This season has been one of many frustrations for Jaguar fans, and as they say, help is not on the way. Nearly everyone has taken their fair share of criticism, from the players, to the coaches and more-so General Manager Gene Smith. It’s become apparent that there just isn’t enough NFL quality talent suiting up for Coach Mularkey on Sundays (or Thursdays!) and changes are sure to be aplenty this offseason. Sadly, at 1-7, fans have had to begin looking forward to what the future may hold. There are a number of players that the organization is holding out hope will develop, (we’re looking at you, Blaine) but good teams are constructed around known commodities, proven NFL talent. That being said, who can this organization build around in what will surely be the start to a massive rebuilding project going into 2013? Let’s start by taking a look at the offense.
Without question, #32 is the Jaguars’ most talented player. He has been the face of the franchise for many years, and has had the misfortune of being in a Barry Sanders-like situation, being a premier Running Back on a perennially-bad team. Maurice will be 28 years old at the start of next season, and entering the last year of a contract he has made very clear he is unhappy with. With the dreaded 30 year old mark for running backs approaching quickly, and the franchise being by all accounts a few seasons from competing, the obvious worth of the Jaguars’ all-time leading rusher will be in his trade value. The number one objective of the new GM (I think Gene Smith’s end is near) this coming offseason will be to find the best return possible for mojo, most likely draft picks, and then use them to try and jump start what has become a stagnant franchise.
- Trade chip to collect future draft picks
Although the position by nature isn’t flashy, the #8 overall pick in the 2009 draft has undoubtedly been Gene Smith’s best-performing draft pick. In his 4th season out of Virginia, he is now regarded as one of the best in the game today, evidenced by grading out as the #3 left tackle in the NFL last season by profoootballfocus.com At only 25 years old and playing at a premium position, Eugene will no doubt be a cornerstone of the Jaguars franchise for years to come.
- Pro Bowl caliber player at a premium position
While his struggles early on have been well-documented, nearly everyone expects the immensely talented wide receiver to adjust to the NFL game and fulfill the high expectations that accompanied his high draft pick. There’s no doubt Blackmon has had difficulty grasping the offense and building a rapport with quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but even through his struggles, his physical ability is still evident. It will only be a matter of time before the former Oklahoma State Cowboy starts producing like the #1 receiver he is expected to become.
- Blue-chip rookie with Pro Bowl caliber talent
Cecil Shorts III
Really the lone bright spot offensively this year, Cecil Shorts III has played suprisingly well considering the lack of talent surrounding him. The 2nd year product out of Mount Union College created quite the buzz last year in training camp with nearly no production once the season began. This year he has carried that momentum to Sundays, as he is on pace for 46 catches, 980 yards and 6 touchdowns. While not eye-popping, considering the overall ineptitude of Jacksonville’s offense, these numbers are very impressive. If he and Blackmon can continue to develop and provide a one-two punch outside, this franchise would greatly benefit from it.
- Young, emerging star
The former first round pick out of UCLA has had a very up and down career to this point, with his lone Pro Bowl season coming unsurprisingly in his contract year, netting him a large payday. This naturally brought on even larger expectations. Lewis has not performed anywhere near his 2010 level since then, but is nevertheless a very talented all-around Tight End who is a powerful blocker and, when motivated, a great red-zone threat using his 6’6” frame. While underperforming, Marcedes Lewis is still a valauble player in his prime for the Jaguars organization.
- Underperforming but immensely talented veteran
So there you have it. With Jones-Drew holding more trade value than future production, the remaining 4 players are going to be the cornerstones offensively going forward. While there are “question mark” players in Blaine Gabbert, Will Rackley and Laurent Robisnon that can all potentially step up their level of play and consistency and become players this franchise can rely on, they are just simply not at that point yet. The next 7 weeks will be tough to stomach, but if we can add pieces to this core group of offensive players, next season just might be different.