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By DEREK JONES
What Went Right
Old Man River, aka Fred Taylor, rushed for 1,202 yards and five scores to help pace an impressive Jacksonville running game. Most noteworthy, Taylor racked up a 5.4 yards per carry average in the process. Maurice Jones-Drew battered and bruised the opposition to tune of over 1,000 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns. The Jags’ biggest surprise on offense was quarterback David Garrard who stepped in for the released Byron Leftwich. Garrard, who ranked first in most outrageous suits worn at a post-game press conference, connected on 18 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. He parlayed his 2007 play into big time pay, receiving a new seven-year, $60 million deal in April.
What Went Wrong
Despite Garrard’s success, the receivers were nothing special. Reggie Williams caught ten touchdowns, but only pulled in 38 total receptions. Meanwhile, Ernest Wilford snagged 45 catches, but bolted for Miami in the offseason. Jacksonville’s inability to push the ball downfield and a defense that broke often against high level competition, led to the team’s post-season demise.
While Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud shuffled off to Buffalo, the Jags addressed the offense in free agency instead. They added former Raider Jerry Porter and traded for Troy Williamson, previously of the Minnesota Vikings, in an attempt to aid a lagging group of receivers. Both players are gambles, but if they can get their heads in the proper place, it could be quite the productive offseason in Florida.
Defense, defense, defense. Four of Jacksonville’s five picks were on the defensive side of the football. Ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves were taken in the first and second round, respectively. They’ll play that oh-so-familiar game entitled “Let’s See If We Can Put a Pass Rush on Peyton Manning.” Best of luck, gents — you’ll need it.
State of the Team
Garrard is the man without a doubt, but can he help fantasy owners? He did not have a 300-yard passing game and had just one outing with more than two touchdown passes. The 30-year-old runs a steady ship, though. He’s a spot starter and one who should continue to grow in his second full season as starting quarterback. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter favours a passing game that goes deep which hasn’t proven to be Garrard’s game yet. Garrard’s success hinges on his receivers being consistent and stretching secondaries because teams will still cheat to stop Jacksonville’s overpowering rush game.
The one-two punch of Taylor and Jones-Drew is among the league’s strongest. The combo helped Jacksonville average 149 yards per game on the ground which ranked second in the league. At 32, can Taylor repeat his ’07 effort? Barring an injury to Jones-Drew, Taylor isn’t likely to eclipse his 223 carries from a season ago. If he does so by a sizeable margin, trouble could finally be on the horizon for him. Both players are best suited for their roles at this stage of their careers. Jones-Drew’s game is more blasting cannon than pocket knife which may make him more susceptible to injuries. Regardless, Jones-Drew’s value in touchdown only leagues is solid. He has scored 24 times total between rushing and receiving in his first two years.
Here is another reason why athleticism is great, but often extremely overvalued at times in the NFL. Matt Jones, the college quarterback turned wideout, has not proven to be a reliable receiving option. Hyped as a soon-to-be breakout player, his career as a Jag is in peril after being charged with cocaine possession. He’s likely to be a non-factor this season. Porter and Williams should work well together especially when the running game is firing and openin up play action. Keep an eye on Williamson who got rave reviews for his performance in off-season workouts. Much like Porter, a change of scenery may do the trick. In all, be conservative with the estimations for the Jaguar receivers. To start though, Porter will likely join Williams as the team’s main receiving options. Armed with the league’s third toughest schedule and a tremendous running game, the passing game may stretch the field a bit more but don’t expect the second coming of Tom Brady to Randy Moss.
The Jags tried to address this position with the addition of Marcedes Lewis in the 2006 draft. He has largely not lived up to expectations. The good news is his numbers went up in his second year. The continued maturity of Garrard is likely to help, but Lewis is not a ready for prime time player at tight end.
The Jags must adjust to the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who became the head man in Atlanta. On the field, they’ll have to overcome the loss of Stroud which may very well have an impact on their run stopping capabilities. Jones-Drew stirs the drink returning kicks while Dennis Northcutt is the ice that waters it down. Jones-Drew can break a kickoff while Northcutt offers little excitement returning punts. However, the Jags defense/special teams should be considered one of the top ten units on draft day.
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