We begin with a reminder: Two years ago, Jacksonville selected a punter in the third round of the NFL Draft, while Russell Wilson and Nick Foles were still available.
That's just, um ... well, weird.
No disrespect intended to Bryan Anger, a quality specialist — one of the better punters in the NFL. But it still seems insane that he was taken with the No. 70 overall pick, selected by a team that had zillions of other needs. At the time, this franchise was coming off a five-win season, heading for a two-win season. Blaine Gabbert had just delivered a funny-bad rookie campaign at quarterback for the Jaguars, full of moments like this.
(BWAHAHAHA. That play never gets old — like Eli's left-handed interception, or Orlovsky's self-safety.)
By 2013, the GM who picked the punter was gone, as was head coach Mike Mularkey. Gabbert lasted two more seasons, but he's finally out of the team picture, too. And Maurice Jones-Drew has relocated to Oakland. And Justin Blackmon, the team's first-round pick in 2012, has been suspended indefinitely. So we've seen plenty of recent personnel turnover in Jacksonville at key spots, on-field and off.
This year, the team used their first-round draft pick — the third selection overall — on Blake Bortles, a guy who ranked as the third best QB prospect on many draft boards. His development will be the story of 2014 for this franchise. Bortles isn't likely to open the season as the Jags' starting quarterback — that role still belongs to Chad Henne — but perhaps we'll see him at the halfway point. Or maybe after the team's Week 11 bye. Or, worst case, in December.
Bortles has ideal size for his position (6-foot-5, 232), good-not-great arm strength, and an ability to extend plays. Pretty much all scouting reports question his footwork and the consistency of his delivery, plus he'll be making significant leap in terms of system complexity and game speed. His tape is full of highlight plays, sure, but we also see the occasional back-footed wobbler. There's work to be done by Jacksonville's coaches, no question. Bortles isn't exactly a plug-and-play QB. Fantasy-wise, he's simply a dynasty-only flier — and not a player who needs to go inside the first round of a rookie draft.
Henne is an acceptable placeholder QB for a team developing a future starter, but he's not a guy who belongs on your cheat sheet in fantasy leagues of standard size. He's never thrown more TD passes than picks in any NFL season, and he's never completed more than 61.4 percent of his attempts in any year of his career. You won't be drafting him, except in deep and/or oddly configured leagues.
With Blackmon exiled for an unknown period of time (and thus un-draftable), Cecil Shorts is the unrivaled top target in Jacksonville's receiving corps — at least when healthy. Shorts has dealt with a medley of injuries over the past two seasons (groin, hamstring, shoulder, concussions), but he's productive when active. He's averaged 65.0 yards per game since 2012, breaking the plane 10 times in 27 games. In light of Shorts' QB situation, you'd have to say his production has been heroic. So far, he's getting drafted in the Riley Cooper-Dwayne Bowe range (ADP 108.2), making him a relative bargain as a WR3. Shorts is entering a contract year, if you care about such things. (Hakeem Nicks didn't, but you might.)
The Jaguars clearly went into this year's draft thinking Blackmon might never be heard from again, because they selected a pair of talented, starting-caliber receivers in USC's Marqise Lee and Penn State's Allen Robinson. Lee was a beast for the Trojans two years ago, hauling in 118 balls for 1,721 yards and 14 scores, winning the Biletnikoff Award and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. His performance slipped last season (by nearly 1,000 yards), as injuries and supporting cast issues affected his production. If healthy, he has an excellent chance to start and produce immediately. Robinson has nice size (6-foot-3, 220) and leaping ability (39-inch vert), plus he was an extremely productive player in Bill O'Brien's complex pro-style offense. It shouldn't take him long to emerge as a useful piece in this team's passing game. In deep-ish fantasy leagues, both Lee and Robinson are on the radar as late fliers. However you feel about Bortles, you can't argue that the Jaguars' front office hasn't supplied him with weapons. Ace Sanders remains in the mix here as well, but the rookies have likely pushed him down the depth chart. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, as ever, is a more valuable in reality than in fantasy. If your league somehow awards fantasy points for run-blocking, go get him.
Toby Gerhart was perhaps not a splashy offseason addition for Jacksonville, but he has a chance to earn a tidy profit for fantasy drafters. His ADP has soared in recent weeks, however, so it's no longer accurate to call him a sleeper — with a fourth-round price tag, he's not sleeping. Still, Gerhart is a low-mileage running back who generally impressed when playing in relief of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. He's averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry on his 276 NFL attempts, plus he's proven his worth as a receiver, catching 77 career passes for an even 600 yards. Gerhart is built for three-down duty, and he has yards-after-contact ability. He has a clear path to 300-plus touches if he remains healthy, a rare thing in today's game. This team's O-line added starters both via the draft (Brandon Linder) and free agency ($30M/5Y for Zane Beadles), which helps. Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and UCF rookie Storm Johnson will battle for depth chart position behind Gerhart, but this is not a situation where you'll want to handcuff the lead back. There's basically never a need for that, unless you see the backfield as a can't-miss goldmine.
The Jaguars D/ST is not particularly appealing for fantasy purposes, coming off a season in which it stopped nothing. Jacksonville ranked 29th against the run (131.8 YPG), 25th against the pass (247.8 YPG), dead-last in sacks (31) and 26th in interceptions (11). The Jags coughed up 28.1 points per game and only scored two defensive TDs. The team added a pair of Seattle defensive lineman (Red Bryant, Chris Clemons), but, again, we're talking about a defense that struggled pretty much everywhere. If you're shopping for IDPs, the guys you want are high-volume tackler Paul Posluszny and safety Johnathan Cyprien. I can recommend no one else.
Sorry, cat lovers.
2013 Jacksonville Jaguars team statistics: 15.4 PPG (NFL rank 32), 234.4 pass YPG (21), 16 pass TDs (30), 78.8 rush YPG (31), 23.6 rush attempts per game (26), 37.0 pass attempts per game (11)