FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A year ago, Ezekiel Elliott was picked fourth overall by the Dallas Cowboys and won a rushing title in his rookie season. Standing in the middle of the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night, I asked Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft who had just completed his first preseason game, if he could do what Elliott had done during his rookie season.
"Yeah. I think so," Fournette said very matter-of-factly, without the slightest smile, following the Jags' 31-24 win.
Keep in mind Elliott's 1,631 yards were the third-most for a rookie running back in NFL history.
"I believe in him," Jaguars second-year linebacker Myles Jack told me. "I think he has that type of talent. I think he's capable of that. He comes in, he works hard every day. Takes care of himself. He's a hard worker, so I think he's capable -- and if his mind is set on that, I wouldn't bet against him."
Now, Elliott was running behind the best offensive line in football last year, and how Jacksonville plays up front will have a lot to do with how successful Fournette's season will be from a numbers standpoint. And the men up front are aware.
"If we go out there and get our job done and there is a guy in the backfield with that type of talent that can turn regular plays into huge plays, it's always fun to have a talented back like that behind you," said rookie left tackle Cam Robinson, who's known Fournette since before they were squaring off against one another during their college days in the SEC (Robinson attended Alabama, Fournette LSU).
When he entered the game on Jacksonville's second series, Fournette had his number called four straight times. Four yards, 5 yards and then no gain on third-and-1. Jacksonville went for it on fourth-and-1, and again it was Fournette. The 228-pound back went up the middle for 8 yards and a first down.
"I'm a confident guy and I try to give my offensive line confidence, too," Fournette said. "You have to feel like you can't be stopped."
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was excited because he had never seen Fournette from the sidelines in a live game before.
"I think you can see he is a powerful kid, powerful running back and I just wanted to make sure about ball security," Marrone said after the game. "Things like you don't see when you are at this level, you want to see -- obviously it is a physical game, and you want to see how he reacts to it, and he had no issue with that at all."
No issue at all in the eyes of his head coach. But Fournette, who finished with 31 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, was more to the point when I asked him about the ever-present belief that it takes rookies time to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
"It's a lot slower than I really thought," Fournette told me. "That's how I've been since I first got into the NFL. A lot of people were like, 'It's going to be fast.' But by me playing in the SEC, that kind of helped me a lot. I think, to me, it was really easy."
There are high expectations -- many are predicting Fournette to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. And perhaps an even larger amount of pressure because of the Jaguars' struggles over the last several seasons. But you can feel when talking to the rookie back that he has a way of handling pressure that few people possess.
"I've had pressure my whole life," Fournette, a five-star recruit out of high school, told me. "I'm built for it. No matter what the circumstances, I've never let the game get bigger than me and I've always stayed humble. That's No. 1."