One of the lone bright spots in 2012, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III give hope to a team in need of it for 2013
The Jacksonville Jaguars are reaching the end of the worst season in franchise history. Without hesitation, it is safe to say that major changes are coming to a team in desperate need of them.
With a new owner and coaching staff, the expectations were high in the fan's eyes, but national media never really gave in. In the end, the national media was right. The Jaguars have locked in either the first or second draft pick come April if they lose to New England this Sunday, and have more questions than answers surrounding the team.
Everything and anything could happen between now and the start of the 2013 NFL season, some could catch fans off-guard, and some could add hope to a team in need of it. Either way, big changes are coming in Jacksonville.
Here is a look at five predictions for the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars team.
The easiest thing to do as a fan is put the blame on everybody, especially the head coach.
Mike Mularkey's track record as a head coach makes it even harder to defend him, but you cannot deny the fact that he did not have much to work with this season.
Especially the case with the offensive line, as the Jaguars incurred injuries prior to the start of the season. They lead the league with 18 players on the injured reserve (17 if Daryl Smith returns), and have not been near full strength now for two seasons. Injuries to Daryl Smith, Derek Cox, Clint Sessions, Austen Lane, and Dwight Lowery took away far too many difference makers on defense to have a consistent group every week.
Inheriting Blaine Gabbert wasn't even close to having Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and seeing your best player in Maurice Jones-Drew miss the offseason as well as the majority of the regular season does not even come close to giving you a real shot every week. Laurent Robinson was another injury victim who never played up to the $30 million contract he was handed in the offseason.
With everything against him, Mularkey has had to play more practice squad and off-the-street free agents than any coach should have to in the NFL, but then again, that is part of the job.
With a solid group of assistants and coordinators around him, the Jaguars coaching staff should not see the majority of the blame. That should be put on the man who makes the personnel decisions.
Which leads to the next prediction.
After four seasons as the general manager, it is time for the Jaguars to say goodbye to Gene Smith.
Smith has done more harm than good in his four years, and allowed Blaine Gabbert to seal his fate in Jacksonville.
Between failures in free agency and the draft, Smith has set back a team in dire need of giving the city of Jacksonville something to be proud of.
Starting his downfall was his draft selection of Tyson Alualu at tenth overall in 2010, and then ending with a punter taken in the third round of the draft in 2012, Smith has proven to be more for need than talent, which has not fared well for the team in recent drafts.
Looking for small school prospects, Smith has scored very well three times with Derek Cox (William & Mary), Terrance Knighton (Temple) and Cecil Shorts III (Mount Union). The issue is that he has bet on more than just these three, a lot more, which have resulted in way too many late round failures for the Jags.
The Jaguars need a proven GM with a history of rebuilding.
Trading Maurice Jones-Drew should not and will not even cross the mind of the new general manager in Jacksonville.
Jones-Drew is a very special talent, and with one year remaining, has a chance to prove his worth for one last contract in the NFL.
The Jaguars have a great set of wide receivers for the first time since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, and a running game to go with them would only benefit the quarterback.
The 2012 season has been very difficult to gauge how these three (Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts III, and Maurice Jones-Drew) will play together, as Blackmon and Shorts III came alive after MJD was injured.
At 29 years old, Jones-Drew should realize that after a wasted 2012 season, he has no choice but to suit up with his current contract and prove he is still worth it. The Jaguars will also look to draft or sign a capable back up and possible replacement.
In many other years it would be safe to say that the Jaguars will easily find a replacement for both Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. This year it will not be.
The Jaguars have seen enough from Gabbert to prove that he is not a starter in the NFL. The difference with many other tenth overall selections, is that Gabbert's salary is not ridiculous for a back up in the NFL, meaning he should stick around as a backup and possibly get some time to grow. He will only be 24 next season.
Henne doesn't display, and has yet to prove any type of true consistency, but he has shown enough to start next year.
Between developing chemistry with his receivers and spending time with the staff, Henne doesn't have much competition for next season.
With the possibility that the Jaguars snag a quarterback in the draft, it will not be in the first round. The list of quarterback prospects this season do not compare at all to a season ago.
Free agency will not host any names that will encourage the Jags to make a run for them. Alex Smith and Michael Vick are the two likeliest to give hope to fans of Jacksonville, but both will get offers from bigger market, more desperate teams at the position that will look more suitable for two older players.
Tim Tebow cannot be ruled out because of his celebrity status to be brought into Jacksonville, but he will not be the first or second string in Jacksonville next season at quarterback, that is a guarantee.
The offensive line will be the Jaguars biggest area of attack this offseason, and could mean for a much better offense in 2013. Henne has proven that he is a capable starter when he gets enough time to make a good decision.
The Jaguars need to upgrade a lot of different areas on both sides of the ball, but this year's draft class has some very, very good defensive prospects.
With the first or second overall pick guaranteed with a loss this Sunday vs. New England, there is yet to be a single offensive player to prove they are worthy of a top five pick aside from Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M).
The names of a few top defensive prospects include linebacker/defensive end Jarvis Jones (Georgia), defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (Utah), cornerback Dee Milliner (Alabama), linebacker Manti Te'o (Notre Dame), and defensive end Bjoern Werner (Florida State).
The Jaguars need to generate a pass rush after another absolutely miserable season. The only bright spot has been recently acquired Jason Babin, who is already 33 and not a definite to return to the Jaguars team next season.
Jeremy Mincey was handed a large contract, but it has resulted in two sacks through 14 games. Much more help is needed.
Any one of the listed defensive prospects would be a great addition to the Jaguars, as they have holes in all of those positions. Jarvis Jones makes the most sense with his Von Miller-like skill set, but has dealt with a history of injuries.
Either way, the Jaguars are going defense in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.