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Roster Roundouts ’10: A Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview

See all of the previous LiveBall Roster Roundouts articles: BucsBrownsChiefs.

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Jacksonville Jaguars  (Projected Finish: 6-10)

Team synopsis: Everything the Jaguars have been building to since Gene Smith took over as GM comes to a head this year, with this team.  Smith has done a better job with the Jags than you’ve probably realized, but in this division, the Jaguars are rolling a weighted dice.  With little reason to not make wholesale changes after a third consecutive losing season, Head Coach Jack Del Rio, QB David Garrard, and OC Dirk Koetter have just 16 games to make their entire tenure here relevant.  A disaster season could end Smith’s time here as well.

Best Players

  • QB David Garrard (drafted — East Carolina/2002 4th round pick)
  • RB Maurice Jones-Drew (drafted — UCLA/2006 2nd round pick)
  • DE Aaron Kampman (signed — Green Bay/2010 free agent)
  • LB Daryl Smith (drafted — Georgia Tech/2004 2nd round pick)

Best Prospects

  • WR Mike Thomas (drafted — Arizona/2009 4th round pick)
  • LT Eugene Monroe (drafted — Virginia/2009 1st round pick)
  • RT Eben Britton (drafted — Arizona/2009 2nd round pick)
  • DT Terrance Knighton (drafted — Temple/2009 3rd round pick)
  • DT Tyson Alualu (drafted — Cal/2010 1st round pick)
  • CB Derek Cox (drafted — William & Mary/2009 3rd round pick)

I’ll give you just one reason to pick the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the super bowl this season: the 2007 New York Giants.  Those Giants went to the super bowl that season heavily on the strength of their 2007 rookie class, which was pretty much a non-factor on those first 15 weeks when the Giants were a below average faux-playoff contender.  When you look at all that talent that the Jaguars received from their 2009 class — particularly the job that their area scouts did with some of those schools (Arizona, William & Mary, Temple, even Rice) — yeah, that’s a super bowl worthy draft class for Gene Smith in his first year.

It comes on the heels of a completely disastrous 2008 draft for former VP of Player Personnel Shack Harris, trying to draft for a team that had just won it’s first playoff game since back in the late-90’s when Mark Brunell was in his prime.  The Jaguars traded up to no. 8 overall to draft Derrick Harvey out of Florida.  Harvey may end up being a pretty decent right end, particularly in run defense, but you don’t trade your draft to get up to that point and select a player who isn’t a great pass rusher, which is exactly what Harris did.  The Jaguars added another DE, Auburn’s Quentin Groves, in the second round of that draft.  He’s now a Raider: the new Jags GM had seen everything he needed to with him in just one season.

Consequently, this Jags team is loaded with potential, and yet, hardly any marketable stars.  LB Daryl Smith is a fantastic NFL linebacker, and has been for the last four seasons, but playing in Jacksonville behind Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, he hardly had a chance to become a household name.  It’s one marketable athlete is marketable more for his quirky personality and fantasy football value (these things are not mutually exclusive, we found out) is superstar runner Maurice Jones-Drew, always a threat to make the highlight reel every time he touches the football.

The Jaguars have long struggled to fill their stadium, and that led plenty of observers to believe that the team could be forced into taking QB Tim Tebow with the tenth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Tebow is from Jacksonville, and he made his fame (and eventual fortune) as quarterback of the Gators.  Most Jaguars fans root for the Gators on Saturdays (though it’s a very small amount of UF fans that could tell you how the Jags did last season), and so it made sense that this struggling franchise could select Tebow, and then take advantage of his unwavering supporters to brand a new era of Jacksonville football.  It would have been the easy way to become a viable location for professional football and to harbor a college atmosphere in a town that so greatly needs it.  The problem would have been that Tebow would have been universally considered to be a reach that he would have been saddled with unreasonable expectations from the start, and that the 10th overall pick could be better used elsewhere from a football operations standpoint.

The Jags passed on Tebow.  They did so, ironically, for a guy who wasn’t very high on very many boards, DT Tyson Alualu of Cal.  Its a pick that took them in a direction completely opposite from where Tebow would have: instead of guessing on a franchise savior and hoping for the best, the Jaguars reached very deep for the guy they liked the best as a franchise building block.  Players like Tebow can be successful so long as the stand on the shoulders of guys like Alualu.  At some point in the next few years, the Jags will have to pick a quarterback to succeed Garrard, and unless they choose to trade for Tebow, there’s no way that they will be able to find a face of an era in Jacksonville.  The only way that the Jaguars can remain in Jacksonville over the long haul is to put a consistently winning NFL team there.

That path is admirable, but there is no more time for a franchise that is hemorrhaging money to waste: the winning must start this year and continue though the middle of the decade in order to convince their fans that their product is worth watching.  Can it work?  Of course it can: teams that lose the ability to be on television can develop severe apathy in their fanbase.  This apathy can be quite temporary, or it can be permanent enough to force an owner to move his team.  The Jaguars aren’t going to Los Angeles anytime in the next ten years (no stadium, the NFL can block losing the credible threat of Los Angeles until a stadium gets built), and right now, London and Mexico City seem like pipe dreams.  Toronto has nothing to gain from accepting the Jaguars while the Bills stay in dying Buffalo.  Still, time may run out: if the 2011 lockout occurs, football in Jacksonville could be dead forever.

A Jags super bowl run could not only save their team, but parity league-wide.  That’s why David Garrard could be the most benevolent player in the NFL right now.  Here’s a quarterback that could have been the MVP of the 2007 NFL season if not for the unbelievable season that Tom Brady had (and the fact that he’s a Jaguar).  The Jaguars won 12 games that season (1-1 postseason).  Since then, the Jags have combined for 12 wins in two seasons.  Garrard’s pro bowl invitation in 2009 was widely regarded as the primary flaw of the pro bowl (not, you know, that DeAngelo Hall has more career nominations than London Fletcher), after having a pretty middling season.

We’ve seen middling seasons cost quarterbacks their jobs, but when the Jaguars passed on Tebow, Garrard was handed one last chance that he may or may not have deserved.  He’s 32 years old, just a year younger than Donovan McNabb.  He’s got a pretty good projection in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 this year; FO’s system expects 25 total TDs, a decrease in total turnovers, and fewer total attempts, which should benefit him.  Garrard’s age does seemingly prevent him from being the QB of the future.  While he’s under contract through 2014, he’s not an expensive cut after this season as he becomes a cap credit, but more importantly, would save the cash-strapped Jags about $25 million in total money, enough to sign next year’s first round pick.

Individual numbers won’t be enough to save Garrard’s job as he ages.  This is his fourth season in the same offensive system under Dirk Koetter, and it’s the one that has offered him the most talent around him.  Jones-Drew is in his prime, and will likely have a larger role in the offense than in any of his prior four years.  The Jags found a number one type receiver in third year man Mike Sims-Walker.  Walker isn’t a dynamic target and can be taken away by coverage schemes that don’t respect Maurice Jones-Drew out of the backfield, but now those same schemes will have to account for the more dynamic Mike Thomas, in his second year.  Tight End Marcedes Lewis, the Jags’ first round pick in 2006, finally developed into a receiving threat last season, and gives the Jags an interior seam threat, allowing Jones-Drew to work with Garrard more closely to help cut down his sack total.  That 09 draft focused initially on giving the Jags a starting tackle tandem, and although Eugene Monroe struggled at LT in 2009, they appear to be two linemen that the Jags can count on for the future.

An offseason trade brought in Kirk Morrison to solidify the front seven, and while buying risky on Aaron Kampman’s ACL injury might have been a move of desperation, Kampman still projects to be among the NFL’s better rushers in 2010, and might be the opposing piece that Derrick Harvey needs to spark his career.  Combined with the attention placed on defensive interior players the last two drafts, the Jaguars once again have a fierce front seven.  They’ll be much weaker in the secondary, where Derek Cox’s development is about the only thing they have going for them.  Rashean Mathis returns in the no. 1 CB role, but he is neither a true no. 1, nor is he expected to be healthy enough to make a real impact.

Clearly then, we can look at the offense and at the defense and suggest that the Jaguars timed this desperation rebuilding quite well, however, it’s still difficult to say what all this talent will look like at maturity.  16 games is all the Jaguars have to find out what they’ve got on the roster, because if it can’t turn Jacksonville’s rags to riches, Del Rio and Koetter will be out along with Garrard, Mathis, Morrison, Brad Meester, Vince Manuwai, Greg Jones, Marcedes Lewis, and all of the other veterans on the team, except for fan favorite Jones-Drew, who could be playing out his prime in a Steven Jackson-like wasteland.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

There won’t be much competition in the offensive backfield, where the Jaguars will likely keep just two quarterbacks in order to be able to keep their standard two fullbacks, Greg Jones and Montell Owens.  6th round pick DJ Karim will step in as the 3rd RB and primary kick returner, with Rashad Jennings as the first backup to Maurice Jones-Drew.

Jacksonville also prefers to keep 4 tight ends and just 5 receivers.  They use all their non-Lewis TEs interchangeably, and aren’t likely to give up on any of the project TEs they brought in last year (Zach Miller, no relation, and Zach Potter).  There will be a lot of competition at receiver, where Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas, and Kassim Osgood are assured spots, leaving two remaining spots for Troy Williamson, Jarrett Dillard, and Nate Hughes.  Williamson might actually have a role in the offense, so if that’s the case, Dillard could be out.  Otherwise, Williamson could be out.  Combining all possible outcomes, Hughes is more likely to be out than either Williamson or Dillard, but this position is a complete toss up.

The interior line is confusing, so try to keep up.  The Jaguars want to make Uche Nwaneri a Center, which if successful, could force longtime Jaguar Brad Meester off the roster in favor of undrafted rookie John Estes.  If unsuccessful, Nwaneri could stay at guard and knock another longtime Jag, Vince Manuwai, off the roster.  The team acquired Justin Smiley to play left guard, we think — he has also played at right guard.  The team could also keep Meester as a backup to Nwaneri, not bother to keep Estes, and then have a camp battle between Kynan Forney and Manuwai to stay on the roster.  Andrew Crummey, a third year prospect who has been on practice squads of the Redskins and Bengals, could be kept as a fourth guard if someone is released.  Paul McQuistan has been brought in from Oakland to be a backup tackle, which puts him in direct competition with Jordan Black for the role.  We’re all very lucky that Monroe and Britton are unquestioned starters, or even the Jaguars wouldn’t be able to sort out that line in time.

Atiyyah Ellison is the senior member on the defensive front with John Henderson departed, and he’ll back up Knighton and Alualu along with third round pick D’Anthony Smith, who isn’t to be confused with Safety Anthony Smith.  7th rounder Austen Lane has the inside track to backup Kampman and Harvey.

If you’re released by another NFL team, you can still land in Jacksonville as a linebacker, joining Freddy Keiaho (Indy), Teddy Lehman (Detroit), and Kirk Morrison (Oakland).  Jeremy Cain and Russell Allen are valuable special teamers to have.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Jaguars kept more than five corners.  Mathis and Cox are the starters, Scotty McGee is the hot shot specialist, and then they’ll have to choose two or three of the following: former third round pick Scott Starks, William Middleton, Tyron Brackenridge, and Don Carey.  These five safeties need to become four safeties: Gerald Alexander, Anthony Smith, Reggie Nelson, Sean Considine, and Courtney Green.  Considine and Smith are probably the best tandem, but Nelson would like to remind you that the Jags once spent a first round pick on him.  Green is probably the cut.

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