The workload got pretty heavy for Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011.
Although it turned to be the best statistical season of his career, if the Jaguars want to see Jones-Drew on the field long term, the coaching staff should keep a keen eye on his workload moving forward.
Running back is the most brutal position in football, and the shelf life of a quality one is not very long. And then there is that perception of the age of 30 for backs.
There have been more than a few that either hit that age or were overworked beforehand.
Jones-Drew is not wearing down. If anything I believe he is entering his prime, and he still has three years before he turns that mythical age of 30.
But with the Jaguars' offense so reliant on having the ball in his hands, Jones-Drew could unfortunately head down that road.
As I mentioned earlier, 2011 was a banner year for Jones-Drew. He won his first rushing title with 1,606 yards, was the only back in the league that averaged more than 100 yards per game and scored eight touchdowns.
He also led the league in another category—carries. Jones-Drew carried the ball 343 times in 2011, a career-high. Michael Turner was the only other running back in the NFL to carry the ball more than 300 times with 301.
During Jones-Drew's last full season as the featured back in 2009, he also topped 300 carries (312 to be exact).
There are many guys that headed down the road Jones-Drew is on, and they crashed and burned in the process.
Former Tennessee Titan Eddie George didn't last 10 years in the NFL before injuries caught up with him and forced him to retire. George carried the ball at least 300 times in eight of his nine seasons, with the one exception being his last season in the league as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
George was not so much a victim of being overworked more than he was a victim of simply getting old.
Larry Johnson, on the other hand, was indeed overworked in Kansas City. Johnson recorded two stellar seasons for the Chiefs in 2005 and 2006, gaining more than 1,700 yards each year. But he carried the ball 336 times in 2005 and then 416 in 2006.
Johnson played in only eight games in 2007 and only 12 in 2008 because of injuries. He has since bounced around the league as a shell of his former self.
The man who Johnson replaced as the star back in Kansas City, Priest Holmes, was also overworked and eventually was forced to retire due to a neck injury.
Before his injury, however, Holmes was probably the best all-around tailback in football. From 2001-03, Holmes gained more than 4,500 yards. But that was it. Three seasons on top of his game and then the heavy workload caught up to him.
The last startling example is former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. In 2005, Alexander scored an NFL record of 27 rushing touchdowns, and also recorded his third consecutive season with more than 300 carries.
Alexander was gone from the Seattle Seahawks by the end of the 2007 season, and out of the league as a whole by the end of 2008. Alexander, like George, lasted a decent amount of time in the NFL, but eventually the workload caught up to him.
Jones-Drew, much like the other guys I just mentioned, is the focal point of his team's offense.
The plays are called to get the ball in the hands of Jones-Drew because he is the best and sometimes only option in the offense.
That has to change.
For the Jaguars, that hinges on the progression of quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the production of new receivers Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans.
If Gabbert does not progress to the point that new head coach Mike Mularkey trusts him enough to throw the ball more, or if the receivers fail to get open on a consistent basis and make plays, Jones-Drew will be forced to carry the ball.
This will more than likely put him down the unfortunate road of other recent running backs.