In its few years of life, Roc Nation Sports has managed to become a distinguished name in the world of sports –already boasting a deep roster of talent. Founded in spring 2013, the agency has seen a meteoric rise and is now a major cog in Jay z’s business portfolio with immeasurable potential. With big names sprawling across all sports like Kevin Durant, Dez Bryant, Miguel Cotto, and CC Sabathia; Roc Nation Sports has solidified its place in the market in less than five years. The agency is not only a place where renowned stars want to house and build their brand, it is becoming an ideal landing spot for tomorrow’s legends who want to be multifaceted like the company’s founder. Sure, Roc Nation Sports has the allure of Jay Z (no pun intended) but the agency actually has its finger on the pulse of sports and has been signing young athletes who are turning into superstars, the latest case study being Penn State’s Saquon Barkley –but that’s another discussion.
With the NFL Playoffs kicking off this weekend, I wanted to highlight key players under Roc Nation Sports who can have game changing impacts. These athletes are young and all hitting their peak right in time for playoffs. Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, and Juju Smith-Schuster have been big contributors to their teams all season long, and are a big reason their organizations are in the position they are in –with a viable chance at winning a Super Bowl title. Each of these three athletes possess different intangibles that can come into play during their playoff push.
After a slight skid in his sophomore season, Todd Gurley has put together a MVP-caliber season amassing over 1,300 yards rushing and 13 rushing touchdowns. As dangerous a rusher Gurley was this season, what made him a nightmare for defenses was his pass catching ability. Gurley added almost 800 yards receiving and 6 touchdown receptions to go with his ground-and-pound attack.
The Rams will host the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round and Gurley is sure to be the main weapon of choice against a respectable top 10 Falcons defense in the game of the week. Coach Sean McVay is an exceptional play-caller and will have to use all his offensive toys to keep the game unpredictable. Where most teams have to change personnel to execute certain schemes, the Rams can keep Todd Gurley in all game as a true every-down back who can catch and/or run. The rams will be smart to run the ball and control the clock keeping that explosive Falcons offense on the sideline. This will open up play action calls that can turn into big plays, and that makes Todd Gurley impactful even when he’s not touching the ball. I also anticipate some screen passes to Gurley against a defense with some of the leagues most feared pass rushers.
The rookie USC product has been one of the league’s most fun players to watch this year due to his creativity athletically with the ball and theatrically after he’s scored it. JuJu’s 8 touchdowns have seemingly all been highlight reel scores followed by memorable celebrations as the once deemed “No Fun League” lightens its policy on showmanship and playfulness. Being the youngest player in the NFL, the 20year old Pittsburgh Steeler is an explosive complimentary player to Antonio Brown, who is arguably the league’s best Wide Receiver. The breakout rookie has recorded 58 catches, 917 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns –including a 97 yard score and a 96 yard kick-return touchdown.
We’ve grown used to the notion that the Steelers’ lethal offense is attributed to their Big 3: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown –but due to the recent calf injury to Antonio Brown, JuJu will have to continue his spectacular play and even enhance it. The Steelers are on a bye week this week but a potential matchup with the stubborn Jacksonville Jaguars seems inevitable. Many would agree the Jaguars had this year’s best defense and much of that can be accredited to their defensive backs. The tandem of Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye pretty much left offensive coordinators scrambling for answers all season. In their first encounter this season, the Jags forced Big Ben to throw an uncharacteristic 5 interceptions (2 of them returned for touchdowns.) But this was in week 5, very early into the rookie’s professional career. This time around I feel the Steelers will be less predictable and spread the ball. The Jags will have to account for JuJu’s arrival as well as remembering to contain Antonio Brown. Juju lines up all over the field and has even taken snaps from the backfield. I anticipate the Steelers moving him all around the field where he will draw 1-on-1 matchups and change zone coverage assignments, creating opportunities for big plays. JuJu’s catches this season have mainly been across the middle on drags and crossing routes where he’s out running linebackers in zone – to open up deep throws down the sideline to AB; JuJu will have to do more of this. Another aspect of JuJu’s game that should not be overlooked is his ability and willingness to run block. The Jags are the 1st ranked pass defense and 2nd overall defense, but they are ranked 21st in run defense. The Steelers will run the ball a ton and JuJu’s ability to hold blocks down field can spring Bell for long runs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted a prototypical running back with the #4 pick in the draft being Leonard Fournette. This man-child is over 6ft tall, weights 240lbs, and runs a 4.5 40 yard dash. Fournette is equipped with a rare blend of size, speed, and power. He is probably the closest thing we’ve seen to Bo Jackson at running back as far as archetype. Fournette recorded 1,040 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns this season. He missed some games this year battling injuries as he did in college, but when the kid is healthy he is a force to be reckoned with.
For the Jags to hope for a deep playoff push they have to rely on their rookie. To not only make plays but to control the clock. Blake Bortles is not the most trustworthy Quarterback playing in the postseason but Fournette’s 3.9 yards per carry average can keep Bortles in comfortable 3rd down situations. The gameplan for the Jags to be successful is to run the ball and play defense. Play field position. Let the defense create turnovers and give the offense the ball in good field position. Leonard Fournette is a bruiser and can wear down any defense. This can slow down the defense and buy Bortles a little more time. Jacksonville has the best matchup this weekend against the Bills, especially with LeSean McCoy being hurt. The Jags will want to lean on the run game and let the defense do what it does.