Needless to say, this is the most important offseason in Jacksonville Jaguars history. There are questions about pretty much every position on this team, from quarterback David Garrard to the entire defense to the head man, coach Jack Del Rio.
There have been reports swirling since the last year's offseason about the team possibly being sold by owner Wayne Weaver to moving to either Los Angeles or London, England. The Jags have a serious cloud of uncertainty about this team that has been made a topic of conversation from as high a level as ESPN to the water coolers at everyone's job. That's why this years NFL Draft is so crucial for the Jags and there is only one sensible answer:Draft Jimmy Clausen if he's available
For those of you who have not studied Clausen's game over the past 3 seasons for the Irish, let me give you a breakdown. Clausen has good size (6-3, 223 lbs), a strong arm, and has been putting up very good numbers in a pro-style system (8,148 career yards and 60 touchdowns) while playing behind a less-than-stellar offensive line.
Clausen comes from a football family with those of you having SEC football background remembering his brothers Rick and Casey Clausen who both played at Tennessee. While the Clausens may not be as revered a family as the Manning's (who is?), I think there's something to be said for having a background in the sport and having family who can pass down their own experiences.
For the Jaguars who desperately need a face to this franchise, Clausen would be the perfect fit. He is a kid who could come in and immediately challenge David for the starting QB spot, and for those of you who say that this is a must win season in which anything less than a playoff berth is acceptable, I point to the Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, and NY Jets who all clinched playoff berths with rookie QB's and in the case of both the Ravens and Jets, rode them to berths in the AFC Title Game respectively.
Now I know the pundits will make the comments that the Ravens and Jets both had defenses that could take the load off of their rookie QB's, and with that point I cannot argue. However, let's go deeper into the Jags season. Remember the Dolphins game late in the season with the Jags firmly locked into position for a playoff push and the defense shut out the Fins' for the entire second half, including forcing turnovers and the Jags offense could not effectively move the ball? We lost 14-10. Or how about the Colts game four days later in which Garrard went toe-to-toe with Manning for 3 quarters, only to play the worst 4th quarter of his career including the horrible overthrow of Mike Thomas on the last play that was intercepted. Again, despite the defense giving up 35 points, they gave the Jags offense two oppurtunities late in that game to win, including a 3 and out late with about 2 minutes to go.
Clausen played well in the big games this year against top competition, including a combined 10 TD's and no picks against Michigan, USC, and Stanford combined. Combine Clausen's ability with a potent rushing attack of MJD, Rashad Jennings, and a defense that I believe will be much more capable next year of forcing turnovers and 3 and outs, and the Jags have a good oppurtunity to claw back into the postseason next year.
Now for the Tim Tebow supporters who say that the kid can play quarterback and save the franchise I say while I agree that Tim Tebow can eventually turn into a good NFL QB we are not in a position to take a wait and see approach. With ticket sales the way they are (although jaguars.com has been giving some good early reports about a serious increase over last years pace) we cannot take a chance on drafting Tebow who I believe needs to sit two or three years before he will be ready to effectively play QB. We need someone who can challenge Garrard from Day One, and even the most loyal Tebow supporters have to admit that while he is revered like none other in northeast FL, he cannot take the reins from the beginning.
In closing, I believe that Clausen will be the next great NFL quarterback, in the Kurt Warner mold. Deadly accurate, tough minded , and a leader. For a team that has not had a franchise QB since Mark Brunell guided us to two AFC Title Games in the first 5 years of existence, I think we need to take a page from the Houston Texans playbook a couple years ago when they passed on hometown hero Vince Young in favor of Mario Williams. Tebow may sell tickets for a year, but Clausen will make this team legendary.