville Jaguars are still dealing with the shocking blow of their first round draft pick injuring his ACL in his left knee, the team can also focus on the fact there were other rookies at minicamp who showed promise.

One of those was TJ Yeldon, who to the delight of the crowds in attendance over the weekend, looked like a player who will gain considerable playing time in the Jaguars offense.

Is Yeldon finally the piece of the rushing puzzle this team has lacked since 2011 when Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 1,600 yards en route to a rushing title? Is he the best big back this team has had since Fred Taylor roamed the backfield? Jacksonville brass and the fans are hoping both accounts are true. Not only do they want Yeldon to be everything hoped of him as the 36th pick in the 2015 Draft, they need him to be a bell cow, a tough runner through the tackles. A stud amongst the rookies and a player teams must game plan for.

Accomplishing most of those goals will justify the selection, which some pundits think was a bit too soon. But the Jaguars had Yeldon ranked third on their board of running backs. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were gone. Dallas and other teams were licking their chops, hoping the Alabama star would be available later in the second round. The gamble, in David Caldwell’s eyes (the Jaguars general manager) was worth it.

At 6’1” and 226 pounds with size and speed, he is the much needed salve for a hurting ground game.

Mark Inabinett of wrote that, Alabama's Mr. Football for 2011 chuckled a little when asked if he was called on to block much at Daphne High School. But T.J. Yeldon told reporters on Thursday he thought the blocking skills he learned at Alabama had made him more attractive to the Jacksonville Jaguars and equipped him to be an every-down running back in the NFL.

"If you can't block, you weren't going to play (at Alabama), or catch the ball, you weren't going to play," Yeldon said. "It was kind of hard (to learn), but Eddie (Lacy) was there and also Jalston Fowler helped me out a lot, and I just picked it up really fast."

Yeldon ran for 3,322 yards and 37 touchdowns in three seasons for Alabama. Those stats alone would place him third all-time on the Jaguars rushing list. After 21 seasons in the NFL, the team’s lack of rushing leaders proves how important both Taylor and Jones-Drew were to the franchise, but it also shows how the team has needed more punch behind quarterback.

Yeldon said he had no idea where he was going to be drafted. The fact he was picked as early as he was meant he would be working hard to start his rookie season.

"I was very excited when I got picked, but I had no idea -- just people sending me stuff about the mock drafts, about me being not a top-five back. I wasn't really worried about it. I know what I could do, and I'm excited to be here."

Yeldon shared Alabama coach Nick Saban's parting advice: "When I got drafted, coach Saban gave me a call and congratulated me. He just told me to keep working hard, do what I always do."

The Jaguars need that advice to translate into a lead back who can finally give this team the attack they have lacked the past few seasons.


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