The term fork in the road was invented to describe 2013 for Maurice Jones-Drew. Okay maybe not, but it should have been. Jones-Drew has been an all-world back and he's been an injured malcontent, 2013 may just determine which he finishes his career as. After four straight seasons as a fantasy RB1, Jones-Drew played only six games in 2012 after holding out through training camp because of his contract situation. He heads into this season with no long-term deal and his future as a feature back hanging in the balance.
The first question for Jones-Drew will be if he can stay healthy. He's said to be pain free after his Lisfranc injury in 2012, but at age 28 with more than 1500 carries (and more than 1800 touches) under his belt, there is reason for concern. Also, it doesn't seem like the Jaguars have any real interest in signing him to a long term deal, so the idea of saving him for the future probably won't cross their minds. Of course, this could work as a positive for Jones-Drew owners in 2013.
On an offense that's had very few offensive weapons outside of Jones-Drew, he's been remarkably efficient. For his career he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry (YPC) and 8.8 yards per reception, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. Last season, in limited action he averaged 4.8 YPC, which was a career best. His second best season in YPC came in 2011 at 4.7 YPC. So if Jacksonville is determined to get all they can out of Jones-Drew in 2013, and he matches that efficiency, he could be one of the best backs in the league.
If Jones-Drew is truly going to be a top fantasy back again, he's going to have to find the end zone again. In the first four seasons of his career, Jones-Drew scored 54 touchdowns on 1045 touches. Since 2010, he's scored 20 touchdowns on 819 touches. In other words, he's scoring touchdowns less than half as often as he was early in his career. Part of that is that Jones-Drew saw a lot less work between the 20s early in his career, but a bigger part is that the Jaguars offense just isn't very good.
Jones-Drew has carried the Jaguars offense for nearly a decade, but at age 28 he's going to need a little bit of help. Offensively Jacksonville is a well-chronicled debacle. They scored only 22 touchdowns in 2012 and outside of the return of Jones-Drew it's difficult to see how they'll be much better this season. Blaine Gabbert is a bust at quarterback, to the extent that Chad Henne should win the starting job from him out of camp. The team's best receiver is suspended for four weeks and battling a groin injury at the same time.
In the last 50 years there have been nine 28 year-old running backs playing in their eighth season to top 250 carries. While their success varied wildly, there does seem to be a correlating factor. It's not how many carries they receive, or even how efficient they are with those carries. It's not their prior workload either...it's how good their team is. Take a look:
Outside of Barry Sanders it's pretty easy to see that the running backs on bad teams were handily outperformed by the running backs on good teams. Sanders made a career out of excelling on bad teams, but he is an example of what could be for Maurice Jones-Drew.
- Maurice Jones-Drew's efficiency numbers show no sign of slowing down.
- He is a true workhorse back and the Jaguars will ride him in 2013.
- He's a dual threat back that should post good receiving numbers in addition to his rushing totals.
- He's coming off Lisfranc surgery and was just recently cleared for practice.
- He's 28 years old and entering his 8th season in the league. Both signify the start of a decline for most NFL running backs.
- The Jaguars will ride him because the rest of their offense is questionable at best. Red zone opportunities may be limited.
|Heath Cummings Projections||275||1110||5||35||245||0|
|David Dodds Projections||210||861||6||39||285||1|
Even though we haven't seen it yet, I do expect a significant reduction in Jones-Drew's efficiency in 2013. Age is part of it, and so is the fact that he's coming off an injury. The Jaguars will continue to feed him for a majority of the season because they don't have much choice, but they'll also continue to struggle to move the ball and that will severely limit his touchdown opportunities. Jones-Drew is currently being drafted as the 24th back off the board and that's a value even when you take into account his risks. I expect him to be a solid RB2 with a high ceililng and low floor.
Jeff Brubach at Football.com wrote:
However, the debate between these two backs for this season isn’t close. Chris Johnson’s collection of baggage heading into the 2013 season looks like a small piece of carry-on luggage compared to that of Maurice Jones-Drew, which would cost over $200 in overweight bag fees. The potential “tank factor” for Jones-Drew and his injured foot is far higher than Johnson’s, and heavily outweighs the impact of weeks where Johnson takes 14 carries for 24 yards.
Read more here.
Joe Fortenbaugh at Yahoo wrote:
Jones-Drew is running for a new contract and has produced outstanding statistics on a bad offense several times in his career. The only difference this year is that you’ll be able to snag him at a better price.
More from Heath Cummings:
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