Football Outsiders Almanac 2012: Jacksonville Jaguars Preview

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistJuly 19, 2012

Laurent Robinson with the Jags (Courtesy Associated Press)
Laurent Robinson with the Jags (Courtesy Associated Press)

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The Football Outsiders Almanac is a book you have to own.

Whether you want the best team capsules out there, reams of stats and charting observations, fantasy data, college football data or just access to some of the best and most groundbreaking statistical studies you can find, FOA 2012 needs to be on your shelf.

The Football Outsiders is the No. 1 site fans must visit if they want to consider themselves educated. FOA is the best way to get all that knowledge in one easy-to-read chunk.

Rivers McCown is helping me break down the Outsiders' findings about the AFC South. Up next is the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Outsiders have the Jaguars pegged to finish last in the South, just about even with Indianapolis. The good news is that they do have the Jags set for six wins, which would be a slight improvement over last year.

McCown, who also writes for the Battle Red Blog, helps us dig into those numbers.


B/R: Is this team really limited primarily by Blaine Gabbert? Any idea what the projection would be if Chad Henne was starting? 

: Certainly if you look over the KUBIAK projections (FOA has extensive fantasy football projections), we have Gabbert projected to put up a minus-17.3 percent DVOA, and Henne merely a minus-5.0 percent, so yeah, in a way their projection is very much held hostage by Gabbert.

However, if we plug in Henne as the starter, we have to deal with a variable that docks the offensive projection of a team if they bring in a new quarterback. We have a lot of prior data that suggests that it takes time to adjust to a new quarterback, not to mention the general uncertainty of just how good that quarterback will be.

Anyway, plugging Henne in as the starter, even with that handicap, boosts the Jaguars' win total by about half a game. It's funny because if you look at our Henne player comment, and then read my comments on him in the Jaguars essay, you realize that they were written by two very different people.

In this case, I may be the last Henne backer in America, while Mike Tanier, who has admittedly forgotten more about football than I know, has written him off. Coming into 2011, Henne was very comparable to Drew Brees in his third season in San Diego. I know last year was perceived as a disappointment, but Henne did have two good games out of the three he started last year, including a 400-yard effort against the Pats, before separating his shoulder in Week 4.

I am by no means saying that Henne is going to be the next Drew Brees, but I think it's a perfectly logical point of view to believe that he can be an adequate NFL starter. Besides, it's not like the Dolphins are winning any medals in the player personnel department these days.


B/R: My main concern with Gabbert is his sack rate. Give Jags fans some hope that this can be fixed.

McCown: Uhhh...uhhh...I've stared at this question for about five minutes now, and I think that expresses how much hope I have in this happening.

The sack problems definitely go beyond Gabbert, because both Guy Whimper and Eugene Monroe finished in the top 20 in blown blocks that led to sacks last season. Gabbert spent a lot of last season looking into the headlights after a rusher successfully ole'd his blocker though, so you have to factor that into those statistics as well. 

The anecdotal proof behind Mike Mularkey, quarterback whisperer, is not that strong (see: Matt Ryan's lack of growth, J.P. Losman). That said, his system is probably going to be a better fit for Gabbert. I don't necessarily think that Gabbert is a lost cause as a productive starter, but if he's going to reach that point, the improvement has to be sudden and meaningful.

Last year, if you watched the Jaguars play, you wound up seeing the color man doing their games (often an ex-quarterback), praise him with something along the lines of "now that play is something he can build on." Doing something correctly one out of eight times does not an NFL quarterback make. 

I'm more concerned with his footwork than anything, honestly. His accuracy suffered mightily despite good raw tools simply because he had poor footwork on his releases. There are some cases where I think tinkering with a player's stance or technique causes more harm with good.

I guess you could say that, with Gabbert, the slate should be wiped entirely clean from last year. Mularkey is going to have to build him again from the ground up. I don't have a lot of confidence that he'll come through, but stranger things have happened. 


B/R: FOA 2012 has major regression projected for Laurent Robinson. Is that based on him or on the offensive situation in Jacksonville? 

McCown: A little from column A, a little from column B. The big determining factor that keeps his projection from looking better is that we don't have him as the top target in Jacksonville.

We're projecting Robinson to have roughly the same number of balls thrown his way next season that he did last year: 81 in 2011, 82 in 2012. While he's the nominal "top" receiver for the team entering the year, we believe Justin Blackmon is their No. 1 receiver, and thus we're projecting Blackmon to be targeted 138 times.

I think we're beyond the point where we need to mention this, but just in case we aren't, the 11 touchdowns that Robinson had last year is a stat that jumps off the page as unsustainable. He caught nine of his 11 red zone targets last year, with eight of them going for touchdowns. In 2010, he was a red zone target nine times and scored just two touchdowns.

So what this really comes down to is the completion percentage. Our system sees two things here: his career catch rate is much lower than the 67 percent he posted last year, and Blaine Gabbert is not Tony Romo.

It's willing to give Robinson some slack for his poor catch rate since most of that did come with a Rams team that didn't have a very effective pass game. So split the difference and you wind up with what we did: 54 percent. 

Anecdotally, I think there are reasons to believe that Robinson is going to outperform that. His problem was never talent; it was staying healthy. But between the injury risk, his career numbers and the quarterback situation in Jacksonville, there are a lot of factors that could potentially submarine his production.

I happen to think he'll be a bit better than the numbers we give him in the book, but I don't think it's going to be by a huge margin.


Again, my thanks to McCown, who will wrap up this series on the South with the Titans next week. Make sure to buy your copy of FOA 2012 today.