The Jaguars had major holes on defense last season. They allowed 121.6 rush yards per game and a whopping 19 rushing touchdowns. Their pass defense was worse, yielding 28 scores through the air and 250.2 yards per game. Their own passing game, ranked 27th, was hobbled by a declining performance by their primary wideout.
So with all of these issues staring the franchise in the face, how did they spend their top two draft picks in April? By pairing them and trading up in the draft to select a quarterback.
Mizzou's Blaine Gabbert was picked 10th overall, turning up the speculation that incumbent starter David Garrard's days in Jacksonville are numbered. Gabbert, who has a Garrard-like game (for better and for worse), is expected to spend the first part of the season watching from the sidelines. If Jacksonville falls out of playoff contention, Gabbert will get his shot since he is the future there. If Garrard can somehow lead this team to a shot at the postseason, though, he'll keep Gabbert on clipboard duty.
How the rest of the team will perform given that Jacksonville failed to add an impact player at a need position in the draft is a completely different quandary. They added a receiver in Cecil Shorts and the defense picked up a talented youngster in safety Chris Prosinski, but otherwise the unit is coming back the way it left the field last season. Given the numbers it produced, that can't be good.
Late-round flier ... Marcedes Lewis, TE
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Anyone who tells you that Lewis will falter this season has no idea what they're talking about. Last year Lewis finished 10th among tight ends in targets yet still managed to tie for the lead in touchdowns with 10. He scored every 5.8 receptions. He finished fourth among tight ends in Fantasy points. And he's on a team that did absolutely nothing to improve its passing game. How in the world can anyone say Lewis won't be involved or not given a shot to be productive. Best of all, he's in a contract year (again) and will play for the big bucks. And, no one's drafting him before Round 10. He's a terrific value choice for owners who pass on the elite tight ends.
Sleeper ... Rashad Jennings, RB
Maurice Jones-Drew's knee surgery and subsequent rehab has been pretty well documented. The Fantasy stalwart should be just fine for the start of the season, but concerns about how much work he takes on along with how defenses handle him should scare Fantasy owners. Remember, Jacksonville did nothing to improve its receiving corps, so defenses can stack the box against MJD and expect to keep him in check. That will mean more contact and a greater chance of knocking him around. One good way to protect Jones-Drew is to give Jennings a bump in work, something Jacksonville has to consider after he plowed for 459 yards on just 84 carries (5.5 average) with four scores and 223 yards on 26 catches (8.6 avg.). He's got potential, and with a lack of offensive firepower, the Jaguars are going to find ways to use him. Jennings is an absolute must-draft for those owners who land Jones-Drew.
Bust ... David Garrard, QB
It's never a good idea to trust a quarterback on a leash, even as a backup. Garrard isn't promised the starting job but should sweat out the competition from Blaine Gabbert -- but nothing else is promised. Last year saw him deliver 23 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns, which were great, but he didn't deliver many wins for Jacksonville, and that's what matters here. If Garrard and the Jags struggle, he'll hit the bench regardless of how he's playing so that Gabbert can get his feet wet. Furthermore, with so many other quality No. 2 Fantasy quarterbacks out there, there isn't a need to select Garrard on Draft Day. The upside isn't there anymore and the playing time will be next to go. It also doesn't help that he's coming off of finger surgery on his right hand.
The Jaguars have the Jets in New York in Week 2, back-to-back games against the Steelers and Ravens in Weeks 6 and 7 and a short-week game at Atlanta in Week 15. Other than that, it's not all that bad for Jacksonville as they have some opponents they can hang with (including their divisional rivals) and a three-game homestand. If you don't end up with Maurice Jones-Drew on your Fantasy team and he struggles early on this season, try to buy low on him before his first matchup at Houston in Week 8, because he should tear it up thereafter based on his schedule.
Training camp topics
That quarterback battle will be the talk of town, even if it's not much of a battle. But the more serious topic is who the quarterbacks will throw to. Lewis is a good target, and the running backs will get their share, but with Mike Sims-Walker headed out of town, who's left to catch passes? Mike Thomas is a given, and he might do well by default, and Jason Hill has some promise, but really someone needs to step up. We'll see who does the best in camp.
And expect Jones-Drew to miss some days in camp as the team rests him. That's a given considering that he's coming off of knee surgery and is sure to be leaned on again in 2011. If he goes down, Jacksonville's offense is in trouble -- but you probably figured that already.
The defense is already in trouble. Last year's addition of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu didn't help much in their run defense and the pass defense is thin. Expect Jacksonville to be aggressive in the free-agent market, namely in players who get released. It's the most cost-efficient way to improve the unit.
Maurice Jones-Drew (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... David Garrard (finger; probable for the start of training camp) ... Aaron Kampman (knee; questionable for the start of training camp).
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