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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Jacksonville Jaguars

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Momentum is building in Jacksonville after a long stretch of ineptitude. That's thanks to a very busy offseason in which Gus Bradley's crew turned over the roster and brought in a slew of new players via free agency and the draft. It should help turn the Jaguars into a contender ... eventually.

The biggest splash was the drafting of quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in the draft. The Jaguars insist they'll bring him along slowly, so his impact might not be felt until the second half of the upcoming season. But the impact of veteran rusher Toby Gerhart and rookie wideouts Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee should be felt much sooner. Jacksonville also beefed up its offensive line with the signing of guard Zane Beadles. Defensively they brought in ex-Seahawks Red Bryant and Chris Clemons along with Steelers castoff Ziggy Hood to help re-populate the defensive line. Linebacker Dekoda Watson also should help.

But not everything is coming up jaguar-spotted roses. Justin Blackmon, arguably the team's top weapon, remains suspended for a substance abuse violation. Even though he sat out the final eight games of last season, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has said he does not expect Blackmon to contribute this year. He backed up that statement by drafting a pair of receivers within his first three picks. But only one selection was made to help a slumping secondary that ranked 25th against the pass and 21st in passing touchdowns allowed last season. That suggests that the Jaguars are hoping that coaching can help turn an inexperienced secondary around.

So it's probably going to be another year full of growing pains. Worse yet, the team might finish in the basement of the AFC South this season -- last year they finished in third (thank you, Houston). That difference meant games against the Chargers and Dolphins instead of the Raiders and Bills this season. Would have helped this growing team.

Late-round flier ... Cecil Shorts

As prepared as we might be to say something strong on Toby Gerhart, our focus here is on Cecil Shorts. He's become sort of an afterthought after tanking last season despite posting a career-high 66 catches. Should he be? If the Jaguars can cultivate outside receivers then Shorts could move into the slot, or at least move all over the field. We've always fancied Shorts as a Victor Cruz clone and if the team can get him in a position to be that guy then he'll perform well, if only because he's the most reliable outlet for the quarterbacks. A calf injury continues to hamper him, but assuming he heals up and participates in training camp, he'll be worth a pick as a capable reserve and Top 50 Fantasy receiver.

Late-round flier ... Allen Robinson

If you're in a dynasty league, Allen Robinson should be on your rank list as a potential second-round choice in your rookie-only draft. If you're in a more traditional Fantasy league, Robinson should be on your late-round pick wish list. As the roster stands now in Jacksonville, Robinson will be the only receiver with size -- he's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the same height and nearly the same size as Houston's Andre Johnson. He doesn't have bursting speed but he's got hops (42-inch vertical) and enough muscle to box-out smaller defensive backs for end-zone jump balls and third-down seam routes. Playing in Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense at Penn State last year, Robinson caught 97 passes for 1,432 yards, setting Big Ten Conference records. He's a perfect target for an inconsistent quarterback like Chad Henne or an inexperienced passer like Blake Bortles to target. Expect him to start right away.

Dynasty-league target ... Marqise Lee

2013 Touches Leaders
727 total touches
Maurice Jones-Drew 277 (234 car., 43 rec.) 38.1%
Jordan Todman 80 (76 car., 14 rec.) 11.0%
Cecil Shorts 66 rec. 9.1%
Ace Sanders 53 (51 rec., 2 car.) 7.3%
All Others 251 34.5%

Lee is a polarizing Fantasy rookie. In 2012 he was a monster for Southern Cal, posting 1,721 yards on 118 catches (14.6 avg.) with 14 touchdowns. In 2013 he had 57 catches for 791 yards (13.8 avg.) and four touchdowns along with a left knee injury. Which Lee will show up in Jacksonville? Might depend entirely on the kind of playing time he earns in training camp. If Lee can stay healthy and show he can get what's being asked of him, he definitely has the potential to help Fantasy owners out this year. But it's probably more likely that he struggles this season and doesn't play as much as his rookie counterpart does. That's why we're not expecting Lee to be worth taking in a 2014 Fantasy draft. But if we're talking long term, it's clear Lee has major potential, making him worthy of an early-round pick in rookie-only formats.

Schedule analysis

The first five games the Jags have are against strong offenses. That's bad for the defense but it should force the offense's hand to throw the ball. That might mean competitive games or it might mean garbage time, but that's the kind of stuff that leads to good in-game experience for a team with young receivers. Matchups that might better benefit Gerhart come right after that with the Titans, Browns and Dolphins on the slate around the halfway point. Their Thursday game comes in Week 16 vs. Tennessee, a late-season tilt that should make for a huge game for Gerhart, assuming he's healthy and productive that late into the season. Two showdowns against the Texans in their last four (including at Houston in Week 17) punctuate what is otherwise a tough but not unbearable schedule for the Jaguars.

Training camp battles

Can Bortles win? We know the Jaguars' plan is to let Blake Bortles watch Chad Henne play quarterback and develop slowly. But we're not buying that Bortles will sit for the entire season. Remember, Jags coach Gus Bradley was with the Seahawks when Russell Wilson catapulted from third string to starter in one camp, and general manager David Caldwell was an executive on the Falcons when they drafted and started Matt Ryan and a scout for the Colts when they made Peyton Manning their starter right away. Maybe it's not fair to put Bortles in the same class as Wilson, Ryan and Manning, but the team has enough brains to know that if the rookie is legit they might as well start him.

Who's backing up Gerhart? The Jaguars asked for Denard Robinson to put on weight this offseason and he has. But the Jags also have Jordan Todman coming back and drafted a nice runner in Storm Johnson, who played with Bortles at Central Florida. This competition should not only bear out who's backing up Gerhart but who also can work third downs, which is a role many anticipate the Jaguars filling so that Gerhart's not on the field for every down.

Who's starting at receiver? As intriguing as the rookie wideouts are, neither one is promised anything in terms of work. Cecil Shorts is still the best receiver on the team, Ace Sanders is a good slot option and Mike Brown showed some flashes as an outside receiver last year. The Jaguars are going to use training camp to figure out who will play where.

Bold prediction

There's a lot of skepticism about Gerhart becoming a capable, productive starting running back after being a backup behind Adrian Peterson for four seasons. But the guy is a human bowling ball, knocking over defenders and running with the fierce, violent style that fans love to watch. The coaching staff has stuck behind Gerhart since signing him and envision him as their primary workhorse. Judging by the lack of other backs they brought in, Gerhart should get a great opportunity in Jacksonville. Moreover, the team finally has a back they trust at the goal line -- last year they called just 12 handoffs from inside the 5-yard line out of 35 opportunities. Gerhart will be gone before the middle of Round 5 and get over 1,200 total yards and score at least seven times.

Injury report

Cecil Shorts (calf), probable for start of training camp. ... Clay Harbor (leg), questionable for start of training camp. ... Luke Joeckel (leg), questionable for start of training camp. ... Roy Miller (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp. ... Geno Hayes (knee), probable for start of training camp. ... Mike Brewster (leg), probable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


Lions' Riley Reiff open to playing right tackle
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Riley Reiff might start at right tackle next season. 

Reiff has started 32 games at left tackle over the last two seasons. The Lions aren't sure that last year's right tackle LaAdrian Waddle will be fully recovered from knee surgery, and backup tackle Cornelius Lucas is better on the left side. 

Reiff told the Daily Republic he doesn't care where he plays. 

 "I like playing, and wherever they want to put me, that's fine. I'll play," he said.


Broncos OL Michael Schofield looking to compete for starting job
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Broncos offensive lineman Michael Schofield is ready to come in and compete for a starting job this season, reports the Denver Post.

After not dressing for a single game as a rookie, Schofield added weight and he looks forward to fighting for a starting job.

"I am going in there with that mentality. In the NFL everybody is competing," Schofield said during a road trip to see family in Illinois. "They are looking for someone to step up and take over. I want to make that jump."

The third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014 struggled with weight issues, but he is now up to 305 pounds. He also recognized that his pass protection needs improvement.

"Personally, I felt there were reasons I wasn't out there (for games). I wasn't consistent enough in pass pro (protection). And my weight was really fluctuating," Schofield said.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak believes that the team's zone-blocking scheme can help Schofield elevate his game, and Schofield agrees.

"We like the Schofield kid, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility (in where he can play)," Kubiak said. "It will be very competitive."

"I feel like I am better suited for this," Schofield said. "You have to be able to reach block, and I feel the steps required fit me better."


 
 
 
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