The 2011 Jaguars were an interesting team. It actually beat the Titans, a near-playoff team, in Week 1 with Luke McCown as its starting quarterback. He was then benched after four turnovers in a 32-3 loss to the Jets in Week 2 and so the Blaine Gabbert era started way before most people had expected.
Which is part of the reason that Gabbert was fairly bad. He probably isn't one of these quarterbacks that was ready to step into the NFL and start right away. I'm sure that like Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Gabbert looked the part in practice and had the size and arm strength you love as a coach, but that doesn't mean he was ready. The other part is that the offensive line wasn't very good at pass blocking and there were no receivers.
Literally, I don't think they had any receivers on the 53-man roster. Mike Thomas led "wide receivers" on the team with 415 yards.
So between all of the mess of a 5-11 season (with two wins over the Colts) was Maurice Jones-Drew, who incredibly led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards. "The one man show," you might say. It would be quite ironic if they had to go on this season without him or if they had all these spoons but needed a knife.
No word yet on if or when he could re-join the Jaguars or be traded, keeping fantasy owners in check on his status. Chris Johnson signed his extension with the Titans on Sept. 1, 2011. It's not too late for MJD to sign and suit up, but Johnson also had the worst season of his career. Frank Gore reported to camp at the beginning of August last year and had a great year. What's this going to do to Jones-Drew?
I don't know! I don't even have the slightest clue if he'll be a Jaguar. But I'll do my best. Here's a preview of the 2012 Jaguars offense.
2011 Record: 5-11
Drafted Skill Players: Justin Blackmon, WR (1st), Bryan Anger PUNTER 3rd
Dearly Departed: MJD? McCown. Deji Karim
If I give you an engine but you don't have a car to put it in, it won't matter how much horsepower it has. Nor would I know how good the engine really was. That is because I don't know anything about cars, but I decided to go with that analogy anyway.
I don't have much positive to say about Gabbert's rookie season but I also don't really know how much horsepower he has because the Jags were mostly awful everywhere on offense. Of all the popular American team sports, football is probably the teamiest. Quarterbacks fail all the time partially because they are on bad teams. The Jags went out and got Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, so we should get a better read on how good or bad Gabbert really is. I liked some of what I saw in Gabbert last season. I'll say he gets a little bit better.
2012 Projection: 55 percent completions, 3,000 yards, 17 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Henne threw for 416 yards against the Patriots in the opener last season but New England had a terrible pass defense. He's been pretty bad in preseason play but the team is saying that it will stick with him as backup. Though it's preseason, Gabbert has a QB rating of 100.6 and Henne is at 55.8. The only competition is Palmer pushing Henne, but his $3 million plus signing bonus is going to keep him there for awhile.
Recently in a keeper league I put MJD in as my guy for weeks up until hours before the draft when I switched it away from him. These things end up working out before the season, but I do have some Chris Johnson fears here. It's not like I think that MJD will forget how to play or anything, but these guys practice for weeks before the season for a reason. As a Seahawks fan, I saw Walter Jones hold out before every season and never let it effect him. He's also one of the greatest players to ever play in the NFL.
Maybe the Jags are concerned when they look at the $13.7 million that Adrian Peterson earns yearly and remember how fickle ACLs are. Maybe they are concerned with the $9.1 million that Chris Johnson is earning and that a back can flop after holding out or for any other reason. Jones-Drew has done everything to earn being paid as one of the top five backs in the league, but Jacksonville probably worries that all those guys are overpaid. We'll see.
There's also the matter on whether or not Jones-Drew even plays for the Jags and that is going to mess up everything for my projections. I'm going to go ahead and pretend like he signs, which he probably will do sometime between when I finish this article and when it actually posts on the Internet. Additionally, I think that the success of Rashad Jennings is definitely going to play a part in Jones-Drew losing carries this season. He won't carry it 343 times again.
2012 Projection: 280 carries, 1,250 yards, eight touchdowns, 40 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns. Those are great numbers but I'm staying away from Jones-Drew this year.
If given a chance to start, Jennings could be a great pick. The former 7th-round pick has a 5.4 YPC average on 123 carries and 42 catches in part-time duty. He missed all of last season with a knee injury but has been great in the preseason this year with 175 yards on 36 carries. If Jennings gets a chance to start Week 1 without MJD signing, it could give Jacksonville reason to trade the disgruntled star and go with Jennings.
I'm not saying he's MJD, but he seems perfectly capable and I think either way he will be more utilized this season. Keep an eye on him.
2012 Projection: 110 carries for 500 yards, four touchdowns
Jalen Parmele probably provides the depth behind them.
I liked watching Blackmon in college and I'm not going to compare him to Julio Jones as a one-on-one comparison other than to say it just seems like they make the catch when you need them to. Jones obviously went on to have a great rookie season, which elevated him to be one of the top receivers in the fantasy game as of today, but I'm not ready to put those expectations on Blackmon. He's in a different offense without an elite receiver opposite of him and without a quarterback like Matt Ryan in terms of experience and other things that Ryan possesses.
Blackmon has had a great preseason and people are really high on this kid right now. I would ask that you adjust expectations and realize that a good rookie season for him would be different than just a general "good" season for a top receiver. It's rare that a rookie gets there so quickly.
2012 Projection: 50 catches, 750 yards, five touchdowns
It would be easy to point to Robinson's 2011 season and call it a fluke since he hadn't done anything in his career up to that point. But every time I watched the Cowboys play, he just looked the part of a solid No. 2 wide receiver to me. He's been absent in the preseason with just one catch for seven yards, but the coach says that he's doing good things and the coverages have been tough on him. That doesn't totally excuse his lack of production, but I believe he'll be fine and a decent WR3 along with Blackmon for fantasy.
2012 Projection: 60 catches for 825 yards, four touchdowns
The funny thing is that Thomas caught a career high 77 percent of his targets last season, a really high number for most receivers. There just weren't many passes coming out of Gabbert's hand because of the bad pass protection and then Thomas was the only guy that they had to cover. Thomas is 5'8. He's not your typical "number one" receiver and he doesn't have to be anymore.
The great news about Blackmon and Robinson coming in is that Thomas can get more comfortable in the offense and probably benefit from getting far less attention.
2012 Projection: 50 catches for 550 yards, three touchdowns
Cecil Shorts, Brian Robiskie and others fight for depth.
He had 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010 and then 460 yards and zero touchdowns in 2011. Lewis is a great athlete and tight end, making him a nice sleeper pick this year, but what if they just don't use the tight end much in the red zone again? You would have thought that Lewis was Gabbert's safe choice in 2011, but it never happened. Mularkey is known to use the tight end with pleasure though, his former position. Lewis wants to put last year behind him and that's fine, I believe he can do that. I haven't quite bought that he'll go back to what he did in 2010 though. It's possible, hence "great sleeper" for the position.
2012 Projection: 35 catches, 500 yards, three touchdowns