Maurice Jones-Drew has dominated the offense in Jacksonville since his arrival in 2006. In that time the Jaguars have fallen from a playoff contender to a league doormat. None of this falls on the shoulders of Jones-Drew though who has watched as poor draft and free agent choices, departed players, key injuries and changes to ownership and coaching personnel have put more and more of the teams hopes on his shoulders. In 2012 we saw the first signs that he was beginning to struggle with this role. From a threatened hold out over a new contract and then injuries once the season began, all point to Jacksonville needing a plan should he not be available in the future, especially as they show no interest in extending his current deal. Last year once he succumbed to a foot injury, we saw four running backs start a game afterwards, including guys off the street by the end of the year. In the past Jones-Drew has been good for 300 carries, 40 receptions, 1700 combined yards and 10 touchdowns a year and there has been little else to excite fantasy owners in Jacksonville. What would happen in 2013 to the Jaguars offense if he were to miss the entire season and are there any players that could pop up on the fantasy radar in his absence?
Cecil Shorts made a dramatic improvement in his 2nd year to lead the Jaguars in yards and touchdowns. Most of this improved production came once Blaine Gabbert was replaced by Chad Henne, while Maurice Jones-Drew was absent injured. Should both of those events occur again in 2013, then Shorts is likely to once again be an under-rated fantasy commodity. When a young player can finish as the 22nd ranked fantasy receiver, despite recording only 8 receptions in the first 5 games of 2012, the likelihood of another top season should the Jaguars have to air it out is high. Making a play for Shorts will have to be a carefully negotiated tactic, but with Gabbert and Jones-Drew on the field, Shorts is likely to have to have disappointed his current owner due to his probable lack of production.
Owners of Justin Blackmon will already be dealing with an enforced 4-game suspension and awaiting his arrival in October against the Rams, but if Maurice Jones-Drew is injured by then he’ll return as a primary focus of the Jacksonville offense. Cecil Shorts will have a 4-game head start however and if another receiver can do something with their targets, then it is possible that Blackmon will be eased back into a role that will make fantasy success more difficult. There is also a chance that Blackmon lives up to his No. 5 overall potential and returns to ignite the Jaguars offense, something that is less likely to occur with a fit Jones-Drew. Owners of Blackmon are by necessity needing to be patient anyway and aren’t likely to move him regardless of what happens around the Jaguars offense.
The only way Marcedes Lewis can offer any fantasy success is if there is a fit Maurice Jones-Drew. Lewis has been touted as a sleeper candidate this year due to the drafting of offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, but even if Joeckel can do his job adequately, the loss of Jones-Drew would force Jacksonville to utilize Lewis’s skills as a blocker, allowing others in the offense to flourish. Whatever use Lewis may have had, will be lost if there isn’t a runner to keep defences honest.
Given the disappointing play of Blaine Gabbert to date, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that should the entire load of the Jaguars offense fall on him that disappointment is bound to follow. Regardless of whether Maurice Jones-Drew is injured or not, most expect Chad Henne to play during the 2013 season. With Jones-Drew out, the only likely option to ignite the offense would be a change to the quarterback position, where Henne is a much better option to move the chains. Henne averaged a full 100 yards a game more than Gabbert last year and averaged one and a half touchdowns a game. He at least was of possible use to a fantasy owner. With Jones-Drew out and two blossoming receivers at his disposal, Henne will be a definite option to consider on the waiver wire.
Justin Forsett arrives as the likely backup in Jacksonville after a disappointing stint in Seattle and a role as a 3rd stringer in Houston. With basically the same guys that were late season signings in 2012 and an undersized role playing rookie in Denard Robinson his main competition, it is likely Forsett’s role to lose as the primary backup with the Jaguars. While he may be seen as popular waiver wire ticket, the truth is he does not hold out much long term hope for the prospective owner. He is the kind of player you would jump on if available and hope to unload on a desperate franchise, in the process upgrading your lineup. He will be the likely 3rd down back if Jones-Drew were to go down though and would have a possible use as a Flex player or a weak starter against a poor run defense. The most probable outcome though is that the Jaguars would run some kind of committee in the hope of using the player with the hot hand. Some weeks that may be Forsett.
If your league has a spot for kick returners, then Denard Robinson should not be available. In other leagues he could become useful should Jones-Drew miss time. Robinson was originally listed on the depth chart as “Offensive Weapon” rather than a positional designation, the 5th round draft pick could see time running the ball, catching it or as a former quarterback, playing the wildcat formation. He does not have the size to become the lead back, if such a thing can exist with the talent available, but will be a more featured key contributor.
Jaguars 3rd Receiver
We’re not going to pretend that Jacksonville will have an offense to rival Denver, but one thing the Broncos are less likely to be doing is chasing garbage time production. At the moment Jordan Shipley, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Ace Sanders are the prime candidates for a significant role, especially with the enforced 4-game absence of Justin Blackmon. If one of these guys can distinguish themselves or at least become the clear 3rd option, then an absent Jones-Drew associated with a desperate offense will see some use out of another receiver in deeper leagues.
For those in leagues that require players like Blaine Gabbert to have a role, then a fit Maurice Jones-Drew gives Blaine Gabbert a chance to have the necessary time to find his receivers and develop some kind of rhythm as a passer. He won’t be needed to dominate, just keep opposing defences honest and allow Jones-Drew to shine. With Jones-Drew out, then Gabbert is likely to be out of his element. In his 2-year career, he averages 155 yards a game passing and has less than 1 touchdown per game. It is possible that he could improve dramatically in his 3rd year, but expecting Gabbert to lead the Jaguars to fantasy success is an unlikely event given the skills shown to date and the most likely result is a trip to the bench to watch Chad Henne start.