2007 Season Previews
WR Dennis Northcutt, TE Jermaine Wiggins, OT Tony Pashos.
WR Mike Walker, WR John Broussard, OT Andrew Carnahan, G Uche Nwaneri, DT Derek Landri, OLB Justin Durant, OLB Brian Smith, MLB Chad Nkang, S Reggie Nelson, S Josh Gattis, P Adam Podlesh.
TE Kyle Brady (NE), TE Brian Jones, DE Marcellus Wiley, DT Tony Williams, CB Ahmad Carroll, S Donovin Darius, S Deon Grant (SEA), P Chris Hanson (NO).
Offense This Year: I guess it's pretty easy to say Jacksonville's offense was either hit or miss in 2006. While the unit was able to score more than 24 points on six occasions, it was also held to less than 14 or less points five times. The Jaguars' consistent inconsistency can be blamed on the flux of the quarterback position. Byron Leftwich, who led the team to a mediocre 3-3 start, missed the final 10 games of the regular season, increasing the number of contests he has missed the previous two years to 15. David Garrard stepped in and did well at first, notching a 5-2 mark in his first seven games. However, the final three weeks of the season were brutal for him; he threw four interceptions to just three touchdowns in three consecutive losses. Jack Del Rio was so displeased with Garrard's play that he replaced him with Quinn Gray in the season finale.
Leftwich will be back on the field, although that doesn't really mean much. He's too much of an injury risk and his career record as a starter is 20-20. If Leftwich stays healthy, he'll once again be throwing to three clones; Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford and Matt Jones are all tall receivers with average quickness. The Jaguars needed to acquire a speed-burner this offseason, but the best they could do was former Brown Dennis Northcutt (22 catches, 228 yards in 13 games last year) and third-round rookie Mike Walker. It doesn't get much better at tight end; George Wrighster and Marcedes Lewis combined for 52 receptions, 479 yards and four scores in 2006. Lewis, a No. 1 selection last April, hasn't been able to pass the mediocre Wrighster on the depth chart.
With the negative spin I put on the first two paragraphs, I made it seem like Jacksonville couldn't score at all last year. But as I mentioned before, that definitely wasn't the case. The Jaguars have one of the elite ground attacks in all of football. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew each rushed for more than 940 yards and at least five yards per carry. I expect the Jaguars to rely on Jones-Drew even more this season, given that Taylor, who needs only 487 yards to reach 10,000 for his career, just turned 31.
Jacksonville's rushing attack could be even more potent in 2007. One of the few upgrades the team made via the free-agent market was right tackle Tony Pashos, who will fill the only weak link on a line that surrendered just 30 sacks and blew open huge holes for Taylor and Jones-Drew. Now, if only the Jaguars could get that sort of production at quarterback...
Defense This Year: I think we can safely assume that some of Jacksonville's defenders are watching Byron Leftwich Stay Fit videos. Four prominent members of the stop unit - defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, defensive end Reggie Hayward, middle linebacker Mike Peterson and strong safety Donovin Darius - all missed extensive playing time in 2006. Hayward was absent the entire season, Peterson was gone for 11 games, Stroud missed five, while Darius, who helped compile a 6-4 record, wasn't able to contribute the final six weeks of the 2006 campaign.
If the Jaguars can actually stay healthy, they could have the best defense in the AFC, which is saying something because Baltimore, San Diego and New England all reside in the conference. The defensive line probably doesn't have any competition; they're all big and overbearing, including Stroud and John Henderson, both of whom make it difficult for opposing runners to cross the line of scrimmage. On the outside, Hayward and Bobby McCray are both capable of garnering double-digit sack totals. McCray, a virtual unknown entering his fourth season, accumulated 10 sacks in 2006 without the help of Hayward.
The linebacking corps contains the only liability on the entire stop unit, as Nick Greisen just isn't cut out to be a starter in this league. Jacksonville consequently selected Justin Durant in the second round of April's draft. If Durant steps in and plays prematurely, he'll certainly have talented players by his side; Peterson and the vastly underrated Daryl Smith are both exceptional. Smith led the team in tackles with 88 in 2006.
Jacksonville lost one starter on defense - free safety Deon Grant, who signed with the Seahawks. No worries, though; the team's No. 1 pick was Reggie Nelson, a defensive back with tremendous upside coming out of Florida. Nelson's already penciled in as the starter next to Darius. Cornerback Rashean Mathis, who collected eight interceptions last year, is quietly becoming one of the best cover guys in the NFL. Playing across from Mathis is Brian Williams, an average No. 2. I have a small gripe with the secondary; I wish Jacksonville would have acquired some depth at the cornerback position this offseason.
As I mentioned four paragraphs above, if the Jaguars can stay healthy on defense, they will be downright dominant this year. However, that's a huge if based on recent history.
June 14 Update: The Jaguars have foolishly released Donovin Darius, marking this the second-consecutive season Jacksonville has lost a veteran player a couple of months before preseason (Jimmy Smith). Good luck with making the playoffs, Jags.
Schedule and Intangibles: Jacksonville's hot and humid climate contributes to its outstanding 61-35 home record since 1995. That said, if the Jaguars wish to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in three years, they'll have to learn how to win on the road; they were 2-6 as visitors in 2006. ... Josh Scobee was just 7-of-13 from beyond 40 yards in 2005. Credit Del Rio for sticking with him; Scobee improved, connecting on 14-of-19 attempts from the same distance last year. ... The Jaguars' only punter is a rookie, though he was a top prospect going into April's draft. ... Jacksonville returned only one punt or kickoff for a touchdown while surrendering two. That's why they signed Northcutt. Unfortunately, he's a bit past his prime; he has only taken one back since December 2002. ... The Jaguars' schedule looks pretty balanced, although that doesn't mean much because they're often guilty of playing to their opponent's level. Tough, non-divisional foes include Denver, New Orleans, San Diego, Carolina and Pittsburgh. Jacksonville also gets Atlanta, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Oakland.
Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.
Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Divisional Rival History:
Houston Texans: The Texans have won four of the previous six meetings. See what I mean about the Jaguars playing to the level of their competition?
Indianapolis Colts: Most of these games are close; nine of the last 10 meetings have been decided by eight points or less. The Jaguars won the black-sheep contest, 44-17 on Dec. 10. Jacksonville makes it its mission to slay the Colts, so I'm expecting a split at the very least.
Tennessee Titans: If you watch old videos of NFL Primetime like I do, you'll hear Chris Berman say, "The Titans know all and tell all at Alltel Stadium." That's because Tennessee used to own Jacksonville. That's not the case anymore; the Jaguars have claimed three of the past four.
Byron Leftwich: One week Byron Leftwich throws for 260 yards. The next, 107. One week it's 290. The next it's 125. Leftwich is completely unreliable, and I haven't even mentioned his fragile frame in this segment.
Projected Stats: 2,300 passing yards. 16 passing TDs. 95 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 232.
David Garrard: Don't even think about it.
Projected Stats: 1,000 passing yards. 5 passing TDs. 150 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 107.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Despite receiving more than 20 carries just twice in 2006, Maurice Jones-Drew was able to rush for 941 yards and 15 total touchdowns. He also caught 46 passes for 436 yards. Now in his second NFL campaign, Jones-Drew should get more of the workload.
Projected Stats: 1,200 rushing yards. 550 receiving yards. 15 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 265.
Fred Taylor: A decent backup fantasy running back you can use against horrendous rush defenses. Taylor isn't a starter because the last time he had at least 10 touchdowns was 2002. Maurice Jones-Drew should see even more carries his second season.
Projected Stats: 800 rushing yards. 125 receiving yards. 5 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 122.
George Wrighster: George Wrighster's average and the Jaguars want the disappointing Marcedes Lewis to beat him out. Don't expect much from the tight end position.
Projected Stats: 310 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 43.
Matt Jones: Caught 11 passes for 144 yards in the first two weeks of the season. Finished with only 643 yards and four touchdowns. It should be noted that Matt Jones had 320 yards in December, so he's worth a shot in the final rounds of your draft.
Projected Stats: 750 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 105.
Reggie Williams: Like Jones, Reggie Williams showed some promise the first two weeks of the 2006 campaign, catching 14 passes for 142 yards and a score. However, he finished with only 616 yards and four touchdowns. And this guy was a No. 1 pick?
Projected Stats: 625 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 86.
Ernest Wilford: After notching 681 yards and seven touchdowns in 2005, Ernest Wilford saw his stats drop to 524 and two. Very disappointing.
Projected Stats: 500 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 62.
Josh Scobee: Josh Scobee had a breakout season in 2006, connecting on 14-of-19 attempts from beyond 40. He has three 50-yarders in three NFL seasons. Not a bad option in fantasy.
Projected Stats: 27-33 FG (1-2 50+). 40 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 133.
Jacksonville Defense: I'd love to have this defense on my fantasy team if at least nine of the starters stay healthy. That hasn't happened in a while, however. Proceed with caution if you draft it.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 15 Defense (injury risk).
Analysis: The bottom line is Byron Leftwich and the prominent members of the defense need to stay on the field. If they do, the Jaguars will make the playoffs. If not, better luck in 2008.
Projection: 8-8 (2nd in the AFC South)
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