August 31, 2007 Katie Koss Sporting News WHAT'S NEW
In a major about-face, coach Jack Del Rio has decided that the Byron Leftwich era is over, and the David Garrard era will begin. And with Garrard not being that polished of a passer, it's really not much of an upgrade. The team brought in coordinator Dirk Koetter to jazz up the passing game with his uptempo offense, but that doesn't counteract the lack of weapons in Jacksonville's arsenal. You could place a big ol' Mr. Yuck sticker on the team's receiving corps. The only additions to what could best be described as a mediocre unit are free agent Dennis Northcutt and rookies Mike Walker (third-rounder) and John Broussard (seventh-rounder).
Northcutt may provide a speed threat, but don't count on him to rescue a moribund attack. With C Brad Meester out for at least the first few games and OL Stockar McDougle (Achilles') done for the season, Garrard's protection may be spottier.
The team is hoping the passing game starts to click so it has more space to do what it does best: run the ball. The dynamic tandem of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor returns, and Jones-Drew, in particular, should get more looks as a receiver. Both backs will benefit from the addition of RT Tony Pashos, whose forte is run blocking. The defense lost a couple of big names in the secondary (Donovin Darius and Deon Grant), but the addition of S Reggie Nelson, a first-round pick, and the healthy returns of DE Reggie Hayward and MLB Mike Peterson, who missed a combined 26 games last season, could add big-play muster to a defense that's known for stinginess, particularly against the run.
Projected draft round Player Round David Garrard, QB 14-15 Maurice Jones-Drew, RB 2 Fred Taylor, RB 5 Matt Jones, WR 10 Ernest Wilford, WR 15 Marcedes Lewis, TE DND Josh Scobee, K DND Defense/special teams 14 Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions:WR John Broussard, S Reggie Nelson, WR Dennis Northcutt, OT Tony Pashos, WR Mike Walker. Key losses: TE Kyle Brady, S Donovin Darius, S Deon Grant.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB. Everybody loves to root for the little guy, right? Jones-Drew (5-7) was far from being the runt of last year's running back litter. In fact, he gained 5.7 yards per carry in 2006 -- tops among all NFL rushers with 100 or more attempts. He also caught fire during the second half of the season, with 10 touchdowns and 859 all-purpose yards in his last eight games. Another number that should make fantasy owners smile: 1, as in the number of fumbles Jones-Drew had in 212 touches on offense last season.
Before you get too gung-ho about Jones-Drew, though, remember that he'll still be sharing the rushing load with Fred Taylor. That's enough to relegate Jones-Drew to No. 2 back status for fantasy owners, but it won't depreciate his overall value too much. Given his smaller frame, Jones-Drew could benefit from having another back help absorb some of the pounding between the tackles -- and free him for the splashy big-play runs he's known for. In addition, Jones-Drew's soft hands as a receiver, combined with Koetter's willingness to line him up outside, will ensure that Jones-Drew gets more involved in the passing game this season, which could help mitigate any carries he loses to Taylor.
Jaguars defense/special teams. Despite struggling with a slew of injuries last season, the Jags' D was one of the NFL's stingiest units last season, finishing fourth in points allowed per game and second in yards allowed per game. With the formidable tackle duo of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud again clogging the middle and the linebacking corps as speedy as ever, you can again count on low scores and little running room for opposing offenses.
The concern for fantasy owners was the team's lack of big-play punch, but Jacksonville stands to improve in that area this season for a few reasons. The unit could feast on favorable matchups against division rivals Titans and Texans, as well as rebuilding offenses in Atlanta, KC, Tampa Bay and Oakland. The Jaguars also get two of their top defenders -- DE Reggie Hayward, an ace speed rusher, and MLB Mike Peterson, the unit's fiery leader - back from injuries. Overall, Jacksonville is a solid but unspectacular starting option, one that may be most effective as part of a platoon.
Fred Taylor, RB. Remember the "I'm not dead yet" sketch from "Monty Python"? Taylor, who's entering his 10th NFL season, may not be in the Jaguars' future plans, but he's still very much a part of their present. His numbers from last season -- 1,146 rushing yards, 11 total touchdowns -- almost certainly will go down this season as Jones-Drew assumes more of the load, but Taylor still has enough in the tank to keep his young teammate from hoarding all the carries. Like Jones-Drew, Taylor has the versatility to power his way up the middle or bounce runs outside for big gains. Fragile Freddy has often been knocked for his inability to stay on the field, but he stayed relatively healthy last season. Injuries, though, will be less of a concern given that Taylor won't be on the field as much. His part-time role means he shouldn't be more than a borderline fantasy starter.
Josh Scobee, K. You could do worse than Scobee -- but you should be able to do better. Though he improved on field goals last season, Scobee remains inconsistent in that area, connecting on 26 of 32 attempts in 2006. Look to him more as a bye week fill-in than a regular starting option. 2-Star Players
Mike Peterson, LB. Peterson could prove to be a nice late-round sleeper in IDP leagues. He was limited to five games in 2006 because of a torn pectoral muscle, but in the past he has provided solid production, as his numbers from 2005 (132 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 interceptions) and 2004 (126 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) show. An aggressive middle 'backer with great instincts, Peterson has a knack for making plays all over the field.
Rashean Mathis, CB. The star of the Jags' secondary, Mathis has value as a turnover threat in IDP leagues. He has great closing speed and leaping ability, skills that helped the ballhawk snag a career-high eight interceptions last season. He's not the surest of tacklers, and that somewhat limits his IDP value.
Bobby McCray, DE. Don't get sucked in by McCray's tantalizing sacks numbers from 2006, when he led the team with 10. With Reggie Hayward back from injury, McCray will be relegated to a backup role. Though the Jaguars certainly will find plenty of ways to utilize his speed as a pass rusher, his production is bound to decline.
Matt Jones, WR. Jones is the most appealing of the Jags' receivers -- but that's like being named the most endearing member of "The View." Jones is a great physical specimen, with the swift feet and massive size (6-6, 242) to create mismatches in the red zone and over the middle. Those qualities should make him a valuable touchdown producer, but the third-year QB-turned-receiver's production has yet to come close to his potential. His progress has been further hindered by pesky hamstring problems, which limited him last season and have cropped up again this preseason. Still, teammate Reggie Williams' continued free fall from grace leaves the No.1 receiver spot there for the taking, and Jones has the potential to seize it. Drafting him as anything but a bench player, though, would be a misguided decision.
David Garrard, QB. Del Rio may think that Garrard gives the Jaguars a better chance at winning, but that won't make Garrard a major target for fantasy owners. In 10 starts last season, Garrard averaged 173 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception per game. He is definitely more mobile than the Statue of Leftwich, but there is no reason to think he's more than a one-star player.
Ernest Wilford, WR. Like Jones, Wilford (6-4, 223) cuts an imposing figure and has value as a possession receiver, particularly because he has the "ups" to sky over defenders for the ball. On the downside, he lacks consistency and the speed to provide big-play pop, and his TD production dipped considerably last season, from 7 TDs in 2005 to 2 in 2006. On top of that, he, too, has been banged up most of the preseason, with a knee sprain. He still could prove to be one of the Jags' top receiving targets, but that's by default. Look to him only as a late-round flier.
Dennis Northcutt, WR. Northcutt made a shrewd decision in signing with the Jags; their dearth of talent at receiver gives him a viable shot to earn the slot receiver job. His speed suits Koetter's downfield passing attack, which could translate into big plays. He also provides a little value as a returner. That said, he's a fringe draft-day consideration.
Byron Leftwich, QB. It's hard to believe this is already Leftwich's fifth season in the league -- for all his potential, the payoff has been minimal thus far. And now the only way his value is resurrected is if he washes ashore with someone else. Still, with his injury history, Leftwich is not a bulletproof option.
Reggie Williams, WR. Hear that whistle blowing? It's the train to Bustville, and Williams may be riding it out of Jacksonville. Despite leading the Jaguars in receptions and TDs last season (albeit with weak totals of 52 and four), Williams has underwhelmed the staff so greatly this preseason that he's listed among third-string wideouts on the depth chart. Don't bother drafting him.
Marcedes Lewis, TE. The Jags plan to use their tight ends more this season, particularly in two-tight end sets, so Lewis should get more looks as a receiver this season. Then again, it'd be tough for him to get fewer shots than he did as a rook, when he caught only 13 passes. Lewis has a big frame (6-6, 265) and the hands and quickness to develop into more of a receiving weapon in his second NFL season. He's not worth drafting yet, but keep an eye on his progress early in the year, just in case he blossoms into a waiver-wire find.
Mike Walker, WR. The rookie speedster - he clocked a 4.35 at the Combine -- had some impressive flashes early in camp. But a dislocated finger hampered him some. Again, he should be nothing more than a name to keep an eye on in case the Jags' ineptitude at the position allows him to ascend the ranks.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Excitement over Jones-Drew seems to have driven up his market price - at $7.5M, his price tag makes him the seventh-priciest running back on the board. Don't bite on the inflated price tag; you'll get more bang for your buck with the Colts' Joseph Addai ($7.15M) or the Seahawks' Shawn Alexander ($7M). Incidentally, Jones-Drew's backfield partner, Fred Taylor, isn't a bargain, either. He'll cost you $6.75M, same as bona fide starters Travis Henry and Ronnie Brown.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: With a former Pro Bowl linebacker pulling the strings, it's no wonder defense is the Jaguars' forte. Del Rio and coordinator Mike Smith don't do anything fancy on defense; they lean on a strong line to pressure QBs and speed in the back seven to limit opponents. There's a reason the Jaguars brought in Koetter as offensive coordinator, and it isn't to dink and dunk. Koetter is bringing his much-ballyhooed vertical passing attack from Arizona State to the NFL, where he's coaching for the first time. That doesn't mean the Jags are going to become a pass-first team; it just means they'll try to balance the running game out with an uptempo air attack that stretches defenses. However, that might be tougher to do now with Garrard.
Offensive line: The line was solid last season, and the addition of Pashos, who has a nasty streak and can engulf defenders, could create more space in the running room. But particularly early in the season, the unit could take its lumps. Meester is expected to miss at least the first three games with a cracked bone in his foot, and Dennis Norman has struggled some as his replacement in the preseason, particularly in terms of making line calls. That won't help Garrard, but at least he's more mobile than Leftwich.
Schedule analysis: There are some sweet spots in the Jags' schedule that should have fantasy owners licking their chops: division games against Houston and Tennessee are big pluses, although the Jags' second game against the Texans doesn't come until Week 17, when it won't do most fantasy owners any good. The running game could benefit from favorable matchups with the Colts, and the defense stands to profit from games against rebuilding offenses such as those in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. But a word of caution: the Jaguars' schedule come fantasy playoff time is much more perilous, with the Panthers, Steelers and Raiders on the slate Weeks 14-16. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 12th easiest.