QB Blaine Gabbert
Sometimes the scouting reports on college players hit the nail on the head – that was certainly the case with Gabbert. The book on him coming out of college was he had the necessary athleticism to succeed but he struggled under pressure. Thrust into a starting role before he was ready, due to the release of David Garrard and Luke McCown’s ineptitude, Gabbert frequently misread plays, forced passes into coverage and threw off his back foot often when he wasn’t pressured. The Jaguars will give him every opportunity to be their starter in 2012 but they signed Chad Henne as insurance in case Gabbert continues to struggle. With Laurent Robinson, rookie 1st round pick Justin Blackmon and Mike Thomas as his lead wide receivers and Marcedes Lewis at tight end, Gabbert doesn’t possess great options in the passing game. He is waiver wire material in redraft leagues and a middling dynasty prospect.
QB Chad Henne
Heading into 2011, Henne was entering his 3rd year as the Dolphins starter and looking to solidify his hold on the team’s starting quarterback position. He played well in two of his first three games before an injury to his non-throwing shoulder not only ended his season but also his career in Miami. He landed in Jacksonville in what could be described as the league’s best backup quarterback job in terms of opportunity. Blaine Gabbert struggled mightily as a rookie and we have no idea how long new head coach Mike Mularkey will stick with him if his struggles continue.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
There isn’t a running back in the league who achieved more last season with less talent surrounding him that MJD. With the Jaguars beset by poor play at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, tight end Marcedes Lewis failing to build upon his career season in 2010 and no solid backup due to a season-ending injury to Rashad Jennings, MJD was the only reliable option in the Jacksonville’s offense. Hence, his career high in touches with 386 (343 runs and 43 receptions). By season’s end, he had totaled 1,606 yards on the ground (a career high) and 374 receiving yards as well as 11 total touchdowns. He will once again be the focal point of the team’s offense in 2012, provided he shows up. Just three years into a five-year contract signed in 2009, MJD is asking for a new deal and Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has said that he doesn’t plan to renegotiate. Having carried the ball more than any other running back over the past three years and with a holdout a possibility, MJD carries a fair amount of risk heading into 2012. Even with that risk, he still rates as just outside of the Big Three at running back.
RB Rashad Jennings
After barely seeing the ball as a rookie in 2009, Jennings carved out a solid role for him in 2010, doubling his touches from 55 to 110 and gaining 459 yards on the ground to go along with 223 receiving yards and scoring four touchdowns. Having shown some big play ability, Jennings was expected to earn an even bigger role in 2011 with Maurice Jones-Drew having knee problems entering the season but a severely sprained knee ended his year in the preseason. Entering 2012, Jennings has a solid grasp on the backup role behind MJD and could establish himself as a decent flex play given the lack of proven talent amongst the team’s skill position players. Did we mention that a MJD holdout is a possibility?
WR Laurent Robinson
Lacking a proven top wide receiver, the Jaguars signed Robinson to a five-year, $32.5-million contract in the offseason that contained $14-million in guarantees in the belief that the former Cowboy could fill that role in 2012. Robinson enjoyed a career-year in Dallas in 2011, establishing career-highs in receptions (54), yards (858) and touchdowns (11), despite playing a reserve role behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. In Jacksonville, Robinson ascends to the top of the team’s depth chart at wide receiver and will be paired in the starting lineup with rookie 1st round pick Justin Blackmon. While that sounds promising, Robinson won’t benefit from teams focusing on other quality playmakers and he is ill suited to be a team’s leading wide receiver. He possesses solid size and speed but he has failed to remain healthy and the Jaguars will be his fifth team as he enters his sixth season in the league. In fact it is possible, maybe even likely, that Robinson will see his production go down despite the increase in targets he should see in Jacksonville, provided he remains healthy. Not helping matters is that quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s accuracy is a far cry from what Robinson had in Dallas with Tony Romo. Somebody will draft Robinson as a WR3 or maybe even a WR2. Don’t let it be you.
WR Justin Blackmon
The Jaguars got plenty of kudos for trading up from the 7th pick to the 5th pick in order to leapfrog the receiver needy Rams and select Blackmon; addressing their own issues at the position. Unfortunately, two short months later, Blackmon was arrested for DUI, his second such charge in less than two years. Prior to that, head coach Mike Mularkey had commented that Blackmon looked good when he knows what he’s doing, a backhanded compliment to be sure. Do you get the impression the Jags can’t draft wide receivers? Prior to Blackmon, the wide receivers the team has selected in the 1st round were R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Ouch! Let’s sum it up. In April, Blackmon was considered the best wide receiver in the draft and his fantasy prospects for 2012 looked solid. Then he lands in Jacksonville where the offense is led by Blaine Gabbert and he displays some maturity issues both on and off the field. Blackmon is no better than a WR5 entering 2012 but rates as a solid dynasty prospect provided he gets his life in order.
WR Mike Thomas
With Mike Sims-Walker leaving the team last off-season, Thomas became the Jaguars top wide receiver and promptly proceeded to prove all the pundits who said he was ill prepared for that role correct. Some of the blame for his lack of production could be laid at the feet of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert but Thomas simply doesn’t possess enough speed to make up for his diminutive stature (5’8”, 198 pounds). More quick than fast, Thomas is best suited to play out of the slot but was forced to line up outside and couldn’t get enough separation against opposing team’s top cornerbacks, catching just 44 of his 91 targets for the year. Jacksonville foolishly handed him a $19-million, three-year contract extension with $9-million in guarantees last October only to watch his production plummet, with Thomas catching just 24 passes for 203 yards and no touchdowns in 11 games after signing the deal. The contract likely ensures he will remain a key cog in the team’s offensive attack once again in 2012. However, having set career-lows in receptions and yards in 2011 while catching just one touchdown pass, don’t expect Thomas to make much of his opportunities this coming season. And he won’t be getting nearly as many with Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon taking over as the team’s starters.
WR Lee Evans
Stick with me here, folks. If you’re playing in a deep league and in need of a wide receiver, you could do worse than taking a flier on Evans. Have a look at the depth chart in front of him. You’ve got injury prone (Laurent Robinson), immature and young (Justin Blackmon) and ill suited to start (Mike Thomas) players in front of him. While Evans was a lost cause in Baltimore last season, justifying the Bills decision to dump him and his bloated contract, it’s not like his speed has completely abandoned him. Reports out of Jacksonville indicate that he was solid in OTA’s.
TE Marcedes Lewis
What a difference a year makes. After posting a career year in 2010 with 58 receptions for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns, Lewis’ production plummeted as he suffered through playing with a rookie quarterback in an offense that failed to move the ball on a consistent basis. Despite having his targets reduced by just three (from 88 to 85), Lewis caught just 39 passes for 460 yards and failed to find the end zone. It’s worth noting that removing his 10-touchdown explosion in 2010, Lewis has caught seven touchdowns during his other five seasons in the league, which includes 77 games and 74 starts. He has topped 500 receiving yards twice. He has topped 50 receptions once. Enough beating around the bush – don’t expect a bounce back season in 2012. Lewis is a lower tier TE2 with little upside.