As the grumpy uncle of Black and Teal, you might be surprised that I’m actually pretty optimistic about the ’13 Jaguars season, largely due to this past weekend. No, I didn’t lose my mind or critical sense on my long hiatus. I won’t predict a playoff run or a Superbowl title. But quite frankly the Jaguars are now in a situation where no matter how this season ends, they will be in a good spot.
During the 3 days of the draft I experienced a few mood swings. At first I really didn’t like the Joeckel pick, and I had mixed feelings with the Gratz selection and the cornerback situation. On the other hand, I loved the two safety picks and I’m exited about the 2 new offensive weapons as well. And I noticed something on Saturday night. while the defense will be an “under construction” project this year, the offense is actually almost set. Almost, because I still have serious question marks about the interior offensive line, especially at left guard and maybe at center. But other than that, it’s kind of complete. If Maurice Jones-Drew will return and play like he used to, the Jaguars will have a top tier RB, the best receiving group since the Jimmy Smith- Keenan McCardell era, headlined by 2 real play makers (Shorts & Blackmon), a top tier tight end, a top 10 LT and maybe the best player of this draft at right tackle.
So everything is set, except for the most important piece of the football team: the quarterback. Despite every expectation, Dave Caldwell didn’t spend a draft pick to address the position. It seems, they really want to know what they have in Blaine Gabbert and the plan is to surround him with every tool he needs: protection, quality skill players, taylor made offense, and good coaches.
In the last two years Gabbert was the first choice. In ’11 because he was a top 10 pick (who should have sat and learned that season…), while in ’12 he earned it in the preseason (but quite frankly Gene Smith wanted him to start anyway). Now the starting job is up for grabs and I really believe that now performance and performance only will matter, and if the the best QB will be an UDFA rookie in training camp, then he will be the guy. By the way – I give Caldwell credit for picking up a quality QB project via college free agency who was projected as a middle round prospect. I like Matt Scott’s attitude too ” Got a chip on my shoulder I’m coming for someone’s spot.” Gabbert and Chad Henne better be ready. I project Scott will be on the Jaguars roster this fall.
So unless another serious injury occurs, we will get the answer of the most important question from the day Gabbert was drafted – Is he the man? If the answer is yes, I think OC Jedd Fisch’s system and the talent surrounding #11 will give him the spark everybody in River City expected from tier Top 10 choice QB, Then the Jaguars can be contenders sooner then everybody expecting and even this year they can make a significant leap forward.
And what if the answer is no? That there is no real starter quality quarterback on the roster right now at the position? Then most likely the Jaguars will have (again) a Top 5 pick. I know the “draft a QB next year” mantra is boring and/or frustrating, but this past draft proved that this year wasn’t the right time to get the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle we call an NFL team. Next year’s group will be headlined by seniors Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, and AJ McCarron and underclassmen like Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel (and after Matt Barkley’s bad decesion to stay for the senior year those two will more likely come out than not). It has more potential than this year’s class for sure, where the 8th best projected QB (Scott) went undrafted…
So, in my opinion no matter how this season plays out (again unless Gabbert suffers an early season ending injury), the new Jaguars front office can start Year 2 with an accurate answer for their biggest question. If Gabbert proves himself, the team can concentrate fully on re-shaping the defense in ’14. If the answer is no – Dave Caldwell knows what he must do in that situation. So even if we must watch a 5-11 or worse season again, in the end of the day, the Jaguars are heading into a win-win situation!
– Zoltan Paksa