Of all the stories to rock Fantasyland this summer none has driven owners to the brink of insanity more than Maurice Jones-Drew's ceaseless holdout. Fantastically mustachioed Jags owner Shad Khan, ever the firm businessman, stood his ground, refused to blink and ultimately won. Sunday morning, Adam Schefter reported the league's reigning rush king threw in the towel and finally returned to camp, 38 days late.
His timing couldn't be more impeccable.
With millions of drafts expected to commence over the next 24-72 hours, the news surely fostered some bitterness. MJD, a highly coveted first-round pick just a few short weeks ago, slipped well into Rounds 2 or 3 of most 12-team drafts (25.7 ADP, RB15), a well-deserved discount considering the situation. However, now that he's back in Jags black, the sales price is set to expire. Considering his track-record of success, Jacksonville's robust offensive line and upgrades in the pass game, he should, at a minimum, attract attention in the back-half of Round 1. To optimists, his sizable workload and favorable running environment makes him a slam-dunk RB1. Combine that with the numerous uncertainties at RB and the incredible depth at QB and WR this season and it's no wonder why a drafter would house a strong urge to reach for MoJo early on.
Prospective buyers, however, might want to slow their collective roll.
As stated previously by head coach Mike Mularkey, the three-time Pro Bowler will be eased back into action. MJD may be in tiptop physical condition, but being in 'game shape' is a whole 'nother ball game. Unlike what Tennessee gave Chris Johnson after he signed an eleventh hour deal last year, don't expect the rusher to shoulder a burdensome load for awhile. Expect MJD to play second fiddle to Rashad Jennings for the first 1-3 weeks of the regular season, complicating his early season value. More than likely he'll be a healthy scratch in the opener at Minnesota and tote roughly 10-12 touches in Week 2 versus Houston. Beyond that it's anyone's best guess at what his week-to-week workload will look like, especially with Jennings in the picture. Think hypothetically for a moment. If Rashad pounds the Purple People Eaters for 100 yards and a touchdown Sunday and follows up with a strong effort against a rigid Texans defense, it's probable Mularkey would institute some sort of timeshare moving forward. It would also drive his trade value northward in the eyes of MJD owners.
The scenario isn't farfetched.
Jennings is an impressive physical specimen who has a classic three-down makeup. He's very powerful between the tackles and is adept in blitz pickup and operating as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Since entering the league three years ago, he's averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Most impressively, he ranked inside the top-three in yards after contact per attempt (3.5) in 2010. In short, he's a beast. And recall last year, before he was placed in injured reserve with a knee injury, Jennings was slated to earn roughly 8-12 touches per game, including some goal-line carries.
Removing the restraints for Jacksonville's juicy Week 3 clash with Indianapolis is probably the best case scenario for Jones-Drew. Still, if Jennings storms out of the gate, don't expect the Oompah Loompah to come anyone near his exhaustive 24.1 per touch per game workload from 2011. It's a different year. And a completely different offense. For now, think of him as a high-end RB2 in 12-team formats.
MJD's return was met with much enthusiasm. But based on the complications involved, expectations should be tempered.
Fearless Forecast (14 games): 231 carries, 1,016 rushing yards, 29 receptions, 229 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
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