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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars - 4th

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 10, 2013

 

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars - 4th 

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

The Jaguars host one of the most unheralded quarterback battles in recent history. Not many people around the league have much, if any, faith in either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne. Both passers do have big arms and have flashed the ability to make difficult throws all over the field, but they have been remarkably inconsistent. Gabbert has improved the consistency of his accuracy yet has struggled by holding the ball long and being hesitant and conservative as a decision maker. Henne, himself a talented passer, has not been able to string together high efficiency games or seasons and seems destined to be a good backup NFL quarterback. The 23 year-old Gabbert is five years younger than Henne, has all the necessary size and physical tools, and arguably out-performed Henne overall last year. He should win the job and enjoy new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who is one of the best directors of the passing game. He can also enjoy one of the best offensive tackle tandems in protection and a great running game. If Gabbert doesn't show marked improvement in 2013, his career as a starter will be in jeopardy.

 

Running Back:

This group is interesting. Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew returns from a season-ending foot injury as an elite back with breakaway speed, power and balance, quick and choppy feet, and top notch pass catching ability. Justin Forsett has always brought elusiveness and efficiency to the backfield as a complimentary guy. But the story here is star college quarterback Denard Robinson. Lacking naturally sound ball skills and great height and length, the speedy, sudden and dynamic Robinson's best fit is as a running back in the NFL. Look for him to be very productive while giving the Jaguars the ability to utilize creative, spread offense formations with him taking snaps.

 

Wide Receiver:

Wow, Cecil Shorts. Shorts broke out as a super quick, polished and dangerous small-school pass catcher, even amid the sizable uncertainty and inconsistency at the quarterback position. Shorts easily out-shined first rounder Justin Blackmon and will remain a Victor Cruz-like weapon for an offense that lacks many game-breakers. Blackmon did manage to still lead the team in catches and though facing a brief suspension at the beginning of the season, he showed the ability to be a physical and dependable short and intermediate player with run-after-catch skills. The Jaguars probably need one more great piece next to those guys, but 5'7” rookie Ace Sanders has shown some ability to be a playmaker for the offense during camp. The group isn't deep but has set a foundation for a big time future addition.

 

Tight End:

It is easy to contemplate what Marcedes Lewis's career would look like playing for, say, Tom Brady. There is not much difference skill set-wise between Lewis and Jason Witten. But there is time. Lewis is still a significant mismatch for almost any defender. He makes up for a lack of elite speed with elite size and good ball skills. He is also a nice run blocker. Behind Lewis, former Iowa tight end Allen Reisner has also impressed with his hands and route running.

 

Offensive Line:

The Jags should enjoy one of their best line groups in a few years, led by the bookend pair of Eugene Monroe and early pick Luke Joeckel. Monroe is one of the top ten tackles in the league. Joeckel has had no trouble adjusting to life in the NFL thus far, if camp is any indication. Together, the line should consistently stymie edge rushers for the near future. Inside are Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri at guard and long time center Brad Meester. While Meester and Nwaneri should mainain some level of consistency, especially in the run game, left guard Rackley is the question mark. He struggled mightily in his rookie year and is the one significant liability on the line. Future starting center Mike Brewster played better last year at that spot but was still subpar.

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Best Offensive Rookie – RB Denard Robinson 

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – WR Justin Blackmon

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Wide Receiver

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers

 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

Jacksonville needed to improve the pass rush desperately midway through 2012. Jason Babin became the answer. At least half the league could've used the veteran rusher. Now he is one of the defense's faces. Babin leads a group that lacks dynamic players on the edge. Jeremy Mincey is decent on the edge, but Austen Lane and second-year Andre Branch lack the ability to get pressure with any kind of consistency. Elite athlete Paul Hazel, out of Western Michigan, has flashed in camp and needs to be a big part of the nickel package, at the minimum, as an edge rusher. Nonetheless, in base packages, underrated Tyson Alualu will start on the edge, remarkably similar to the way new head coach and former Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, utilized Red Bryant in Seattle. Alualu is an excellent and versatile athlete and is obviously a better rusher inside. But he should be a great run game disruptor from the 5-technique spot in the 4-3, while shifting inside in nickel formations.

 

Defensive Tackle:

Inside, the team added Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller. Both should start and Marks, in particular, is a disruptive presence. Brandon Deaderick was also brought in, and could have a rotational role both inside and outside at Alualu's position. Rookies Abry Jones and T.J. Barnes have interesting, if limited skill sets and may both fit better in three-man lines. Finally, we are still waiting for athletic D'Anthony Smith to stay healthy and make some impact inside as a penetrator and rusher.

 

Linebacker:

This group has a good player and leader inside in Paul Posluszny, an excellent tackler and underrated athlete and playmaker. Unfortunately, the team will continue to miss long-time veteran and current Raven Daryl Smith. Outside, Geno Hayes and Russell Allen are slated to start as relatively undersized but athletic guys. The hope is that the larger projected defensive line can compensate in the run game, allowing Hayes and Allen to excel, as they ought to, in coverage. But that is a pipe dream, particularly in Hayes's case. This is another group lacking great depth.

 

Cornerback:

Jacksonville has one of the worst cornerback situations in the league. Mike Harris and Kevin Rutland are average corners who have gained more experience that you'd expect over the past couple years. But the team will miss Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis on the outside. Veteran Marcus Trufant is well past his prime physically. The one guy to watch and enjoy is rookie Dwayne Gratz, one of the best rookie cornerbacks, combining physicality, speed and tight coverage.

 

Safety:

The Jaguars believed they improved by adding skilled rookie Jonathan Cyprien. Cyprien lacks elite movement skills but plays all over the field, making plays on the ball and showing big hitting ability. Nonetheless, Dwight Lowery should be their best safety in 2013 with his experience and cornerback-like cover skills. Chris Prosinski is an excellent athlete. Alan Ball comes over as a height-speed combo journeyman who has failed to be effective in just about every role he has been put in. Finally, the Jags expect rookie Josh Evans to be able to eventually contribute well next to Cyprien as a starting safety. Unlikely.

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Best Defensive Rookie – CB Dwayne Gratz

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – CB Mike Harris

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Defensive End

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina