Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: we fittingly start with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be this year’s definition of pretty much screwed.
The 2013-14 season marks a new beginning for the Jaguars. Another new beginning, that is, since the first new beginning lasted only one season under coach Mike Mularkey. A 2-14 record, the worst in franchise history, was not what first-year owner Shad Khan had in mind when he bought the team from its original owner, and now Gus Bradley is at the helm. Let’s survey the swampy kingdom that Bradley has inherited.
The Jaguars are one of youngest and least talented teams in the league, with questions at almost every major position.
This is a rebuilding project, and everybody knows it. It’s makes sense to go young — Bradley and new GM Dave Caldwall have cut dozens of pricey veterans, including Laurent Robinson and Aaron Ross — but even the young pieces in place are shaky at best, and more often downright discouraging.
Take the quarterback position — an absolute mess. Blaine Gabbert has shown almost no improvement since his 2011 rookie season. Sure, it hasn’t been a stable beginning for the guy, but there were already questions about his NFL readiness and maturity coming out of Mizzou. The Jaguars’ best offensive game last year came with Chad Henne at the helm (they lost anyway), and nobody in their right mind thinks that Chad Henne is the future for Jacksonville. More than likely, we’ll see Henne taking over the team halfway through the year while the Jags tank far enough to land a top quarterback in next year’s draft.
Guys to catch the ball? They’ll be without Justin Blackmon for at least the first four games while the sophomore serves a suspension for “substance-abuse.” Cecil Shorts is the only decent wideout otherwise, so expect him to receive almost all the defense’s attention on the outside. Tight end Marcedes could be okay, if you like your tight ends to be slow as shit. Maybe Denard Robinson will be slotted in as a wide receiver, since at this point his designation is simply offensive weapon.
If you can believe it, the defense has an even worse outlook. The only name of note is defensive end Justin Babin, who the Eagles tossed away in the middle of last season for not living up to his big contract. The Jaguars get almost no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, leaving their secondary vulnerable as they try to shut down guys like Andre Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. Think Marcus Trufant and a bunch of nobodies are up for that?
The only settled position for the Jags is running back. But here’s the thing…
Maurice Jones-Drew, far and away the team’s best player, missed most of last year due to injuries and is likely past his prime. Not that it would matter if he wasn’t.
Jones-Drew is a SportsGrid favorite because he’s a beast and he plays fantasy sports with a passion. But we’re hard-pressed to imagine him returning to his prime and piling up over 1,600 yards, a year after missing 10 games and now on the wrong side of 28.
The sad thing is, even if MJD did have an Adrian Peterson like resurgence and played like an All-Pro, it wouldn’t matter. He’s been great for years, and the Jaguars have still suffered. In each of his 1,000 yard seasons (2009-11), the Jags went 7-9, 8-8 and 5-11. Now that the team has fewer weapons than ever, do we see a scenario in which the box isn’t stuffed to stop the run every single down?
We feel for MJD. It’s a shame when a great running back wastes his best years on a losing team (Steven Jackson also comes to mind). Unfortunately, his post-prime years will not be better spent.
One reason you might not be screwed: Depends what your definition of “screwed” is. Would a .500 season be considered not-screwed? There are probably eight or nine “winnable” games on the Jags schedule this year, because they get to play the Titans twice as well as some deadbeats like the Raiders and Browns. AP almost singlehandedly carried the Vikings to the playoffs last year. It would take a near-miracle, but perhaps MJD can do the same, coming off an injury-plagued year, and help the Jags squeak out a wild card.
Actual season prediction: 3-13, last in the AFC South. The expectations are comically low this year. The only real question about the Jaguars is: Who could possibly be worse?
Photos via Getty