Spotlight: Maurice Jones-Drew
posted by Jason Wood on Aug 6th
Jason Wood's thoughts
Maurice Jones-Drew is a test case for how seriously we should take preseason injuries. Last year Jones-Drew was coming off a knee injury and offseason surgery, which led many to wonder whether we had seen the last of his days as a top fantasy RB. In spite of Jones-Drew telling everyone his knee would be fine once the regular season got underway, many avoided him in drafts because he hadn't participated in the majority of training camp. If you ascribe to the idea that you want to avoid undue risk in the first round or two, Jones-Drew was one of the guys you probably crossed off your list; or at least found yourself unwilling to take before other owners in your league pulled the trigger.
WHAT A COLLOSAL MISTAKE
Jones-Drew wasn't overstating his recovery. He wasn't being overly optimistic. He was giving a truthful and representative picture of his own status. Those who listened to him (usually people drafting toward the end of the first round), were rewarded many, many times over:
- 16 games started
- 343 carries (led the league)
- 1,606 yards rushing (led the league)
- 11 touchdowns
- 43 receptions
- 374 receiving yards
- #3 ranked fantasy RB
Jones-Drew was a dream fantasy pick. He not only produced at an elite level, but he was CONSISTENT. He had 80+ yards rushing in 15 of 16 games, 10 games of 90+ yards rushing, and six 100+ yard games. He delivered three straight 100+ yard games to finish out the season - which are the key fantasy playoff weeks.
2012 = DIFFERENT, BUT THE SAME?
This year Jones-Drew's health is not in question, but his status as a training camp participant certainly is. Whereas injuries kept him off the field a year ago, it's his contract status that has him threatening a hold out now. Jones-Drew has two years left on the 5-year, $31mm contract he signed in 2009 - he's due to make $4.5 million this year and $5.0 million next year. And therein lay the sticking point. Jones-Drew feels like he's underpaid after seeing the deals being heaped on Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Matt Forte. Yet, new Jaguars owner Shad Khan has made it clear he has no intention of redoing Jones-Drew's contract with two years remaining, as a matter of principle.
Jones-Drew's hold out has fantasy owners balking at drafting him early. Prior to the escalation of his contract woes, Jones-Drew was being drafted 4th or 5th in most early drafts. Now he's being drafted 9th overall and 6th among RBs. It may not seem like a big change, but as the next few weeks unfold, you can bet that Jones-Drew could fall further. And if you think that's not a big deal, ask the owners who passed on Jones-Drew last year in favor of Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles and Rashard Mendenhall.
SHOULD THE HOLD OUT SCARE YOU OFF?
I'm of the mind that Jones-Drew isn't going to miss regular season games. $4.5 million is not an insignificant amount of money, and Jones-Drew's agent has to understand that a new owner is not going to bend over backward for someone with two years left on his deal. The vast majority of hold outs don't ever make it into regular season games. Emmitt Smith held out for two games back in the 90s, but can you think of another impact RB that let his contract squabble last into the regular season?
As long as Jones-Drew shows up in time for opening kickoff, I see very little reason for concern. We know that Jones-Drew is a consummate professional. Last year amidst an NFL lockout, and without access to team facilities or team doctors, Jones-Drew kept himself in impeccable shape and handled his knee rehab better than most. There's no way he's going to let this hold out impact his readiness for the season.
HOW 2012 WILL DIFFER FROM 2011?
Jones-Drew was the lone bright spot on an offense that ranked 28th in points scored and 32nd in yards last year. That facilitated wholesale changes including a new head coach - Mike Mularkey - who comes over from Atlanta where he served as Mike Smith's offensive coordinator. The Jaguars also bolstered a receiving corps that was embarrassingly bad last year by selecting Justin Blackmon in the first round and signing Laurent Robinson in free agency. Mularkey is a clear upgrade from last year's play-caller - Dirk Koetter - and the receivers are an improvement, but are they a major improvement? Blackmon still hasn't signed (he's the only rookie 1st rounder not under contract) after a major DUI charge, and Robinson has never profiled as a starting receiver until the Jaguars overpaid following his star turn as the Cowboys 3rd option in 2011.
All eyes are on QB Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert looked every bit the rookie last year, but in a season when Cam Newton set records and Andy Dalton led his team to the playoffs, Gabbert's struggles were under intense scrutiny. He was, without question, the worst starting quarterback in the league. With such a disappointing first season, is there any historical precedent in support of Gabbert becoming a reliable, long-term answer? If you find one, let me know.
That was a long winded way of saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm not sure I see the Jaguars offense being much better this year, which means Jones-Drew will HAVE to be used as a workhorse. That means more carries, more yards, but not necessarily more touchdowns (because Jacksonville won't be making many trips into the red zone).
- Jones-Drew led the league in rushing last year in spite of having the league's worst passing attack in his corner -- opposing defenses keyed on Jones-Drew incessantly, yet he still managed to be dominant week in, week out
- Mike Mularkey is a better offensive mind than Dirk Koetter, and even a marginal improvement in the passing game will give Jones-Drew more room to run to daylight, and more opportunities to convert in the red zone
- The Jaguars offensive line is a much better run blocking unit than it gets credit for.
- Jones-Drew hasn't even spoken to Mike Mularkey yet, which means he's far behind his teammates in learning the new offense
- Although it's unlikely, if Jones-Drew opts to hold out into the regular season it would be problematic for fantasy owners that draft him as a first or early second round choice
- The Jaguars passing game made overtures to improve, but on paper it still appears to be among the league's most impressive. Opposing defenses will keep the box loaded in most downs and distances
Jones-Drew was the #3 fantasy running back in 2011 despite coming off a knee injury and having to play with one of the most inept passing attacks in modern history. Now embroiled in a hold out, his ADP has been on a slight, but steady decline. Another few weeks of hold outs and Jones-Drew could be available in the back end of the first round, which would be a godsend for the savvy owners who capitalize on the opportunity. If Jones-Drew didn't suffer from last year's rehab and stunted offseason, why should we think a contract related hold out is going to hurt him? If Jones-Drew is available late in the first round, you need to run, not walk to the draft board and select him.
Quotations from the message board threadTo view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.
Ketamine Dreams said:
I avoided him last year and regretted it. If I buy this year, I'm sure I'll regret that too....Blackjacks said:
Team is built around the running game
They have upgraded there offense
No competition for touches
Allt he goal line work
A true 3 down back
Head coach has ran a power run game the past
Blaine Gabbert can't be worse......can he?
Get his ### into camp on time
Maurice Jones-Drew projections
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