STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Marred by injuries, the suspension of star wideout Justin Blackmon and all-around poor play, the Jaguars' 2013 campaign was one to forget. The squad stumbled out of the gate, dropping its first eight contests by an average of more than 22 points. Coming out of their Week 9 bye, however, the Jaguars encouragingly won four of five contests, beating Tennessee, Cleveland and Houston (twice) for what would go down as the team's only victories of the season.
Under first-year head coach Gus Bradley, Blaine Gabbert opened the season as the team's starting quarterback but was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Thumb and hamstring injuries (along with his on-field performance) limited the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft to just three games, and the numbers weren't pretty. Over that span, he completed 42 of 86 passes (48.8 percent) for 481 yards, with one touchdown and seven interceptions. Gabbert suffered his hamstring injury in Week 5 against the Rams in what would prove to be his final game in teal and black. Chad Henne stepped in to start the final 11 contests of the season, throwing for 3,241 yards, with 13 touchdowns and 14 picks overall. While he may not be the quarterback of the future, he's dependable enough to keep the team afloat while No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles prepares for the role.
While quarterback play was the team's most glaring issue last season, the running game was nearly as problematic. The Jaguars ranked 31st in the league in both rushing (78.8 yards per game) and per-carry average (3.3 yards). After appearing in only six games in 2012, Maurice Jones-Drew returned to start 15 games but was limited to a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. The veteran moved on to the Raiders in free agency this offseason, prompting Jacksonville to bring in Toby Gerhart from Minnesota. All signs point to the bruising Gerhart opening the season as the team's featured back, with Jordan Todman in line to serve as his top backup and Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson in reserve.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jaguars struggled mightily against the run, conceding 131.8 yards per game, the second-highest mark in the AFC behind New England. In an effort to shore up the team's porous defensive line, the Jaguars signed a pair of potential impact players in free agency: Ziggy Hood and Chris Clemons. The two combined for 7.5 sacks last season and will team with Jason Babin and fellow newcomer Red Bryant to form a much-improved front four. Tackling machine Paul Posluszny (161 stops) returns to lead the linebacking corps, while free safety Johnathan Cyprien is expected to make a major leap in his second season.
Blake Bortles QB, Central Florida (Round 1, 3rd Overall)
The Jags may have passed on Johnny Manziel, but Bortles is a future franchise cornerstone who brings good size and athleticism to the table.
Marqise Lee WR, USC (Round 2, 39th Overall)
Injury concerns caused the dynamic playmaker to fall to the second round.
Toby Gerhart RB, Vikings
The big-bodied back finally emerges from the shadow of Adrian Peterson.
Allen Robinson WR, Penn State (Round 2, 61st Overall)
At 6-3, 210 pounds, he could turn into Jacksonville's top red-zone threat, even as a rookie.
Storm Johnson RB, Central Florida (Round 7, 222nd Overall)
The depth back could be a steal for the Jags if he can avoid the fumbling issues he experienced in college.
Chris Clemons DE, Seahawks
Reunited with Gus Bradley, his defensive coordinator while the two were with the Seahawks.
Maurice Jones-Drew RB, Raiders
Gets a fresh start with the Raiders after a lackluster 2013 campaign.
Blaine Gabbert QB, 49ers
The Jaguars pulled the plug on the 2011 first-rounder after just three seasons.
THE CHAD HENNE EXPERIENCE
Despite drafting Blake Bortles third overall, the Jaguars have indicated that, ideally, Chad Henne will open the 2014 season as the team's starting quarterback. Though he didn't necessarily manufacture wins in 15 appearances (13 starts) last season, Henne was still a significant upgrade over Blaine Gabbert. Viewed as a capable game manager, Henne's fantasy numbers leave something to be desired, but he could be in for more production this season with the help of rookie wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Improvement in the team's running game could also benefit the offense as a whole, though it remains to be seen whether Toby Gerhart can be a difference-maker in the backfield. After enduring Gabbert's struggles, the Jaguars are of no mind to press Bortles into a starting role, though that's something that could change if Henne ends up struggling as the season rolls along.
YOUNG RECEIVING CORPS
Only two Jaguars' receivers ranked among the top 100 in receiving yards last season (Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders), as injuries and inconsistent quarterback play stunted the development of one of the league's most inexperienced position groups. To put the numbers in perspective, Justin Blackmon, who played in only four games, was the team's fourth-leading receiver. Blackmon was a game-changer when in the lineup (103.8 yards per game), but a suspension (for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse) cut his season short and could well cost him the 2014 season as well. With that in mind, the Jaguars have stated that they plan to move forward without Blackmon, as he's yet to be reinstated by the league. Rather than addressing the wideout void in free agency, the Jaguars elected to use both of their 2014 second-rounders on receivers (Lee and Robinson). Both players will have an excellent chance to step in and contribute right away, as Shorts is the only receiver on the roster with true job security.
The Jaguars bid farewell to the former face of the franchise this offseason, as Maurice Jones-Drew signed a three-year deal with the Raiders. Just three seasons removed from a 1,600-yard effort, Jones-Drew will look to rejuvenate his career after a frustrating two-season stretch to close out his stint with Jacksonville. With Jones-Drew out of the picture, the Jaguars plucked free agent Toby Gerhart from the Vikings. The 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up toiled behind a certain running back in Minnesota during his first four NFL seasons, and he'll be given every opportunity to prove he's capable of handling a much larger workload for Jacksonville. Gerhart, who logged a mere 36 carries last season, hasn't toted the ball more than 15 times in a single regular season game since November of 2011.
Rising: As the team's top back, Toby Gerhart will see plenty of opportunities to rack up yardage, but will opposing defenses respect the passing game enough to open up running lanes?
Declining: Cecil Shorts, who is bouncing back from groin surgery, caught 66 passes in 13 games last season, but could lose targets to second-round wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.
Sleeper: If Marqise Lee can stay healthy, he could emerge as a No. 1 option down the road. Once considered a top-10 draft prospect, concerns about his left knee caused him to fall in the draft.
Supersleeper: Jordan Todman appeared in all 16 games last season and rushed for 109 yards on 25 carries against Buffalo in Week 15. He's an option if Gerhart goes down with an injury.
Paul Posluszny - LB
The hard-nosed linebacker was the NFL's second-leading tackler in 2013, marking his third consecutive season in the top-12.
Jason Babin - DE
Notched a team-best 7.5 sacks in 2013 and will benefit from an improved defensive line.
Johnathan Cyprien - S
Tied for seventh among all defensive backs in tackles (103) as a rookie last season.
RotoWire Rank: 31