State of the Franchise
2012 was supposed to represent a fresh start under new owner Shad Khan and new head coach Mike Mularkey, but a franchise-worst 2-14 finish finds the Jaguars ready to undergo their second rebuild in the past four years with their third head coach in as many seasons. Off the field, Khanís tenure got off to a bumpy start with an attempt to trade for QB Tim Tebow, WR Justin Blackmonís DUI arrest and a lengthy holdout from star RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
It wasnít much smoother for the Jaguars on the field, as they mustered just two wins en route to securing the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The 2012 Jags finished 29th in overall offense, and fared even worse defensively (30th overall). Sophomore QB Blaine Gabbertís performance fell far short of expectations and backup Chad Henne didnít offer much of an upgrade at the gameís most important position. Jones-Drew, who ended his holdout in time to suit up for Week 1, suffered a foot fracture and missed the final 10 games of the season. Understudy Rashad Jennings, who many thought would be able to shoulder the load as a No. 1 back, averaged 2.8 YPC and is no longer with the team. Meanwhile, pricey free agent WR Laurent Robinson suffered four concussions and LB Clint Session was unable to return to the field after sustaining multiple head injuries of his own.
Despite coming off the worst season in franchise history, thereís reason for hope in Jacksonville. Wideout Cecil Shorts broke onto the scene with a 979-yard season, and left tackle Eugene Monroe showed why he was drafted in the first round in 2009. Khan wasted little time in firing Mularkey and GM Gene Smith, turning to Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Atlantaís Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell to help right the ship. With a new coaching staff and front office in place, the Jaguars watched several pieces of the lackluster 2012 squad depart for new destinations, all the while keeping a low profile in free agency.
It appears as though the Jaguars are prepared to gamble on Gabbert one last time in 2013. Caldwell opted to stay away from quarterbacks in both the draft and free agency, instead selecting OT Luke Joeckel in the first round to shore up a leaky offensive line, while adding offensive weapons in WR Ace Sanders and RB Denard Robinson. Gabbert will be without Blackmon for the first four games of the season after the sophomore receiver was suspended for violating the leagueís substance abuse policy, but he will have Shorts, TE Marcedes Lewis and late-season bloomer WR Jordan Shipley at his disposal. For better or worse, itís clear that in 2013, the Jaguars are set to go as far as Gabbert will take them.
Luke Joeckel - OT, Texas A&M
(Round 1, 2nd overall)
Likely to switch to right tackle to give the Jags bookends along the OL.
JONATHAN CYPRIEN - S, Florida International
(Round 2, 33rd overall)
An immediate starter who should provide a boost to 22nd-ranked pass defense.
MOHAMED MASSAQUOI - WR, Browns
Justin Blackmonís suspension makes him more valuable out of the gate.
Denard Robinson - RB, MICHIGAN
(ROUND 5, 135th OVERALL)
Could be good for a big play or two most games if the team uses him as a draw and screen pass specialist.
Justin Forsett - RB, TEXANS
In line to back up Maurice Jones-Drew, who continues to deal with foot woes.
Ace Sanders - WR, SOUTH CAROLINA
(ROUND 4, 101st OVERALL)
Heís undersized, but should factor in as a slot option and returner.
DEREK COX - CB, Chargers
The solid young corner struggled to stay on the field; he will be replaced by Dwayne Gratz.
Laurent Robinson - WR, FA
Four concussions cost Robinson his career in Jacksonville, a bigger loss now following the suspension of Blackmon.
IS THERE AN ANSWER AT QUARTERBACK?
2012 was all about seeing growth in Blaine Gabbert, and the numbers tell a story of improvement. In four fewer starts, he boosted his completion percentage from 50.8 to 58.3 percent, his YPA from 5.4 to 6.0 and his passer rating from 65.4 to 77.4, but the stats remain pedestrian and heís done little to show that he can be the long-term answer in Jacksonville. An injury midway through the season derailed his sophomore campaign, but itís clear that the teamís brass isnít ready to replace Gabbert just yet. Chad Henne didnít perform much better last season (53.9 completion percentage, 72.2 passer rating to go with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 10 games) and his hefty salary and competition from Mike Kafka, as well as UDFAs Matt Scott (Arizona) and Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt) could leave the former Dolphin on the outside looking in as the Jaguars continue to assess their QB situation.
CAN BLACKMON TURN IT AROUND?
Coming off an 865-yard, five-touchdown season, it looked like the Jaguarsí gamble on trading up to select Justin Blackmon fifth overall in the 2012 NFL draft was worth it, but off the field issues continue to plague the receiver. A DUI just months after the draft led to protective language in Blackmonís contract and an apparent enrollment in the leagueís substance abuse program. This offseason, Blackmon was suspended four games for violations of the substance abuse policy, marking his third misstep since 2010. Now, Blackmonís strong finish to his rookie season (he led all first-year receivers in targets, receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns) is dimmed by his inability to stay out of trouble during the offseason. The Jags have confirmed their commitment to helping Blackmon and while heís in no danger of being cut, with one more violation resulting in a year-long suspension, itís clear that the promising wideout is toeing the edge of a steep cliff as far as his NFL future is concerned.
WILL Maurice Jones-Drew BOUNCE BACK?
With two years left on his current contract heading into the 2012 season, Maurice Jones-Drew opted to hold out in the hopes of securing a new deal with the team that selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft. Shad Khan and then-GM Gene Smith didnít budge, and Jones-Drew reported to the team in early September after 38 days. MJD finished the 2011 season with 1,606 yards, almost 250 more than Ray Rice, but with 52 extra carries. Itís fair to wonder if the extra miles on Jones-Drewís tires contributed to the foot fracture that kept him sidelined for the last 10 games of the 2012 season. With last seasonís backup running back Rashad Jennings now in Oakland, the Jags signed Justin Forsett to take some of the load off MJD, but itís hard to see 2011ís regular season rushing champ coming all the way back to the form fantasy owners have come to expect from him.
Rising: Cecil Shorts finished 2012 just 21 yards shy of becoming the first 1,000-yard receiver in Jacksonville since Jimmy Smith.
Declining: Maurice Jones-Drew already has plenty of carries under his belt and a foot fracture isnít going to make it easier for him to return to his peak form.
Sleeper: Justin Forsett could be in line to pilfer significant carries from Jones-Drew, especially if the teamís No. 1 back sees lingering effects from his injury.
Supersleeper: Jordan Shipley had a strong finish to 2012 with Jacksonville and has an opportunity to win more playing time with Blackmonís four-game suspension.
PAUL POSLUSZNY - LB
Has not finished a season below 110 combined tackles since 2008.
JONATHAN CYPRIEN - S
The second-rounder should start and has the look of a player who can do it all.
JASON BABIN - DE
Should be the Jagsí top pass rushing threat in 2013.
RotoWire Rank: 31