The Jaguars won just 2 games last season. Usually teams who are that bad bounce back at least somewhat the following season. It’s really hard to be that bad for that long. Going along with that, the Jaguars also have a pre-season over/win total of 5.5 wins and teams with an over/under win total of 6 or fewer usually see the over hit about 2/3rds of the time, largely due to the aforementioned reason.
However, it wouldn’t really surprise me to see the Jaguars once again be one of, if not the worst team in the NFL again. There is nothing to suggest they were much better than their record suggested last season. They had the 2nd worst Pythagorean Expectation in the NFL at 3.4 wins, thanks to a -189 point differential that was 2nd worst in the NFL. They faced a pretty easy schedule and ranked a close worst 2nd to Kansas City in DVOA.
They didn’t get destroyed in turnovers, losing the turnover battle by only 3 and actually had a 59.5% fumble recovery rate that is more luck than anything. They got outgained by 1300 yards, worst in the NFL. They did lose the 2nd most adjusted games to injuries out of all teams, but aside from Maurice Jones-Drew and solid safety Dwight Lowery, they weren’t really missing guys who would have made much of a difference had they been healthy.
Unlike teams who usually win so few games, they did nothing to address the quarterback position this off-season and while they had the 2nd pick in the draft, it was in an unusually weak draft in terms of top level talent. #2 overall pick Luke Joeckel will slot in at right tackle for them this season and I don’t know how much better that makes them. On top of that, they lost 3 starters in the secondary and will be filling them with rookies and journeyman. On paper, there might not be a less talented team in the NFL this season. The 5 wins they had 2 years ago in 2011 seems like a realistic ceiling right now.
As I mentioned, the Jaguars didn’t bring in a quarterback at all this off-season, opting to let Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert battle it out for another season. In the long run, that might not be such a bad move. It’s very possible that no quarterback in the 2013 draft turns out to be a functional long term starter and not drafting one allows them to go after a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater early in 2014, a much better quarterback class, if the opportunity presents itself. Plus, with Gabbert and Henne, it’s very, very possible that they’ll be picking early enough for the opportunity to present itself.
It’s unclear if this was new GM Dave Caldwell’s plan, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. According to reports, Caldwell plans to spend much of the year scouting top quarterback prospects, including Bridgewater and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. They were also reportedly thrilled that the Jets and Bills took quarterbacks early in 2013, because it eliminated two competitors for top quarterbacks in 2014. It’s also very possible that he wanted to see one more time what Blaine Gabbert has since he is just 2 years removed from being a 1st round pick, but he was a misguided 1st round pick in the first place. They never should have drafted him there. That was clear from the day they drafted him. He was a media hype kid and nothing else.
Gabbert might not even get another opportunity to see the field if the coaching staff and front office see everything in the pre-season and Training Camp that they need to see from him to know he’s not a viable solution. Chad Henne could very well win this starting job, which would be bad news for Jaguars fans. You know what you have in Chad Henne. He’s probably the better of the two, but only by enough to possibly help them win too many games to play themselves out of a top-5 pick and nothing more. They might as well sink or swim with Gabbert.
In two years in the league, Gabbert has completed just 53.8% of his passes for an average of 5.6 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Henne, meanwhile, has completed 59.1% of his passes for an average of 6.7 YPA, 42 touchdowns, and 48 interceptions in 5 seasons with the Dolphins and Jaguars since going in the 2nd round in 2008. The Jaguars moved the ball better when he was in the lineup last year, but he was also wildly inconsistent, as he always has been, and very turnover prone.
The Jaguars drafted Luke Joeckel with the 2nd overall pick, largely to give themselves the best situation in which to evaluate Gabbert. Joeckel was a collegiate left tackle, but he’ll make the transition to the right side this season and once he gets it down, he should find it an easier position to play because you’re generally not facing your opponent’s best pass rusher. It’s tough to project above average play from rookies, but the Jaguars should get that from Joeckel this season.
He’ll certainly be an upgrade over the Guy Whimper/Cameron Bradfield duo that has been playing there over the past 2 seasons. Whimper was ProFootballFocus’ 54th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2011 (allowing 14 sacks in the process) and then he ranked 74th out of 80 eligible in 2012, despite playing just 392 snaps. He’s now in Pittsburgh, thankfully for Jacksonville’s sake. Bradfield played most of last season at right tackle after impressing in very limited action in 2011, but the 2011 undrafted free agent graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 56th ranked offensive tackle out of 80 eligible. He’ll serve more of a swing tackle role this season, which is much better suited to his skill set.
The reason the Jaguars will be playing Joeckel at right tackle is because they actually already have one of the better left tackles in the NFL in Eugene Monroe. Monroe is by far the Jaguars’ best player and he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 15th ranked offensive tackle last season and 6th ranked in 2011. The 2009 1st round pick doesn’t get a lot of recognition because he plays in Jacksonville and poor quarterback play makes him look worse than he is. The 14 sacks he’s allowed in the last 2 seasons have more to do with quarterbacks holding the ball too long and displaying poor pocket presence than anything.
He’s going into a contract year this off-season and even after drafting Joeckel, the Jaguars should do everything possible to lock him up, even if they have to franchise tag him. It doesn’t make any sense to do Joeckel just to let Monroe go. That’s a completely horizontal move and, plus, NFL teams can come at the quarterback from both sides more than they ever have been able to before so having two good tackles is an asset.
Unfortunately, things aren’t as good on the interior of their offensive line. Right guard Uche Nwanari is consistently an average to above average and dependable guard, though overpaid on a weird 5 year, 24 million dollar extension signed before the 2010 season. The concern here is that he’s coming off two knee operations and had to have stem cell treatment on the knee this off-season. It seems fine now, but that’s never what you want to hear. Still, he’s by far their best interior offensive lineman.
At center, Brad Meester has been a solid and dependable center throughout his career, all with the Jaguars, but he’s heading into his age 36 season, which will be his 14th with the Jaguars. He looked pretty done last season, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst ranked center and he considered retirement this off-season. He’s back for one more year, but it’ll probably be his last in the NFL and I don’t expect him to really play much better.
At left guard, things are even worse as the Jaguars used 3 players there last season, Mike Brewster, Eben Britton, and Austin Pasztor, two of whom (Brewster and Pasztor) were undrafted rookies. Brewster certainly played like one, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst ranked guard despite playing just 556 snaps. Britton might have been even worse. Playing just 273 snaps, he wasn’t eligible for the rankings, but if he had been, he would have ranked 5th worst at the position, despite such limited playing time. Pasztor started the final 3 games of the season and played alright, but it’s tough to count on him going forward.
Will Rackley will return to at least get the first crack at what was once his starting job. However, the 2011 3rd round pick struggled mightily as a rookie in 2011, grading out as by far the worst player at his position. He could be better now that he’s not a rookie, but he’s also coming off an ankle injury that cost him the entirety of his 2012 season, so it’s very hard to count on anything other than poor play from him. He’ll face a little bit of competition from Pasztor and Brewster, but it looks like it’s definitely his job to lose. Brewster may slot in as the 2nd string center, moving back to his collegiate position. Things are a mess on the inside of the line, which will hold them down, as good as their tackles are.
The Jaguars’ poor interior offensive line play will not help Maurice Jones-Drew out much. MJD returns from an injury plagued season in which he played just 6 games and saw just 86 carries before going down with a foot injury. It’s possible he could bounce back this season, but he is going into his age 28 season and after all the work he had from 2009-2011 (1084 touches), it’s possible he’ll never be the same back again. He’s still suffering through lingering effects of that injury.
It’s very important that MJD stay healthy because, once again, they don’t really have a backup plan. The Jaguars tried Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, Jalen Parmele, Richard Murphy, and Keith Totson in MJD’s absence last year and none of them did well. A few of them even got hurt themselves. The Jaguars managed just 3.8 yards per carry last season, 24th in the NFL. If you take out MJD’s production, they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. It was so bad that Jones-Drew actually still led the team in rushing in just 6 games on 86 carries.
None of those guys return, but neither Jordan Todman nor Justin Forsett seems well equipped to handle being the lead back if Jones-Drew goes down again. They also added Denard Robinson in the 5th round of the draft, but the former quarterback is much too small to carry the load at running back. At best, the player they’re describing as an “offensive weapon” will see a few touches per game as a running back/wide receiver hybrid and he probably won’t make much of an impact, regardless of MJD’s injury status. Back to Jones-Drew, he’s in a contract year and could be in his final season with the team. The Jaguars look smart for not giving him the money he asked for last off-season, heading into the tail end of his career.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
At wide receiver, the Jaguars do have a possible budding star in Cecil Shorts. When your quarterbacks are Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, it’s tough to put up big time numbers as a receiver, but 2nd year receiver Cecil Shorts did a good job of that in 2012 as the 2011 4th round pick caught 55 passes for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns. He caught his 55 passes on 101 targets, which is a low catch rate of 54.5% and he did drop 9 passes, but he was a big time big play receiver, averaging 17.8 yards per attempt and quarterbacks threw 7 touchdowns to 4 interceptions when throwing to him.
That’s good for a 94.5 QB rating when thrown to, 15th in the NFL among eligible wide receivers, which is absurd considering his quarterbacks were Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, who combined for a 74.7 QB rating on the season. How did he manage that? Well, he ranked 10th among eligible wide receivers averaging 6.7 yards after catch per catch. Only Percy Harvin caught more passes and averaged a higher yards after catch per catch than Shorts.
Even more impressive, he did this despite missing 2 games with injuries and not playing more than 50% of his team’s snaps until the team’s 6th game of the season. He ran 423 routes on the season, giving him 2.31 yards per route run, 8th in the NFL behind Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Michael Crabtree, Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, and AJ Green. In his 9 starts, he caught 47 passes for 774 yards and 5 touchdowns, which extrapolates to 84 catches for 1386 yards and 9 touchdowns over 16 games.
On top of that, it didn’t seem to matter to him which crappy quarterback was throwing to him. In his 3 starts with Blaine Gabbert, he caught 12 passes for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Chad Henne, he caught 35 passes for 532 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s good news because the Jaguars could go with either Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert this year and will probably have both start at least one game.
In 2013, Shorts will be in his 3rd year in the league, a frequent breakout year for receivers, and he’ll be the starter from week 1. Provided he stays healthy, he should make 16 starts. Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first 4 games of the season (more on that in a minute), so Shorts will see plenty of targets. He’ll also see more attention from defenses and he won’t seek up on anyone this time around, but he should be fine. He probably won’t reach those aforementioned extrapolated stats because defenses will key in on him more this year, but he has a very good chance to be Jacksonville’s first 1000 yard receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005. He’ll probably need a real quarterback before he can reach his true statistical potential, however.
Shorts will play opposite Justin Blackmon, once Blackmon returns from his 4-game suspension of course. Blackmon had a good rookie year, with 64 catches for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns, as the 5th overall pick exceeded the average production for a 1st round rookie. However, he had over a quarter of his production in one game (a 7 catch, 231 yard performance against Houston) and he was, as you can imagine, very inconsistent. His 4 game suspension for substance abuse is a real concern, especially since he also has a DUI history and it will put a damper on his potential production this season. He could also find himself very much behind the 8-ball when he returns.
The Jaguars have very little depth after Shorts and Blackmon, a concern considering Blackmon will miss those 4 games. Depth receiver caliber talent Mohamed Massaquoi will probably start in Blackmon’s absence in those 4 games, though he’ll face competition from Mike Brown, an undersized 2012 undrafted free agent from Liberty who didn’t catch a pass as a rookie. He’s gotten praise from the coaching staff, but the fact that he’s involved in this battle shows just how little depth the Jaguars have.
Brown will also compete with Jordan Shipley from the slot role. Shipley showed well in that role down the stretch last season, catching 23 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in 6 games, but prior to that, he had bounced around for almost 2 years because of injury problems. He has an extensive history of knee issues that date back to his collegiate days at Texas. He could be a decent slot receiver if he could stay healthy, but that’s not likely.
With Blackmon missing 4 games and their lack of depth at wide receiver, tight end Marcedes Lewis will be leaned on more in the passing game this season. Lewis was overpaid with a 5-year, 35 million dollar contract after an uncharacteristic 58/700/10 season in 2010, but he’s not a bad player. He’s a good blocker and his receiving numbers would be better if he had better quarterback play. Last season, he caught 52 passes for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns and graded out overall as ProFootballFocus’ 4th ranked tight end, largely due to the fact that he was 5th at his position in run blocking. He should see an increase in receiving production this season.
New Head Coach Gus Bradley was formerly the defensive coordinator in Seattle so he will be using the same concepts that the Seahawks use on the defensive line. Unfortunately, the talent is nowhere near as strong. Tyson Alualu will convert from defensive tackle to defensive end to play the Red Bryant role. The surprise 10th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Alualu has struggled mightily in 3 years at defensive tackle, grading out 60th out of 77 eligible defensive tackles in 2010, 85th out of 88 eligible in 2011, and 79th out of 85 eligible in 2012. The collegiate 5-technique defensive end has especially struggled against the run at 6-2 292, so a move to defensive end could help him, but it’s hard to get your hopes up. He’ll be primarily a run down, base package player.
Andre Branch will probably play the Bruce Irvin role and come in on passing downs. Branch was a 2nd round pick in 2012, but struggled mightily as a rookie, especially as a pass rusher. He had just 1 sack, 2 hits, and 11 hurries on 258 pass rush snaps, a pathetic 5.4% rate, and was the 11th worst player at his position in pass rush grade, despite limited playing time. He’s got athleticism at 6-6 259, but it doesn’t seem to be a role that will suit his skill set.
Jason Babin looks like the starter and possible every down end opposite Alualu, which would be the Chris Clemons role. Babin was ProFootballFocus’ 10th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2010 with the Titans and 9th ranked in 2011 with the Eagles, but last year he graded out just above average and was cut mid-season by the Eagles, before being claimed by the Jaguars. Going into his age 33 season, his best days are clearly behind him.
Jeremy Mincey led this defensive line in snaps played last season, but seems to be in positional limbo right now after being benched out of the 1st team. He’ll probably play a little bit on both sides of the line at end and also some defensive tackle as a pure pass rusher, in the Jason Jones role. He was given a big 4 year, 28 million dollar contract after a strong 2011 season, but he had never done anything like that before and proved to be the classic one year wonder in 2012, when he graded out below average, especially struggling as a pass rusher, but making up for it some as a run stopper.
At defensive tackle, the trio of CJ Mosley, Terrance Knighton, and Tyson Alualu is gone, with Mosley and Knighton elsewhere and Alualu at end. The Jaguars brought in 4 defensive tackles this off-season, but they’ll probably be disappointed in them, especially since Mosley and Knighton actually gave them good production last season as the starters.
Sen’Derrick Marks comes over from Tennessee and figures to get one starting spot. He’s awful, however. Last season was actually his best season in 3 years as a key contributor, ranking 73rd out of 85 eligible. He was a bottom-10 player in 2010 and 2011. Roy Miller will start in the other spot. He also had his best season last year, when he ranked 67th out of 85 eligible. He was 83rd out of 88 in 2011, 75th out of 77 in 2010, and 74th out of 87 in 2009. He’s a one dimensional run stuffer who doesn’t get any pass rush whatsoever. That’s a pretty poor starting defensive tackle pair.
They also signed Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick from New England. Both are one dimensional run stuffers, and while Love is the better player above the very mediocre Deaderick, he’s also been diagnosed with diabetes, a big part of the reason why he was cut. We’ll see how he handles that. Any way you look at it, there’s just not a lot of talent at defensive tackle and on the defensive line in general. They won’t get much pass rush or stop the run well.
Things aren’t much better as you go into the back 7. Paul Posluszny had a bunch of tackles last season, but largely did so cleaning up everyone else’s messes and had just 58 tackles for a stop (with 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on 1st down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd and 4th down). He was 47th out of 53 eligible middle linebackers on ProFootballFocus. He’s been better in the past though so he could bounce back.
Outside linebacker Russell Allen is in a similar situation. The every down linebacker had a bunch of tackles, but just 56 of them were for stops and he ranked 34th out of 43 eligible at his position. Unlike Posluszky, the 1st year starter has not been better in the past so I expect him to continue to struggle. Geno Hayes will be the 3rd linebacker and come off the field for a 5th defensive back in sub packages. He’s not much better, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 42nd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 45 eligible in 2011 and then playing just 141 snaps last season.
The secondary might be the worst unit of them all. They lost 3 starters in Derek Cox, Aaron Ross, and Dawan Landry and while none of them were very good, their replacements don’t figure to be much better. At cornerback, unproven 3rd round rookie Dwayne Gratz will compete for playing time with Alan Ball and Marcus Trufant, with all 3 playing in sub packages. Ball has played just 508 snaps over the past 2 seasons after struggling mightily as a starting safety with the Cowboys in 2010, his only starting experience.
Trufant, meanwhile, played pretty well on the slot for the Seahawks last season, but did so on just 365 snaps and struggled mightily before moving to the slot, grading out below average in each season from 2009-2011 as an outside cornerback. Going into his age 33 season with a history of injury problems, it’s tough to count on him, though he does have familiarity in Gus Bradley’s scheme, following him over from Seattle. Mike Harris will be the 4th cornerback and could very well see action. He struggled as a 6th round rookie last year, grading out 88th out of 113 eligible cornerbacks and isn’t a good fit for the new coverage scheme, which is why he’s 4th on the depth chart behind that trio.
At safety, Jonathan Cyprien will start as a 2nd round rookie. I like him more than I like Gratz as a rookie starter so he could have a positive impact as a rookie, but, once again, it’s tough to count on a rookie. The bright spot in this secondary is safety Dwight Lowery. He’s a returning starter and played pretty well last season, grading out 16th among safeties last season despite missing 7 games with injury. The year before, he was an average starter in his first year as a starter. He’s the only member of this secondary you can even come close to calling an above average starter. They figure to struggle mightily on defense again, after allowing 27.8 points per game last season, 3rd worst in the NFL. The talent is just not there as it’s replacement level talent across the board essentially. I like Gus Bradley, but unless the rookies have big 1st years, I don’t know what he can do in his 1st year on the job.
As I said, I like Gus Bradley. You can attribute a lot of Seattle’s recent defensive success to him, as the Seahawks have turned Chris Clemons, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Brandon Browner from largely unwanted commodities to big time impact players. I just don’t know what he’ll be able to do with this mess in his first year on the job and I like to temper expectations for first year coaches anyway. There have certainly been plenty of good coordinators who have flamed out as Head Coaches in the past.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t put as much work into this write up as I normally do. After a while, it just felt like you get the point. There isn’t a lot of talent here and they are unlikely to win many games. I could have just said they suck. I only see 4 games on their schedule where they really stand a chance (vs. Tennessee, vs. Buffalo, vs. San Diego, @ Oakland) and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they only won a game or two again. It’s going to be a long rebuild from all the damage that Gene Smith caused and they’re essentially working from scratch.
Projection: 1-15 4th in AFC South