Maurice Jones-Drew retired with the Jacksonville Jaguars today, signing a one-day contract to go out with the team who drafted him. It’s touching to see him back once again with the Jaguars, the team he really belonged with his entire career (we’ll overlook the last season with the Oakland Raiders).
MJD was an immediate continuation of brilliant running in Jacksonville. He played with Jaguars great Fred Taylor for a few years before Taylor left to try and win a championship with the New England Patriots as a reserve back. Jones-Drew never let the offense miss a beat, immediately becoming the dominant runner in the AFC South and, one, the dominant runner in the NFL.
Since his departure last season, the Jaguars haven’t been as blessed at running back. Converted quarterback Denard Robinson was the team leader in rushing yards last season, followed by starting quarterback Blake Bortles. It was a hodgepodge of mediocre running for much of last year, much of which can be contributed to inexperienced bell cows and a shaky offensive line.
No matter the circumstances, however, it is apparent that 2014 was not a continuation of solid running. Maurice Jones-Drew struggled in his final season with the team, but he was still a the back for the team.
Now, there seems to be a question lingering in the air: “Who will succeed Maurice Jones-Drew?”
We’ve been spoiled as Jaguars fans, watching Fred Taylor and MJD for the past decade and a half. Now, it’s time for the next guy to step up.
At times last season, it seemed that Denard Robinson could be that guy. He dominated a couple of games, showing big play ability and consistency running the ball. He obviously took a step forward from the year before and was becoming a true NFL-caliber running back. His 582 rushing yards led the team with him only starting nine games through the season. With a full season of work, he could easily get closer to 1000 yards. He may even eclipse it.
To me, however, I don’t see Robinson being that next great Jaguar running back. He isn’t explosive like Jones-Drew. He isn’t fluid enough like Taylor. That isn’t to say I don’t like his running (I do) just that I don’t see him being a dominant back and getting close to 10000 yards in his career. I’d love to be proven wrong, but right now it just doesn’t look like it.
Similarly, other backs on the roster right now, like Bernard Pierce and Toby Gerhart, aren’t proven to be very effective running backs. Gerhart lost his starting job to Robinson last season and looks to do more work at fullback going forward. Pierce hasn’t been able to put everything together at the NFL level despite some opportunities with the Baltimore Ravens. He looks like nothing more than veteran depth at this point as the Jaguars wait to see how Robinson or some other back pans out.
That “some other back” is the key here.
The Jaguars are in the market for a running back this offseason. They’ve been linked to Adrian Peterson, they’ve kicked the tires on 2014 rushing champion DeMarco Murray, and they’ve been associated with an early second round running back pick for some time. The latter option seems the most probable.
The Jaguars are looking at a host of quality running backs at the top of the second round. They could splurge and go after the best back in the draft, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, but will likely fill another need in the first round. Guys like Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, and T.J. Yeldon are all considerations at this point. Any one of them could join the Jaguars during the 2015 NFL Draft. Any one of them could be the heir to Maurice Jones-Drew with a team that has been associated with quality running for a long, long time.
One of those rookie running backs is going to be the guy, in my mind. He’s going to come in and he’s going to be given every opportunity to succeed and he should. Robinson was a stop gap to me and I hope he tries his hardest to remain the top running back on the team. When I look at him and the rest of the roster right now, though, it looks like the future just isn’t there.
This 2015 NFL Draft, we’ll get the future. This 2015 NFL Draft, we’ll get the heir to Maurice Jones-Drew.
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