Jacksonville Jaguars: Deji Karim Should Be Sunday X-Factor Against Carolina

Justin UseltonContributor ISeptember 23, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Isaiah Trufant #35 of the New York Jets tackles Deji Karim #35 of the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium Stadium on September 18, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

If you don't know who Deji Karim is, fear not. You're not alone.

Karim is the Jaguars' second-year running back from Southern Illinois. Previously the third-string back behind Rashad Jennings, Karim moved up the depth chart when Jennings went to injured reserve following a preseason injury a month ago.

Why do I say Deji Karim is the X-factor in Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers

Well, prior to the beginning of the 2011 campaign, coach Jack Del Rio said the plan for this season was to spell Maurice Jones-Drew more often than in previous years.

With the Jaguars' franchise running back returning from an offseason knee surgery, it became clear that Jones-Drew must be kept fresh to have any hope during a late-season run.

The Jaguars have ridden Jones-Drew like a camel over the past few seasons, resulting in more than 700 touches in 2009 and 2010. Both seasons resulted in late-season collapses as the Jaguars' bell-cow eventually wore down.

Jones-Drew is the catalyst for the offense, but a catalyst that must be wisely used.

Karim has shown flashes of explosive ability. In limited action his rookie season, Karim averaged 4.6 yards per rush and presented an interesting challenge with his quick change of direction and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Enter reason No. 2 for why he is so valuable to Jacksonville.

Blaine Gabbert enters his first professional start on Sunday. If what we've seen thus far is any indication, he's going to need all the help he can get in the passing game.

There's simply no way to sugarcoat the fact that the Jaguars have the worst receiving tandem in the NFL. Mike Thomas is a No. 3 on any other team and Jason Hill, Jacksonville's No. 2, is likely on the practice squad.

Rookie Cecil Shorts has yet to make his first NFL catch, so the jury is still out on his ability to help Jacksonville against Carolina.

The only real threat in the passing game is Marcedes Lewis, who is coming off a calf injury, suffered in Week 1, that caused him to miss last week's game in New York.

Someone has to take the pressure off Lewis in the passing game and present a challenge that isn't likely to be game planned against.

In addition, look for Carolina to blitz often on third down, when Karim is most likely to be in the game. In these situations, he will serve as a chip blocker and safety valve for Blaine Gabbert.

If Deji Karim can spell Maurice Jones-Drew for 30-40 yards rushing and keep Carolina honest on third down by being a factor in the passing game, the Jaguars should find enough balance to leave Carolina with their second win of the season.