- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Final Power Ranking: 27
Preseason Power Ranking: 19
Biggest surprise: The Jaguars added six new veterans to their lineup of top-12 defensive players and once the group jelled it played very productively. Jacksonville finished sixth in overall defense, making giant strides from 2010 and maintaining the gain even as it lost a load of quality contributors to injury. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who finished the season as interim coach after Jack Del Rio was fired, did good work in his first season as the defense's playcaller. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny was the sort of centerpiece tackling machine the team envisioned when signing him away from Buffalo as a free agent.
Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars didn’t intend for rookie QB Blaine Gabbert to start 14 games before they felt he was ready to take over. But by cutting David Garrard (who later wound up having back surgery) just a week before the season started and bailing quickly on veteran Luke McCown, they went against their own plan and paid a huge price for it. Jacksonville’s pass offense was worse than anyone could have anticipated, averaging just 136.2 yards per game. The NFL’s best passing offense in New Orleans averaged 334.2. Gabbert may not have been much better operating behind better protection and with more dangerous weapons at receiver, but it sure would have been good for him to have had a chance to find out. Tight end Marcedes Lewis killed the team with his disappearing act after he got his payday.
Biggest need: While the defense will need a pass-rushing end and at least one cornerback, the attention has to be focused on the offense. Mike Thomas was the team’s No. 1 receiver in 2011 but slumped badly after he got a contract extension and was not equipped to work as the primary guy. He should be the third option in 2012, working primarily out of the slot. The Jaguars need big, fast and physical receivers who can threaten downfield and go get the ball for Gabbert or whoever winds up playing quarterback.
Team MVP: Unquestionably, running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s just the fifth back since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to lead the league in rushing on a team with the NFL’s worst passing offense. That means with no threat to keep defenses honest, he ran consistently against stacked boxes and still produced in a giant way. There are always worries about wear and tear on him, yet he finished very strongly with no sign of tapering off. The Jaguars need to get other guys who are good with the ball in their hands so they can rely on him less, extend his window, and increase the chance he’s on a winning team.
Still searching for pressure: How long have the Jaguars needed a consistent pass-rush threat off the edge? It seems they are always looking. Jeremy Mincey is a great, high-energy player, but he’d benefit greatly from having a player opposing offenses have to game plan around. Yes, the franchise missed badly when it traded up to No. 8 for Derrick Harvey in the 2008 draft and counted on its second pick the same year, Quentin Groves, to help rush too. They are mistakes they still haven’t made up for. Knee injuries and rehabilitation have meant Aaron Kampman has played in only 11 games in two seasons and will be hard to bank on.