By John Doylemason
This article is part of our 2013 Fantasy Team Preview series in which we are profiling every NFL team leading up to the season, click here for the complete list of published previews. Also, check out our staff rankings for see how we value each player.
“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars of yesteryear were the laughingstock of the league and, well… not much has seriously changed. The two biggest problems on the team, their poor pass rush and terrible QB play, have not really been addressed. However, even though QB Blaine Gabbert remains under center, there are a few bright spots on the horizon: the addition of 2nd overall pick OT Luke Joeckel will provide a much-needed anchor for the offensive line for years to come. Talent at the playmaking positions is beginning to form around young WR’s Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, but those stars’ brightness are at the whim of questionable quarterbacking. If Maurice Jones-Drew comes back fully healed and in shape (which our injury expert Nick Weimer believes he will), he has a Comeback Player of the Year award in his future, so definitely give him a look during camp and the preseason. After him, the few remaining useful players will probably only provide depth for your fantasy rosters.
Added: QB Mike Kafka, RB Justin Forsett, RB De’Leon Eskridge, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, WR Jordan Shipley, WR Brittan Golden, C Brad Meester, C Dan Gerberry, DE Brandon Deaderick, DE J.D. Griggs, DT Roy Miller, DT Sen’Derrick Marks, CB Marcus Trufant, CB Alan Ball
Drafted: OT Luke Joeckel, FS John Cyprien, CB Dwayne Gratz, WR Ace Sanders, WR Denard Robinson, FS Josh Evans, CB Jeremy Harris, CB Demetrius McCray
Lost: CB Antwaun Molden, LB Greg Jones, RB Richard Murphy, DE Jerome Long, WR Jerrell Jackson, WR Laurent Robinson, S Dawan Landry, CB Aaron Ross, OT Guy Whimper, QB John Parker Wilson, DB Brandon King, RB Rashad Jennings
Offensively, the Jags’s biggest boon is MJD returning healthy. RB Justin Forsett takes over handcuff duties for the departed Rashad Jennings, but hopefully he won’t be used much once Jones-Drew is back up to full strength. Jones-Drew is still the focal point of this offense and he hopes to be running behind a newly-solidified O-line, with C Brad Meester returning and arguably the top rookie OT, Luke Joeckel. QB Mike Kafka was brought in off waivers to compete for the backup spot but he’ll likely be the 3rd QB behind veteran Chad Henne (who could be the starter by the end of the season). WR Mohamed Massaquoi was brought in to spell Blackmon during his suspension and will be the team’s possession receiver. Drafting WR’s Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson will provide some depth in the slot and the return game, although the team will likely develop specific packages for Robinson, using him more as a Wildcat RB than a wideout. I would keep your expectations very limited with Robinson; while he is immensely athletic and versatile, he is not specialized enough to unseat any player at their given position, and will struggle to see consistent playing time.
The Jaguars drafted 5 defensive backs in 2013, as well as signing veteran CB Marcus Trufant from the Seahawks’ elite shutdown defense. The team is serious about stemming the offensive firepower brewing in the division, and the youth at these positions will help them to do so more than 2012, especially paired with Trufant’s veteran know-how and above-average instincts. Be cautious about expecting too much, though, from this D/ST unit, as they are still very suspect and heralded rookie FS John Cyprien will start the preseason on the PUP list.
One Up: Marcedes Lewis, TE – One of the biggest reasons I like Lewis may be a bit surprising: the addition of OT Luke Joeckel. He will help solidify blocking on an O-line that has been an issue for years which has kept TE Marcedes Lewis in to help block on at least 25% of all pass plays over the last four years. With the offensive line playing so atrociously and injury-plagued, Joeckel can stem the tide of pass rushers and free up Lewis who is actually quite a talented pass-catcher. The coaching staff is eager to utilize him and even flex him out wide to abuse linebackers with his natural playmaking ability. It is hard to predict how active Lewis will be in 2013 but it will certainly be more than the 52-540-4 stat line he posted in 2012. He is an immense red zone target at 6’6”, 272 lbs and will likely be the #3 passing target on this offense. Given the prowess of MJD, Shorts, and Blackmon and the attention that will be paid to them, I believe Lewis can fly under the radar while sneakily replicating his career 2010 year (58-700-10).
One Down: Justin Blackmon, WR – It’s hard to pick a declining fantasy player on a team like this, with either rising stars or guys who are already duds. Blackmon, though, makes the most sense in this spot. Having a 4 game suspension is a crippling blow to any season, and it gets even worse when you add groin surgery to that (ouch), and even last year’s offseason DUI issues. Although his talent and potential is immense, his fantasy stock is taking a huge hit because of this suspension and last year’s inconsistent production. By his Week 5 return, the offense will already have developed an identity and he’ll have to be weaned back to game speed before seriously contributing. Lewis will likely sap a lot of red zone targets. I expect MJD to be 100% by the time the season starts and he will certainly see a lot of carries and catches over the middle. Blackmon very well could explode later in the season because the talent is there, but luck and circumstance is not in his favor. Unseating Mohamed Massaquoi is not a huge challenge once he returns from suspension and injury, but it should not be taken for granted as Blackmon needs to take major steps to show his focus, maturity, and physical ability on the field.
1) Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first 4 games, and recently underwent groin surgery, should he even be considered draftable anymore?
Yes, I would still draft Blackmon, but far later on given the circumstances. A player of Blackmon’s caliber demands attention in the draft and it is far too early to declare him a bust. While he did have a lackluster season in 2012 given his 5th overall NFL Draft position, he blazed in the second half of the season, averaging 5 receptions and 74 yards per game. He even scored 5 TDs in that 8-game span, including a 7-236-1 TD scorching of Houston. The real question is what his perceived value is and where do you draft him?
Blackmon was a top-30 WR when the lights went out in January but it was waiver wire god Cecil Shorts who capitalized on Blackmon’s early struggles and went on to be the team’s lead receiver. Shorts was able to impress the new coaching staff enough with his gains and offseason to be named the teams #1 WR in 2013. That is a major setback for Blackmon given the weakness of the QB position in Jacksonville. Henne and Gabbert were both at least 30th in each of the three QB rankings by football outsiders in 2012. As a result, the likelihood of two 1000+ yard receivers is very marginal.
Blackmon also must have traveled to Seattle in the offseason because he got suspended by the league for 4 games due to PEDs. That is a huge blow for a first year player who was lost for half the season and now has to implement a new offense. Even though Blackmon has the most physical gifts of any receiver on the team, his head is not in the right place. While I’m on my soap box, his DUI issue after the draft in 2012 only adds to the questions about his character. If you’re getting paid millions to play a sport you love, you’d think you would try to not screw that up at all costs…
Knowing you could get a WR who could produce top-30 value from Week 5 onward, but one who has character questions and will ride the bench through the first 4 games is quite a conundrum. I think he’s worth a late round flier based solely on his potential, as he’s being drafted like a top-50 QB (13th round in ESPN mocks) but has the ability to produce top-30 numbers once he’s back. All the questions about him, though, say you shouldn’t grab him much earlier than where he’s going.
2) Cecil Shorts was one of the best WR’s in the NFL second half of 2012, can he build on his success in 2013?
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch brings a vertical passing game that will play well into the strengths of the WR corps, led by Cecil Shorts. After exploding onto the scene in 2012, Shorts has been gifted the lead spot as the ‘X’ receiver on the outside and will retain it. No one else on the roster has the talent to supplant Shorts so his potential is even more positive in 2013 than last year showed.
The real value Shorts presents is determined by who is throwing to him. Chad Henne subbed in for starter Gabbert in Week 10 and got the starting gig by Week 12. He averaged 248 yards and 1.38 TD’s per game. Not great, but it was a substantial improvement over Blaine Gabbert who averaged 182 yards and 1 TD per game (I’m excluding the week 11 game against Houston because he was injured after 2 attempts). The ownership and coaching staff have made it clear there will be a competition for the starting QB spot, but I have a suspicion it will be Blaine Gabbert. No franchise wants to give up on a first round draft pick so readily. Clearly, Henne would be much more beneficial to Shorts’ success, but with Gabbert at the helm, the pint-sized receiver still hauled in 62.3 yards per game.
Whoever throws to Shorts will be reading many-layered routes with new OC Jedd Fisch’s offense. Utilizing a mix of curls and stacked vertical pass patterns, the offense is designed to create 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 match-ups down the field. Shorts is an intelligent, quick receiver and should comprehend these plays well and he also plays the long ball well, averaging 17.8 YPR. Despite who throws in 2013, Shorts should be a safe bet and will still likely be featured, especially in the first 4 weeks as Blackmon serves out his suspension.
3) Does the improved O-line help MJD’s chances of regaining top 5 fantasy status?
Yes, very much so. The offensive line will return relatively healthy and, with a fantastic draft pick at OT, I greatly endorse MJD to be a top-5 running back again. Although he’ll be 28 in 2013, “Pocket Hercules” has no major handcuff to scalp serious carries from him, and he’ll immediately return to bellcow duties if healthy.
At LT, Eugene Monroe is a top-10 player according to ProFootballFocus.com and a bright spot along the plagued Jags line. Although the Jags spent the 2nd overall pick on a tackle in the 2013 Draft, the team has made it apparent Monroe will be the starting LT in 2013 and are very open to an extension following next season, which is quite a vote of confidence. LG Will Rackley is looking to rebound from a missed season on IR due to an ankle injury suffered in camp. Reports are it has healed well and he has spent the season and offseason locked in the weight and film rooms. He has good size and decent feet, and if he can prove his projections coming out of college, he will be serviceable.
The starting C will be veteran Brad Meester. Although the 14 year vet has a lot of wear and tear, he will be the glue that will keep the young line afloat, and OC Fisch believes the continuity will help the mostly-young line gel. RG Uche Nwaneri is a quality guard with admirable size (6’3”, 318lbs), but he is the one question mark on this line, playing on a scoped knee from a procedure in January. Although the procedure went well, the warning flag has to be raised whenever a key run-blocking big man has any injury (let alone his second) with a knee. He is still penciled in at RG and if he can return to form, the ground game should be fine. The 2nd overall pick was used on RT Luke Joeckel and I doubt MJD could be more happy. The former Aggie lineman was a consensus 1st-2nd draft pick and for good reason. He is a technically sound tackle with quality intangibles and quick feet to give his solid frame balance. He makes very few mistakes and with an offseason in the weight room he can add the necessary strength to be an even more powerful road-grader to match his elite pass-blocking prowess.
As for the running back himself, with two quality WR’s in Shorts and Blackmon and a potential top-10 TE in Lewis, MJD shouldn’t see as many 8-man defensive fronts as he used to. Even the lack of a decent quarterback shouldn’t be problematic either, as MJD has been a top-5 back with subpar QBs before. Additionally, Jones-Drew’s pass catching abilities and the importance of short curl and flat routes in OC Jedd Fisch’s stretch offense make him a PPR bonus. If a half-decent QB emerges in 2013 and the Lisfranc injury does not resurface, a top-5 finish is in the cards, with special thanks to an absolutely tremendous upgrade on the offensive line.
In conclusion, there are a number of questions facing the team and new coach Gus Bradley. Offensively there is potential for a few mid-range fantasy stars and MJD is primed for a return to fantasy stardom behind a retooled offensive line. Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon should expand on their 2012 numbers but both of their potential is checked by the quality at QB, and Blackmon’s is also limited by personal issues . The team is definitely improving but is a long way from being a goldmine for fantasy superstars. Still, 2013 could see a few surprises if you pay close enough attention.