JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Maurice Jones-Drew, fantasy football expert, has an opinion on where you should draft Maurice Jones-Drew, running back.
"No. 1," he says. "Every year."
Every year? Including this year, with rods in your left foot from season-ending surgery?
"Last year," he says, "I was leading the league in rushing when my foot fell off."
Fair point. In Week 3, Jones-Drew ran for 177 yards against the Colts – tied for his second-best game ever. That kind of got lost in the swirl of the Lisfranc injury, the lost season, the fired head coach and the new uniforms. It feels like it's been a decade since the Jaguars lost their MoJo.
So there's the temptation to consider the man over-the-hill. Jones-Drew knows it. And he laughs at it.
"It's funny," he says. "People were saying Adrian [Peterson] was washed up last year. Now they're questioning Arian [Foster]. That's what people have to do to justify not drafting you. That's them. I'm very confident in my abilities and my team."
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Jones-Drew's history has almost become a cliché: withstand a flood of doubt, surprise everyone, then get rewarded with further doubt. He chose No. 32 because that's the number of teams that passed on him in the 2006 draft. Then he went to three Pro Bowls. He underwent microfracture surgery on his knee and then led the league with 1,606 yards in 2011. He held out for more money last season and then averaged more than 100 yards in his first three games.
Now a rusher who should be in the prime of career – he's 28, same age as Peterson – is a question mark again.
"People say I fell off," he says. "I haven't lost a step. If anything, I've gained because I was off for 10 months. I wasn't doing anything."
He means it. Jones-Drew couldn't break a sweat for six weeks after surgery. He says he felt discomfort as recently as May.
"For the first three months, you can't exercise," he says. "So you just gotta sit there and the only way you lose weight is if you don't eat.
"And I wasn't going to do that. I love food too much."
So Jones-Drew showed up at OTAs over the summer looking a little … heavy. As he stood on the sideline next to a young fleet of quick rookies like Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders, it was hard not to doubt again. He got peppered with questions about whether he felt pushed by the new crew. He shrugged it off like so many arm-tackles.
Fast-forward several weeks, and Jones-Drew had dropped 20 pounds.
Oh, but what about his workload? Can he put in a full season? Unsurprisingly, he thinks so. He says he's physically and mentally prepared for 400 touches, which is 25 a game. "You have to train that way," he says. "You have to prepare to get the maximum amount of touches." That would make any fantasy owner (or Jaguars fan) delighted.
And the usual doubts about Jones-Drew's team don't apply so well. He's never had Pro Bowl blockers in front of him in Jacksonville, and he hasn't had a quarterback who terrifies defenses away from game-planning for him. No, the Jaguars aren't expected to make the playoffs, but that doesn't make Jones-Drew's case for a comeback any weaker.
In fact, there are a couple of reasons the Jaguars fit their star runner better than before. They have No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel on the line now, and monster tackle Eugene Monroe (at 6'5", 308 lbs.) played all 16 games last year for the first time in his career. Those guys should give Jones-Drew some daylight.
The Jaguars' new blocking scheme is more tailored to Jones-Drew's style, as well. There's not as much straight downhill stuff. "It's more of an outside zone, stretch and cut," he says. "That fits my game a little bit better than things we've done in the past."
So go ahead and wait for the third round to grab the former UCLA star. Most places have him ranked near Matt Forte, David Wilson, and DeMarco Murray. (Yahoo! Sports ranks him as the 13th best running back.)
But if Maurice Jones-Drew outshines those other guys and makes you look foolish, don't say Maurice Jones-Drew didn't warn you.
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