10 Greatest Players in Jacksonville Jaguars History

Dan Griffin@@Jaguars101Contributor IIIJune 9, 2014

10 Greatest Players in Jacksonville Jaguars History

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    Recently I posted an article regarding the Jaguars' top busts of all time, and there were plenty of them for such a young franchise. Naturally, it got me thinking about who the best players in the franchise's history were as well. For as many busts as they've had, they've had just as many great players who made their mark on the league. 

    The Jaguars have featured some top-tier players in their brief history.

    Many of the players who will appear on this list were considered some of the best at their position during their tenure with the Jaguars. While there are no players on this list that scream Hall of Fame, there certainly are a few who have solid cases for football's greatest individual honor. 

    Like the previous list, this list includes both free agents and drafted players. They were ranked based on how well they played and also on what they meant for the team. 

10. Brad Meester, Center

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    Brad Meester was selected by the Jaguars in the second round of the 2000 draft. He was regarded as the second-best center but was the first center chosen. He holds the distinction for being the longest-tenured Jaguar ever, playing in 209 regular season games (211 including playoffs) across 14 seasons. 

    There isn't a whole lot to be said about Meester because he didn't really say a whole lot himself.

    He was a quiet leader for the team, a common theme among most of the players on this list. He led by example, starting all 211 games he played in. He manned the middle for some of the Jaguars' most explosive offenses, including helping pave the way for Maurice Jones-Drew to capture the rushing title in 2011.  

9. Tony Brackens, Defensive End

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    Tony Brackens was a second-round selection in the 1996 draft. He saw limited action early on in his career, starting just 12 games in his first three years. Despite this, he logged 17.5 sacks during that span. He exploded the following season, posting 12.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, earning Pro Bowl honors. 

    His career, sadly, was shortened due to injuries. After posting 11 sacks in 2001, he started having leg issues that ultimately got the better of him and he was released in 2003, never playing again. Despite his relatively short career, he still had quite an impact while on the field. In his eight years with the Jaguars, he posted 55 sacks and 28 forced fumbles, both franchise records. 

    Brackens, to this day, remains the best pass-rusher the Jaguars have ever had. Joel Smeenge has the second-most sacks in franchise history with only 34. Brackens gave the young Jaguars a legitimate pass-rushing threat, something they sorely need today. 

8. Keenan McCardell, Wide Receiver

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    Keenan McCardell was one of the first major signings the Jaguars made after they formed in 1995. He joined the Jaguars in their second year of existence and had an immediate impact, recording 85 receptions for 1,219 yards and three touchdowns. 

    McCardell joined Jimmy Smith to form one of the most dangerous receiving duos in the league. They earned the nickname "Thunder and Lightning" with McCardell as Thunder due to his ability to go over the middle and withstand big hits. During their time together in Jacksonville, they had nine games where they both posted over 100 yards. 

    McCardell spent six years of his 17-year career in Jacksonville and had his most statistically successful years there.

    He posted 1,100 yards or more in four of his six years, while barely missing the 900-yard mark in the other two. His career numbers are second in Jaguars history with 499 receptions, 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns. 

    The early success of the Jaguars was due in part to McCardell. His ability to complement Smith and give Mark Brunell another legitimate receiving threat was a big part of why they made it to two AFC Championship appearances. The team just wasn't quite the same without him after he left in free agency in 2001. 

7. Daryl Smith, Linebacker

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    Daryl Smith was a second-round pick for the Jaguars in 2004 but played well above his value for them, being one of the best players on their defense for nearly 10 years. Smith quietly became one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league during his tenure in Jacksonville.

    His best season was in 2011 when he had 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks and eight passes defended, an interception and two forced fumbles. 

    He was a quiet leader of the defense, never garnering much national attention. He let his play do the talking for him. Since Pro Football Focus (subscription required) started tracking and grading players in 2007, Smith ranked no lower than 27th in league*. He had three top-10 grades, including grading out as the best 4-3 OLB in 2009 and second-best in 2011.

    Smith's career in Jacksonville came to an unfortunate end. He missed the first 14 games of the 2012 season due to a groin injury. The timing couldn't have been worse as it was his contract year and the Jaguars decided not to re-sign him. He left the Jaguars as the franchise's leading tackler.

    *This does not include the 2012 season in which he played only two games. 

John Henderson and Marcus Stroud

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    Let's face it, you can't talk about one of these guys without the other. John Henderson and Marcus Stroud formed one of the league's best interior defensive linemen combinations. Their size made it nearly impossible to run the ball up the middle with Henderson coming in at a whopping 6'7" and 335 pounds and Stroud coming in at 6'6" and 310 pounds. 

    During their time together from '02-'07, the two behemoths combined for 592 tackles and 51 sacks.

    While their time together was shorter than they would have liked, they certainly made the most of it.

    Three times during their six seasons together, Henderson and Stroud spearheaded a rush defense that allowed less than four yards-per-carry for the entire season ('03, '05 and '06). They also combined for five Pro Bowl appearances during this time. 

    Stroud's time in Jacksonville came to a controversial end, having missed time due to a suspension for violating the league's policy on banned substances. He missed the first four games of the season and was traded after the end of the season to Buffalo

    Henderson faced a bit of scrutiny as well at the end of his career. In 2009, he pulled out of OTAs, prompting head coach Jack Del Rio to publicly call him out, saying he was faking a shoulder injury. He was released by Jacksonville a year later. 

    Despite the way their careers ended, "Hurricane Henderstroud" left their mark on Jacksonville. They will forever be remembered as the titans in the middle of the Jaguars' defensive line that made opposing running backs lose sleep the night before playing them. 

5. Mark Brunell, Quarterback

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    Mark Brunell was originally a fifth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1993 draft but was traded to Jacksonville in 1995 for a third- and fifth-round pick. He came in as their inaugural quarterback and held the reins for the team for nine years. 

    During that span, Brunell made three Pro Bowls and led the Jaguars to four playoff appearances from '96-'99. He was able to take them to the AFC Championship game twice but ended up losing both times. 

    Brunell, statistically, had the best years of his 19-year career with the Jaguars. He threw for 25,698 yards and 144 touchdowns, both franchise records. He led the league in passing yards in 1996, throwing for 4,367 yards.

    He combined with receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell to form one of the most effective passing attacks in the league. During their time together from '96-'01, Brunell threw for more than 20,000 yards with more than 14,000 of them going to Smith and McCardell. 

    Brunell was benched in the 2003 season in favor of first-round rookie Byron Leftwich. It would be the last season he played for the Jaguars and was traded to the Washington Redskins prior to the 2004 season. To this day he still holds every major passing record in Jaguars' history. His yardage totals and touchdown totals are more than David Garrard's and Leftwich's (next two in franchise history) combined.

    Brunell came to Jacksonville to be their franchise quarterback and he delivered. He helped make the Jaguars a legitimate contender in the AFC early on in their history. Since he was traded in 2003, the Jaguars have struggled to replace him, having two top-10 picks becoming busts. He has since been inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back

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    Maurice Jones-Drew was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft. He was drafted as a return specialist while also being a dynamic running partner for incumbent Fred Taylor. MJD fell in the draft a bit due to his diminutive size (5'7"), but he did not let that stop him from becoming one of the best players in franchise history. 

    Jones-Drew had an outstanding rookie year, totaling 941 yards on just 166 carries (5.7 yards-per-carry) and 13 touchdowns, all while starting only one game.

    That year, he combined with Taylor to form the third-ranked rushing attack in the league, averaging 158.8 yards per game. The following year, the duo formed the second-best rushing attack.

    MJD was finally able to get his hands on the starting role in 2009 with the release of Taylor, and he took full advantage of it. Over the next three seasons, "Pocket Hercules" rushed for 4,321 yards and 28 touchdowns (15 in '09), including leading the league in rushing yards in 2011 with 1,606. 

    MJD suffered a Linsfrac injury in his left foot six games into the 2012 season which put him on injured reserved. He finished the season with only 414 yards. The following season he bounced back from the foot injury, missing only one game but managed just 803 yards.

    Jones-Drew ended up leaving Jacksonville in free agency after last season for his hometown Oakland Raiders.

    Despite his sharp decline at the end of his tenure, MJD will go down as one of the great Jaguars' players of all time. He was part of a team that was stuck in a seemingly endless rebuilding phase. During his time in Jacksonville, he experienced only one winning season but played hard during his entire career. 

    MJD easily became a fan favorite due to his size making him an underdog. He finished his career second in yards (8,071) behind Taylor but first in touchdowns (68). He also is third in team history with 335 career receptions.

    He was the primary threat during his three-year span as a starter, and opposing defenses knew it, yet he had his most productive stretch of his career. Even though MJD ran for more yards between '09-'11 than Taylor did in any three-year stretch of his career, MJD finds himself ranked behind his predecessor because he was a flash in the pan, whereas Taylor was much more consistent.

3. Fred Taylor, Running Back

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    Fred Taylor was drafted ninth overall in the 1998 draft.

    He started off with a bang for the Jaguars, rushing for 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns, despite only starting 12 games. The Jaguars had finally found a legitimate rushing threat to go with their already potent passing game. 

    Taylor was an extremely consistent runner for the Jaguars, notching seven 1,000-yard seasons in his 11-year career with them.

    One issue Taylor had was with injuries. He followed his rookie season up with a sophomore campaign in which he missed six games due to injury and failed to hit 1,000 yards. He bounced back the next year with 1,399 yards but missed all but two games the following year. 

    Taylor, ever the fighter, came back to have the best stretch of his career over the next three years. He posted 4,110 yards and 16 touchdowns between '02-'04. The best of those years came in 2003 when he rushed for a then team-record 1,572 yards. 

    In 2005, Taylor was yet again hampered by injuries, missing five games and finishing under 1,000 yards. This prompted the Jaguars to draft Maurice Jones-Drew in the second round as insurance. Although it was clear MJD was Taylor's eventual successor, Taylor didn't let it slow him down, finishing his career off strong. 

    With MJD, Taylor spearheaded a top-tier rushing attack in 2006 and 2007. During those two seasons, Taylor returned to form, posting back-to-back 1,100+ yard seasons. However, his role was reduced in 2008 and was released at the end of the season. 

    Taylor finished his career with the Jaguars ranking first in yards (11,271) and second in touchdowns (62). Like so many others on this list, he was a quiet leader, never gaining the nationwide recognition he deserved, managing only one Pro Bowl appearance.

    Taylor is the first player on this list who garners serious consideration when it comes to the Hall of Fame. His yardage total ranks 15th in league history, more than current Hall of Fame running backs O.J. Simpson and John Riggins. Taylor was one of the most important players in the franchise's history because, despite the injuries, he gave them a consistent threat in the running game for most of their existence. 

2. Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver

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    Jimmy Smith had a slow, and nearly fatal, start to his NFL career.

    Originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, Smith dealt with injuries, including an emergency appendectomy that led to a nearly fatal infection. The Cowboys cut him after the '93 season and Smith was out of the league for a year until the Jaguars came calling. 

    Smith managed only 288 yards in his first season but became absolutely dominant after that. Smith went on a tear the rest of his career, posting seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. He hit the 1,000-yard mark nine times in all and likely would have hit it a tenth time in 2003 had he not been suspended

    As the "Lightning" in the aforementioned "Thunder and Lightning" duo, Smith was known for his big-play ability. He and McCardell combined for over 2,000 receiving yards in every season they played together. 

    Smith's best season came in 1999 when he recorded 116 receptions for a staggering 1,636 yards. Both of these totals were the sixth-highest total in history at that time. It was also the first of two seasons in which he had more than 100 receptions; the other being in 2001 when he had 112. 

    Smith was the feature of the Jaguars offense when he was in Jacksonville, accumulating more yards than any Jaguars player in history (sans QBs).

    He is, by far, the best receiver in team history, finishing his illustrious career with 862 receptions for 12,287 yards and 69 touchdowns. He was elected to the Pro Bowl five straight times from '97-'01 and had two second-team All-Pro honors. At the time of his retirement in 2005, he was seventh all time in receptions and 11th all time in yards.

    His franchise records will stand for years as no one on the team currently is even close to his numbers. The next closest is tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has 297 receptions, 3,583 yards and 25 touchdowns.

    Like Taylor, Smith should be in the conversation for Hall of Fame candidacy but he is unlikely to get in due to post-career issues he faced. 

    The impact Smith had for the Jaguars cannot be overstated. He was a player on the brink of failure when the Jaguars picked him up. He helped them as much as they helped him. Without him, it is hard to imagine the Jaguars having as much success as they did in the late '90s.

1. Tony Boselli, Left Tackle

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    Tony Boselli was the first player drafted by the Jaguars in 1995 and has generally been considered their best pick ever.

    Boselli was a mountain of a tackle, coming in at 6'7" and 322 pounds. He protected Brunell's blind side, allowing the passing offense to take flight as well as paving the way for their rushing attack. 

    Boselli would absolutely manhandle his competition, including Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, which you can see here. Boselli was on his way to a Hall of Fame career, being elected to five Pro Bowls and gaining All-Pro honors three times in just six years. Unfortunately, shoulder injuries forced him into an early retirement in 2002. 

    Boselli goes down as the greatest player to ever don the Jaguars uniform.

    He was a dominant force that anchored the offensive line of a young team that defied all expectations. Even though his reign of dominance was short lived, Boselli was named to the NFL 1990's All-Decade Team, a true testament to just how incredible he was. He epitomized the quiet leadership trait that is so prevalent throughout this list.