Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/2/12
The Jacksonville Jaguars endured another tough season in 2011, going 5-11 for the 2nd time in 4 years. The once proud franchise has dropped to 25-39 since 2008 after a highly successful run from 2004-2007 when the team reached the playoffs twice and went 40-24. The Jags do have some obvious strengths and weaknesses heading forward in 2012; offensively, the passing game is among the worst in the NFL. 

2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert will look to improve in his sophomore season and the team must add impact players at the wide receiver position either in the Draft, free agency or via trade. The running game led by the NFL’s rushing leader Maurice Jones-Drew is a huge plus heading forward and will aid both Gabbert and the defense in the future. Defensively, the Jags were among the most improved units in the entire league, finishing 6th overall. Free agent signee MLB Paul Posluszny led the charge and this unit kept the team in almost every contest.  However, the front 7 lacks an elite playmaker who commands double teams as well as attention. Let’s look further in depth into the Jaguars’ offseason agenda.

                                                                                OFFENSE
 
Long-time NFL Head Coach Bill Parcells famously said you are what your record is. The 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense was just that- OFFENSIVE!  The team finished last in the NFL (Among 32 clubs) in total yards, passing yards, first downs, yards per pass play as well as 32nd in average gain per offensive play.  Only a career season from MJD saved this unit from being a complete and total embarrassment.

Gabbert (50.8% comp. percentage, 2,214 yards, 12 TDs, 11 Interceptions, 65.4 QB rating) was thrown to the wolves in Week 3 with little help from an overmatched and under talented receiving corps (WR Mike Thomas is a #2 receiver at best and a #3 on a good team) and limited exposure to the Jaguars’ personnel and system due to the lockout. The rookie was not terrible, limited turnovers and should benefit greatly from the hiring of new Head Coach Mike Mularkey, who has a strong offensive background. Even All-Pro tight end Marcedes Lewis fell off the Earth after catching 58 balls for 700 yards and 10 TDs in 2010, his numbers plummeted to just 39 catches and ZERO touchdowns in 2011. This group needs a major overhaul and will be addressed heavily in both free agency and Draft Weekend.

I would initially look two sign two free agent wide receivers prior to the Draft, one high-salary guy, like Robert Meachem and Marques Colston of New Orleans, Mario Manningham of New York and San Diego Vincent Jackson of San Diego would fit this bill. I would then focus on cheaper options in free agency or late in the Draft and find this franchise’s Victor Cruz or Wes Welker. This is a run-first team with a strong tight end and elite rusher, so it will more than likely never be a 4-5 wide receiver spread-type attack. However, with Gabbert on board, we need to surround him with weapons.  In 2011 Jacksonville sent the poor rookie into a gunfight with a knife most of the year.

With Lewis and MJD the key contributors to the offensive attack, Jacksonville must find complementary parts to serve as backups. Lewis is a huge man and incredible blocker, so an H-back/receiver first type would be a welcomed addition.  One late draft option, Michael Egnew, is an ideal fit. Why? He was a favorite target of Gabbert while they played together at Missouri.  Another runner would also be welcomed. The 2nd leading rusher after MJD totaled 130 yards!!!!   This hole was created when top backup runner Rashad Jennings was lost for the year late in the preseason with a serious knee injury. MJD should have garnered serious MVP consideration after running for 1,606 yards and an additional 374 through the air.  A veteran with size( Green Bay’s Ryan Grant or Washington’s Tim Hightower?)  would be welcomed while a 3rd-down type scatback could be found late in the Draft. Keeping Lewis and Jones-Drew healthy should be a major priority for the Jaguars moving forward.  These moves will extend their careers and make both the team and players better long and short-term.   



The team’s offensive line is set at left tackle with Eugene Monroe (9th overall pick in the 2009 Draft) as well as the two guard positions ( 2nd-year man Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri, who also plays center).  Brad Meester has been with the team since 2000 and the long-time center continues to play well but the team has youngsters John Estes and Jason Spitz (top backup at guard as well ) as internal options. 

The major issue is right tackle and the injury status of Eben Britton. The 2nd rounder in 2009 out of Arizona missed 9 games in 2010 with a shoulder injury and was placed on season-ending IR in mid November after experiencing complications from back surgery. Depending on medical reports, the team might want to look at taking a replacement tackle in the first 3-4 rounds. However, Guy Whimper, a free agent pick-up in 2010, played well in Britton’s absence and is only entering his 5th year in the NFL.
                                                               
 
DEFENSE
 
The Jaguars invested heavily in this side of the ball in 2010 with Posluszny, LB Clint Session and SS Dawan Landry signing deals totaling almost $100 million. The defensive improvement was obvious but the team has issues entering the 2012 offseason.  A major plus for the organization heading forward was the  retaining of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who was the interim head coach when Jack Del Rio was fired  on November 29th.  Keeping the popular Tucker on board says a lot about Mularkey and the Jaguars heading forward. The strength of the defense has to be the linebacker corps. Although Session was placed on IR in Late November, he joined Posluszny and SLB Daryl Smith to form one of the better linebacking units in the NFL. Ex-Jets FS Dwight Lowery and CB Drew Coleman were welcomed additions to the secondary that lost long-time Jaguar and star CB Reshean Mathis to a late November ACL tear. Lowery was impressive manning centerfield and garnered Pro Bowl consideration. Mathis’ health status has to be a major key question for the team entering the 2012 campaign.

Overall the cornerback position dealt with injuries and inconsistencies throughout 2011.  Meanwhile, the career of DE Aaron Kampman is in doubt after he was placed on season-ending IR for the 3rd straight season due to knee injuries in 2011. He tore the ACL in his left knee in 2009, right in 2010 and needed follow-up surgery late in 2011 after appearing in only 3 games. It is never a good thing for any NFL player - and particularly brutal - for an edge pass rusher. The 10-year veteran has to be a strong cap casualty candidate.

 The defensive line is solid and stout with massive Terrance Knighton and 3rd-year pro Tyson Alualu clogging the middle for the linebackers and safeties at the tackle spots. DE Jeremy Mincey is a priority to be retained in free agency while youngsters George Selvie, Leger (BEST NAME IN THE NFL) , Douzable and Austen Lane (placed on IR due to shoulder injury) are solid young players at the end position. What this group needs is an elite pass rusher, one that commands double teams and the respect of the entire offensive line. The good news is this Draft is loaded with strong defensive linemen and many of them would look very good in Jacksonville. With the Jaguars’ first pick (7th overall), I would take South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, who was a dominant force in the strong SEC conference. After missing badly on Florida DE Derrick Harvey (8th overall pick in the 2008 Draft) this team is in desperate need of an elite pass rusher. Ingram fits the bill and then some. North Carolina DE Quinton Coples is another name you will see linked with the Jags but I do not believe he is a good value at this slot in the Draft.

Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. Cornerback is another position I would consider here but I do not see a CB outside of Morris Claiborne (projected by most to be the 1st defensive player to be selected)  that  I would take in the first round.  Claiborne will be gone when the Jags pick is up. The next two CBs on most draft boards (Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins) have more baggage than American Tourister.  STAY AWAY!!!!
 
                                                                INTERNAL FREE AGENTS
 
Jacksonville GM Gene Smith is reportedly planning to keep at least 4 of the Jaguars’ impending free agents: K Josh Scobee, Mincey, Lowery and Mathis. Scobee is a huge weapon for a team that plays low scoring games and is defensive oriented. Some outlets have the team prepared to place the franchise tag on their kicker. If you doubt the importance of the position, just ask any of your friends who are Baltimore Ravens fans! Mincey and Lowery had career years and are entering their primes. While Mathis was enjoying his best season since 2007 before tearing up his knee, the career Jag recently stated in an interview that he would like to re-sign with Jacksonville. Youngsters Derek Cox, Morgan Trent, Kevin Rutland and William Middleton all played well in 2011. A 2-3 year deal would make sense for Mathis (barring physical setbacks), as you can never have enough good defensive backs in the NFL. 
 
                                                                OUTSIDE FREE AGENCY-DRAFT
The Jaguars have 3 major needs entering the Draft and free agency period: pass rusher, wide receiver and cornerback.  They could also use a long-term answer at C, whether it being on the current roster or in the Draft, and depth on both lines.  Jacksonville could also use more talent and bodies in the secondary. As I outlined earlier, I would sign a big ticket free agent WR and a solid veteran pro to be the 3rd or 4th option behind the free agent and Thomas. Internally, Jarrett Dillard and Cecil Shorts are entering years 2 and 3 of their NFL careers, time for them to earn those pay checks. Unless a major miracle occurs Claiborne will be off the board when the Jaguars pick at No. 7 in April. I would draft the best pass rusher in the Draft - Ingram. He was great at the combine and his play stands out on tape.
 
 Then my focus would turn to both lines - the defense could use another interior lineman to play with Alualu and Knighton and DL rotations are vital to the success of any defense. The good news? This DL class is very deep and talented. The center group is also strong and the Jags might want to browse here as well if they do not think their options at the position do not translate well long term. Georgia’s Ben Jones and Mississippi State’s Quinton Saulsberry are two guys who should be available in the 3rd round or later. The Overall offensive line class is outstanding. You can get good value at these spots in later rounds- 4th and lower. Another option at right tackle might also make sense in the middle rounds. Britton appears to be a bit brittle, and once again, the tackle class seems to be very strong.
 
The Linebackers and defensive backs groups are not as strong but the team could use another safety and some nickel and dime guys on the outside as well as a long-term replacement for Mathis. As I mentioned previously, the drop after Claiborne at the corner position in this Draft is huge, so teams would be advised to wait until rounds 3 and higher to take a corner. Several cornerbacks had good days at the Combine, so the Jags need to utilize their scouting department and find some diamonds in the rough here.  A strong-side linebacker, who can spell Smith (8-year veteran (from time to time, would also make sense. A veteran offensive line free agent like New England’s Dan Connolly, who can play both center and guard, should be someone the Jags kick tires on. However, the team might want to let this unit grow together and adjust down the road.  Finally, the team needs to find a veteran backup quarterback who can play and be a short-term answer if Gabbert regresses. Two candidates that come to mind are free agents Jason Campbell  and Chad Henne.
           


 

 

 

 

 



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