We’ve talked a lot about the positive press the Jacksonville Jaguars have been receiving over the course of the offseason, but not everyone is as bullish on the franchise. Bill Barnwell over at Grantland in particular appears to dislike almost every move the Jaguars have made.
He was not a fan of the Jaguars taking Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and compared Bortles to Blaine Gabbert. He also, borderline illogically, hated the two trades general manager David Caldwell made to move up and draft Allen Robinson in the 2nd round and Brandon Linder in the 3rd round. His reasoning was the Jaguars are a terrible team and they need as many draft picks as possible, even though the Jaguars started the draft with 11 picks and still ended up with 9 when it was all said and done.
Unsurprisingly, the Jaguars showed up in Barnwell’s recent feature on the “cellar dwellars” going into the 2014 season. While it’s completely justifiable for Barnwell to think the Jaguars could be one of the 8 worst teams in the NFL this year, some of his comments are a little off.
Gene Smith’s four-year run as general manager (2009-12) has left the Jags with just two players who will start for them in Week 1: wideout Cecil Shorts and punter Bryan Anger, infamously taken before Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft. General manager Dave Caldwell has spent the last two seasons restocking the cupboard, but his moves have left the starting lineup full of low-upside veterans; the likes of Toby Gerhart, Sen’Derrick Marks, Geno Hayes, and Alan Ball might be better than the draft misses from the Smith days, but they’re backups on the vast majority of NFL teams. The Jaguars will be better than they have been in years past, but their ceiling — especially in 2014 — is lower than it might seem.
Barnwell is spot-on about how awful Gene Smith left the roster (although how many times do you have to bring up Bryan Anger being drafted before Russell Wilson), but his comment about “low-upside” veterans is unfounded to say the least. Sen’Derrick Marks is a guy entering the prime of his career, coming off the best season of his career, in a scheme designed to utilize his talents. Marks had the 9th-highest pass rush grade among defensive tackles in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus, and that was with a decent drop-off at the end of the year from getting run into the ground with the 3rd most snaps of any defensive tackle. The arrow is pointing up for Marks, especially with the upgrades made around him along the defensive line.
Even more perplexing is Barnwell’s complete disdain for Toby Gerhart as a starting NFL running back. He already compared Gerhart to Trent Richardson and called him a “plodding” running back, and he stuck in another jab in his “worst-case scenario” for the Jaguars.
… while offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch “takes the pressure off Bortles” by letting Gerhart run into the line 300 times for 900 yards.
In his AFC South preview, Reuben Fischer-Baum spent a decent amount of time talking about Toby Gerhart. From a historical and statistical perspective, there are more reasons to expect Gerhart to play well than to “plod” his way to 3.0 yards a carry.
From 2010 through 2013, Gerhart had 276 rushing attempts for the Vikings, and gained 1,305 yards. That works out to 4.73 yards per attempt, and if that sounds good, well, it is… Gerhart isn’t just racking up yards on tired fourth-quarter defenses. In nine games where’s he’s seen a heavier load (10 or more carries), he’s run for 697 yards on 148 attempts, or 4.71 yards per attempt. He also hasn’t gotten an enormous lift from his Minnesota teammates. By Football Outsiders’adjusted line yards statistic — which measures the offensive line’s contribution to the running game — the Vikings’ line placed 11th, 18th, 10th and 10th in the league since 2010; generally above average but by no means dominant.
Let’s a see a full workload for Gerhart before we call him a low-upside, plodding running back.