Predicting the Jacksonville Jaguars Starting Lineup Post Week 1 of Free Agency
After one week of free agency, the Jacksonville Jaguars have only signed a handful of players.
Jacksonville's quiet approach to free agency should come as no surprise as general manager David Caldwell made it clear the team won't be too active pursuing free agents.
While forgoing free agency to rebuild the team through the draft is the smartest way to overhaul it, it leaves the roster depleted of talent and thin at almost every position.
The Jaguars will add most of their talent through the draft and signing undrafted free agents. They will give the young and unproven players a chance to prove they belong in the NFL. It will be a long process, but it's the best way to set up long-term success.
There will be a lot of roster turnover in the first year of the rebuild, and many of the players in Jacksonville's Week 1 starting lineup will be unfamiliar to many fans.
Here are my predictions on who the Jaguars' Week 1 starters will be. The predictions are based on who is currently under contracts and many of them will change after the draft and undrafted free-agent signings.
Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert
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The biggest question for the Jaguars heading this offseason is what they are going to do at quarterback.
Neither Blaine Gabbert nor Chad Henne have impressed during their respective times as starter.
Gabbert gets the nod over Henne because Gabbert was slightly better and has more upside.
Gabbert completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,662 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. That was more productive than Henne's 54.4 completion percentage for 1,515 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his six games started.
Henne did have the best game for a Jacksonville quarterback last season when he threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns in relief of an injured Gabbert in Houston. That performance proved to be an anomaly, however, as he never came close to repeating that performance.
Although Gabbert has the edge over Henne, his place as Week 1 starter is far from guaranteed. GM Caldwell has said the Jaguars will add quarterbacks this offseason for a "wide-open competition" (per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com).
Jacksonville will likely wait until the draft to add a quarterback. The two leading candidates are West Virginia's Geno Smith and Arizona's Matt Scott.
The Jaguars sent a number of coaches and scouts to Smith's pro day last week. Head coach Gus Bradley came away "very impressed" (per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union) with the young quarterback after a meeting following the workouts.
Jacksonville has shown interest in Scott and were "well represented" (via Tony Pauline of USA Today) at his pro day. He already has ties with the franchise, as the Jaguars new quarterback coach coached Scott for two seasons at Arizona.
The Jaguars have a tough decision to make this offseason at quarterback, and it's one that will determine the team's future success.
Running Back: Maurice Jones-Drew
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This one should be obvious, shouldn't it?
If he's healthy, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Maurice Jones-Drew is Jacksonville's starting running back. He's the most talented player on the roster and one of the best running backs in the league.
He seems to be well on his path to recovering from the injured foot he suffered Oct. 21 against the Oakland Raiders. Jones-Drew is scheduled to get the protective boot off his foot later this week and begin rehab, according to coach Bradley (per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union).
In addition to his recovery efforts, Jones-Drew is showing a renewed focus (via Brian Murphy of FFToolbox.com) for 2013 after a disastrous season last year.
Everything is pointing to Jones-Drew being ready for Week 1, which makes him a lock to be Jacksonville's starting running back.
Fullback: Montell Owens
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Montell Owens is currently the only fullback under contract, which makes him the starter by default.
He has seen time sporadically at fullback during his seven seasons with the team, but was primarily used as a special teams ace.
Owens took on a more prominent role in the offense due to a rash of injuries at running back. He could use that experience to help develop into a full-time starting fullback.
Owens' role could change if the Jaguars re-sign Greg Jones. There is a chance (per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union) he could return to the team next year.
If Jones does return for his 10th NFL season, he will reclaim his starting role at fullback. If not, Owens will assume the role by default.
Tackles: Eugene Monroe and Cameron Bradfield
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Eugene Monroe is as good as any left tackle in the league and has been a borderline great player since being drafted in 2009. Barring any kind of supernatural interference, he will once again start for the Jaguars in 2013.
The right tackle position is a little bit more interesting, but for all the wrong reasons. The right tackle play was terrible last season and much of the offensive line's struggles could be placed on their shoulders. The team featured a revolving door at the position, and none of them proved to be too effective.
As it stands now, Cameron Bradfield is Jacksonville's starting right tackle because he is the only tackle under contract other than Monroe.
The Jaguars will have to add players this offseason who can start at right tackle. Both free agency and the draft is full of talent who would immediately start at the position, and Jacksonville has to bring one of the available players in.
If they fail to address the position, awful right tackle play will once again cripple any chance of the offense being productive.
Guards: Mike Brewster and Uche Nwaneri
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Uche Nwaneri has the starting right guard role all but locked up heading into his seventh season, but it's an entirely different story at left guard.
Last season, Mike Brewster, Eben Britton and Austin Pasztor all saw time at guard. Brewster had the most playing time as he started seven games before ending the season on IR.
Brewster played well as a starter and was the most effective of the three players. He was good in pass protection, which the offensive line struggled with in 2012, allowing just two sacks.
He is going to face competition from a returning Will Rackley, who missed all of last season after suffering an ankle injury in training camp. Rackley started 14 games as a rookie in 2011 and played well for most of the season.
Watching Brewster and Rackley challenge each other for the starting left role will be one of the most interesting position battles at Jacksonville's training camp later this summer. The Jaguars will have a good young talent at the position regardless of which players earns the starting role.
Center: Brad Meester
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The Jaguars re-signed Brad Meester Tuesday (via Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union), and he should be penciled in as the starting center.
He is still the best option at the position despite his declining play in 2012. He will bring a wealth of knowledge he has gained through his 13 seasons in the league to add much-needed veteran leadership to the offense.
Meester is a tough player and did not miss a snap last season. His consistent presence in the middle will help Jacksonville's offense mesh in the new system.
His new deal is only for one year, so Meester's 14th season could very well be his last. If it is, he will leave a legacy of one of the most consistently good players in franchise history.
Tight End: Marcedes Lewis
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Marcedes Lewis has been the Jaguars' starting tight end since he was drafted in the 2006 draft. His starting role is secured for an eighth season in 2013 for two main reasons:
1. He's developed into one of the league's best blocking tight ends while having the size and receiving ability to be a red-zone threat.
2. The Jaguars do not have any other tight ends talented enough to challenge him for the starting role.
Jacksonville's current slate of tight ends other than Lewis is uninspiring at best. The Jaguars will likely add talent to compete for the No. 2 tight end spot in training camp, but it's unclear whether it will be through free agency, the draft or signing undrafted free agents.
Lewis' job is safe for another season, and he will try to recreate the results from 2010, which saw him tie the franchise record with 10 receiving touchdowns.
Wide Receivers: Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon
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The Jaguars wide receiver corps may be the brightest area on the team following the emergence of Cecil Shorts III and rookie Justin Blackmon in 2012.
Shorts had a breakout season last year after struggling as a rookie in 2011. He had 55 catches for 972 yards and seven touchdowns, and led the AFC in yards per reception (17.2). His 17 receptions of more than 20 yards was tied for fourth-most in the conference.
While Shorts' production came almost out of nowhere, Blackmon was expected to be a great player after the Jaguars traded up to select him with the fifth-overall pick last year.
Although he started off slow, he quickly turned into the receiving threat Jacksonville hoped he would be. Blackmon led all rookies with 64 receptions, and set franchise rookie records in receptions, receiving yards (865), and yards per reception (13.5). He tied Matt Jones for most touchdowns receptions by a rookie with five.
The future looks bright with Shorts and Blackmon lining up at wide receiver. They have the chance to develop into one of the most dangerous tandems in the league.
Defensive End: Jeremy Mincey
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Jeremy Mincey had a disappointing year last season after posting a career-high eight sacks in 2011.
He is looking to bounce back this season, but he is in a tough position in Bradley's new defense. Mincey doesn't fit any one position, but he is talented enough to see playing time.
Although Austen Lane may fit Bradley's scheme better, Mincey is a more talented player who could perform just as well as Lane.
The defensive end in this scheme will be asked to hold the point of attack against the run, while also being able to provide pressure on the quarterback. Mincey has good ball location skills, which should make him valuable against the run and pass.
Mincey gets the starting job by the smallest of margins, but Lane could easily slide into the role.
Defensive Tackles: Roy Miller and Tyson Alualu
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The Jaguars defensive tackles will undergo a minor shakeup heading into the 2013 season.
Roy Miller, who was signed as a free agent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, will immediately step into the stating lineup. He will be responsible for eating up blocks and stuffing the run. He won't show up much on the stat sheet, but Miller's play will have a gigantic impact on the effectiveness of the defense.
Tyson Alualu will continue to be the Jags' other starting defensive tackle. His role will be to collapse the pocket and penetrate into the backfield. He has flashed this ability in the past, but he will have to be a more consistent backfield presence to make the defense successful.
Miller was very good at taking up space and allowing other Bucs' players to run free into the backfield, and he will have to do the same for the Jaguars. If he can continue to play the way he's capable of, it could help Alualu shake off the "bust" label.
LEO: Jason Babin
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The LEO is a pass-rusher who uses his speed and athleticism to pressure the opposing quarterback.
The best choice for this position is Jason Babin.
Babin is an explosive and fast pass-rusher who uses his athleticism to get into the backfield, which makes him a perfect fit for the LEO.
He was productive for the Jaguars last season after they claimed him off waivers Nov. 28.
Babin should thrive in the LEO role, but he will be 33 entering the season and the Jaguars have to find a long-term solution. The answer could be in the draft as LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Oregon's Dion Jordan would be ideal candidates to play the position.
Even if Jacksonville drafts Mingo or Jordan, Babin should be the starter in Week 1 due to his experience and proven track record.
Strong-Side Linebacker: Russell Allen
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Russell Allen has developed into a solid player since signing with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
He started sporadically through his first few seasons in the league, but became a full-time starter in 2012 when Clint Session was unable to return from concussions he suffered in 2011.
Allen quietly put together a productive season last year. He became a sure-tackler and finished fifth in the AFC in combined tackles (131). He was also decent against the pass and had the fifth-most pass defenses among AFC linebackers (six).
Allen has played well enough to once again be the Jaguars starting strong-side linebacker.
Middle Linebacker: Paul Posluszny
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There is little doubt that Paul Posluszny is the leader of the Jaguars defense, and his starting role is as secure as it gets.
His leadership will be important on a young team, and he will show it by his play on the field. Posluszny was a tackle-machine last season and had the third-most tackles in the AFC (139). He also improved against the pass and was tied for the most interceptions among AFC linebackers (three).
With the talent level lacking at almost every other position, having a player like Posluszny anchoring the middle of the defense will keep the defense running smoothly.
Weak-Side Linebacker: Geno Hayes
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Geno Hayes was Caldwell's first signing as general manager, and the new Jaguar should step in as a starter.
Hayes spent his rookie year in Tampa Bay playing under head coach Bradley. Last year, Hayes played under Jacksonville's new defensive coordinator Bob Babich as a member of the Chicago Bears.
He will bring experience and an understanding of the defensive schemes Bradley and Babich are implementing, which gives him a head start on the other linebackers.
There is still a slim chance the Jaguars could re-sign Daryl Smith, but the chance's are getting smaller by the day. They could also add players in the draft and by signing undrafted free agency, but Hayes' understanding of the defense gives him the edge as the Week 1 starter.
Cornerbacks: Alan Ball and Mike Harris
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If you read those names and think "Who?," it would be tough to blame you.
The Jaguars secondary is extremely thin and the team has just four cornerbacks under contract. They added Alan Ball in free agency and re-signed Antwaun Molden last week.
As it currently stands, Ball and Mike Harris would have to be the Week 1 starters.
Ball fits the defensive scheme and he has the size Bradley looks for in cornerbacks at 6'1".
Although Harris doesn't have the size, he is the most talented of the cornerbacks. He would be best suited to play nickelback, but he flashed some of his skills last season when he was forced into a starting role late in the season. He finished his rookie year with six pass defenses and one interception.
This prediction obviously, and hopefully, won't come true. The Jaguars will add talent through the draft and sign undrafted free agents. All the players will be on an equal playing field to earn a chance to become a starting cornerback.
Safeties: Dwight Lowery and Antwon Blake
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Jacksonville's lack of talent continues to be evident at safety.
Dwight Lowery should easily reclaim the starting free safety role. He is a very good player when healthy, but he missed seven games last season due to injury.
His replacement, Chris Prosinski, isn't a threat to take over the starting role. He was terrible last season during his time as starter and is living proof of former general manager Gene Smith's inability to evaluate talent.
Although Lowery will be a familiar face in the secondary, the Jaguars will have a new starting strong safety in 2013.
Antwon Blake will take over for veteran Dawan Landry, who was released March 8 to save future cap space. Blake had a limited role in his rookie year in 2012 and was mostly a special teams player.
He currently holds the starting strong safety role because he is the only one on the roster, but that will change soon. The Jaguars will add more players to compete for the position this offseason, whether it's through the draft or by signing undrafted free agents.
Whether it's Blake or a newcomer, the Jaguars will have a young starting strong safety in 2013.
Punter: Bryan Anger
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The Jaguars were the butt of many jokes following the selection of punter Bryan Anger in the third round of the 2012 draft.
Although it's impossible to justify drafting a punter with such a high pick, there's no denying that Anger was a special talent.
He was among the best punters in the league during his rookie year, and set rookie records for gross average (47.8) and net average (40.8). He finished sixth in the NFL in gross average, seventh in net average and sixth in punts downed inside the 20 (31).
Anger is already on pace to be one of the elite punters in the league, and his starting job is safe as long as he's a Jaguar.
Kicker: Josh Scobee
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Josh Scobee is in no danger of losing his role as Jacksonville's kicker.
He has always had a big leg, but Scobee's accuracy has been improving in recent years. He finished last season with the ninth-best field-goal percentage in the league (89.3).
Scobee will once again be the Jaguars kicker, and he may also be one the team's biggest weapons.