Experts' Picks (Consensus: fourth)
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 The leadership of general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley appears really sound. That sets a good course. But in their first year, there is only so much they can do about the level of talent, which is quite poor.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Gus Bradley brings a lot of energy to the Jags, but this is a roster that is being completely rebuilt and needs time.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Quietly have begun to assemble some playmakers, but there are still big questions at quarterback.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 No team in the NFL has less talent than the Jaguars. It will be a long time before there is legitimate optimism in that town.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Gus Bradley has his work cut out for him. It is going to take time.|
Five things you need to know about the Jaguars:
1. Maurice Jones-Drew is super motivated: He missed 10 games last year and spent the offseason rehabilitating from a serious foot injury, but he looks like himself and gets a huge upgrade in his blocking from No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel, the new right tackle. The Jaguars will run more zone plays than they have in the past, but they also have power up front. MJD is in the final year of his deal and can make a case that he's got a lot left.
2. Gus Bradley is unconventional: The team's new head coach doesn't like guys to be motivated by newspaper clippings. He thinks talking about winning can be counterproductive. He's more interested in strong finishes than fast starts. Tight end Marcedes Lewis said he thought Bradley's enthusiasm at the start had to be fake but that in time the coach has proved it's not. Watching Bradley develop his head-coaching persona is going to be interesting.
3. Cecil Shorts is a big-time weapon: The third-year receiver had 55 catches for 979 yards and seven touchdowns last year after the Jaguars didn't see fit to start him in the first five games in favor of Laurent Robinson and Mike Thomas. The Jaguars will be without Justin Blackmon for the first four games because of a suspension, which means defenses will be able to devote more resources to slowing Shorts. Blaine Gabbert is hardly a topflight quarterback, but Jacksonville will find ways to get the ball to Shorts, for sure.
4. The pass rush is likely an issue: Little changed in terms of edge rushers from last year. Bradley brings the system he used in Seattle, where a smaller rush end works as the "Leo" (weakside edge player) and the other spot will be manned by bigger players like Tyson Alualu or Jeremy Mincey. The interior push, headlined by former Titan Sen'Derrick Marks, may be better, but if the Jags can't get to the quarterback with any consistency, a young secondary could really be tested.
5. Kids have major opportunity: Beyond Joeckel, the Jaguars will be counting on their draft class for major contributions. Second-rounder John Cyprien is the starting strong safety, third-rounder Dwayne Gratz is the starting left cornerback, fourth-rounder Ace Sanders will play plenty in the receiver rotation, and fifth-rounder Denard Robinson will be a wild card as a running back-slash-offensive weapon.
-- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
Blaine Gabbert began last season as Jacksonville's starting quarterback before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11. Chad Henne, who saw spot duty in the first part of the year, took over and finished the season with a Total QBR of 29.9.
Of the 36 qualifying quarterbacks in 2012, only three had a lower Total QBR than Henne -- Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn. Gabbert finished the year with a 40.9 Total QBR, 30th in the NFL.
It's not surprising then that the Jaguars have suffered from the league's worst quarterback play over the past two seasons. They rank last in the NFL in completion percentage (53.8), passing yards per game (174.9) and Total QBR (27.7) in that span.
One reason certainly has to do with a lack of protection. Only the Cardinals (112) have surrendered more sacks since 2011 than the Jaguars (94). To help solve the problem, the Jaguars drafted offensive lineman Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick in April's draft.
• Jacksonville had the fourth-highest drop-back percentage (65.7) in the league last season. (Drop-back percentage is a combination of passing attempts, sacks and scrambles.) One of the main reasons for that was running back Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to only six games because of a foot injury.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Jones-Drew has rushed for more than 91 yards per game, second most in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson.
• Defensively, Jacksonville recorded 20 sacks in 2012, five fewer than any other team. In fact, the Jaguars registered a sack on only 3 percent of opponents' drop-backs when rushing four or fewer defenders, the lowest rate in the league.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Magazine: Non-QB MVP
LB Paul Posluszny (8.4 avg. AV since 2010)
A wide-necked tackling machine stuck in football purgatory, Posluszny has recorded 452 solo tackles since 2008. The only NFL players with more? Pro Bowlers Chad Greenway and Patrick Willis.
-- Pro Football Reference