The Jaguars have been raked through the coals for already proclaiming No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles will watch the 2014 NFL season from the sidelines. This is not a new practice - although the trend as of late has seen most first-round selections suiting up in their freshman campaign – or even necessarily a bad call (more on this in a moment). However, from a public relations standpoint, Jacksonville dropped the ball. Nothing quite stirs up the fan base of a team that’s won six games in the past two seasons like learning their new franchise player won’t be playing in the fall.
In theory, we shouldn’t be too surprised by this development. After all, if the Jaguars were truly concerned with selling tickets, they would have signed a certain local product as the organization’s face a long time ago. (No, I don’t think Jacksonville should have acquired Tim Tebow; just needed to mention him in this piece. You have no idea what “Tim Tebow” will do for an article’s Google relevance.)
BYE Week - 11. In a related note, every time a hackneyed writer scribes something along the lines of, “Team X is on BYE this week, they’re playing the Jags!” feel free to send them this.
Alluded to above, I understand not feeding the neophyte Bortles to the wolves. Jacksonville isn’t competing for a playoff spot in 2014, and you don’t want a David Carr situation with your young gun. (I get Blaine Gabbert is seemingly the better comparison, but you could have surrounded that kid with the ‘92 Cowboys and he still would have struggled.)
The counter: when will the Jaguars be ready to compete? They have a young core of receivers that could develop into a viable group, but without Justin Blackmon - who reportedly will not be welcomed back to the team - the ceiling is definitely limited. I think Toby Gerhart is a nice addition, yet he’s no spring chicken. And the offensive line, at least in its current iteration, is one of the worst protection units in football. If Jacksonville is serious about protecting Bortles, they’re at least a playmaker and two big cats up front away from achieving such a goal.
As for Henne...brother, if you’re starting him on your fantasy roster, something has gone seriously, SERIOUSLY wrong.
Running Back – Toby Gerhart
Jacksonville finished second-last in 2013 in ground yards (1,260) and yards per attempt (3.3). Were these putrid numbers the result of the Jaguars’ offensive line or the decline of Maurice Jones-Drew? Though both were factors, the Jags are betting the latter played a bigger part in these rushing woes.
In terms of efficiency, Gerhart’s career mark of 4.7 yards per carry looks spectacular. Unfortunately, due to the tour de force that is Adrian Peterson, Gerhart enters with a meager 86 carries in the past two seasons.
Or should that be a positive? There’s little wear-n-tear on Gerhart, and though he’s a bit of an unproven commodity, he has shown capability in his abbreviated appearances. He’s also a solid option in the receiving arena, catching 77 passes in his four years in Minnesota.
Jacksonville reportedly wants to bestow 300-plus touches to Gerhart in 2014, a number that seems a tad zealous. Nevertheless, it’s clear the Jags have conviction in their running back, meaning Gerhart has potential as a top-12 back this fall.
Wide Receivers – Cecil Shorts III, Marquise Lee
Shorts tends to get a little more credit than he deserves – something I never thought I’d say about a Jacksonville player. As a WR4, Shorts, who has averaged 65 yards per contest over his last 27 games, is a splendid option, especially with such a high volume of targets (125 in 13 games last season). Any aspirations higher than that, however, may be unfulfilled. (Update: Shorts has missed most of camp with hamstring issues. Though he's expected to be ready for Week 1, monitor the situation.)
The USC product Lee was projected as a first-round selection this year, yet fell due to concerns about his knees. In his first appearance at OTAs, he put this worry to rest, illustrating the quickness and elusiveness that propelled a successful stint in LA. Filling Blackmon’s old role, Lee will definitely be given the opportunity to contribute off the bat. Though I’m usually skeptical of rookie wideouts, Lee is the exception, and is a realistic candidate for 70-plus receptions in 2014.
That 10-touchdown campaign is a distant memory. Since earning a trip to Honolulu in 2010, the Jacksonville tight end has found the end zone a scant eight times in 42 games, with a 32.4 yards-per-game output in that span. Backup Clay Harbor won’t bring the heat in terms of competition, but that won’t translate to a massive amount of action in Lewis’ direction (just 47 targets last year). With the tight end position fairly deep, Lewis does not warrant a look in most formats.
Rookie to Watch – Allen Robinson
Lee is harvesting most of the attention, yet Robinson, also a second-round pick for Jacksonville, should not be dismissed. Robinson arrives in Florida off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Happy Valley, and at 6’2”, 220 lbs. Robinson has the frame to be a nightmare for opposing corners.
Currently sidelined by a hamstring injury, Robinson will likely start camp buried on the depth chart. However, unless you think Ace Sanders or Mike Brown are the answers to Jacksonville’s offense, expect Robinson to work his way into the starting lineup by November. (Update: Like Shorts, Robinson is also dealing with a hamstring woe, albeit not as severe. As he wasn't expected to do much in the opening weeks, Robinson's projection remains the same.)
Kicker – Josh Scobee
The good: Scobee connected on 92 percent of his field goals last season, ranking eighth in the league. The bad: he only attempted 25 kicks, 29th in the NFL. The ugly: Jacksonville’s offense offered just 23 extra-point tries. To put that into context, Denver’s Matt Prater had 75 endeavors in that category.
The resistance added Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood in the offseason, but as the team mostly addressed offense in the Draft, little else was done to a defense that surrendered 28.1 points per contest (second-most in the conference). You’re better off not starting a D unit rather than inserting the Jags into your starting lineup.
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @JoelMBeall