Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
31 Mar 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
Injuries to Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings felled a Jaguars offense that was already trying to overcome mediocrity at quarterback. Blaine Gabbert was much better than in his rookie season, but he was still inconsistent, particularly on the mental side of things. The Jags came to life a bit when Chad Henne replaced Gabbert late in the year, but Henne didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Part of the problem was that none of Jacksonville’s receivers could beat man coverage. Mike Mularkey did a decent job manufacturing opportunities out of tight bunch formations, but those sorts of tactics are side dishes, not entrees. As is the case with most downtrodden teams, the Jags got little help from their offensive line. This is the situation new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch steps into.
QB: Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett, Jordan Todman, Montell Owens (FB); Lost: Rashad Jennings, Greg Jones (FB)
At times, Gabbert exhibits the type of arm talent that explains why he was a high first-round pick. Other times, he exhibits the type of mechanical and decision-making deficiencies that explain why he got benched for a second-chance hopeful like Henne. Most likely, neither Gabbert nor Henne is the long-term answer. For 2013, Gabbert theoretically presents more upside, but the offense will have more dimension –- particularly in passing sets -– with Henne. Jones-Drew must bounce back from last season’s foot injury. Even if he’s at 85 percent, he’s a smart enough runner to post over 1,200 yards. He could use a bruising No. 2 behind him, though a shifty space-creator like Forsett also works.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts, Jordan Shipley, Taylor Price; Lost: Laurent Robinson
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Zach Potter
Through 16 games, it’s hard to understand why Blackmon was so sought-after coming out of Oklahoma State. He lacks quickness off the line and in his breaks. He’s essentially a possession target who must be aided with pre-snap motion and minus-split alignments. This isn't to say that Blackmon has no future; he improved dramatically over the last seven weeks of the season (see below) and he still could develop into a top possession receiver along the lines of Anquan Boldin. But despite being a top ten pick, he's not in the Dez Bryant/Julio Jones class as an athlete or a difference-maker, and the Jaguars need a field-stretching threat to complement him. The Jaguars paid $14 million guaranteed for Laurent Robinson to be that guy, but concussions derailed the injury-prone journeyman, and they released him. Shorts has big-play abilities and a knack for making a dramatic impact (positive and negative) in critical moments, but he still has a lot of development ahead before we can call him that guy.
|Justin Blackmon's Second-Half Improvement in 2012|
|Week 11 vs. HOU||70.7%||18.2||54%||14.8||14.7|
Lewis is a solid all-around tight end who can be a bit stiff at times but, for the most part, knows how to use his stellar size. He’s had some success detaching from the formation over the years. That’s important, as the Jaguars offense could stand to be more diverse in 2013.
LT: Eugene Monroe LG: Will Rackley C: Brad Meester RG: Uche Nwaneri RT: Cameron Bradfield
Backups: Mike Brewster, Mark Asper; Lost: Eben Britton, Guy Whimper
Bradfield is a weak link, and like most weak-link right tackles, he plays slow-footed and slow-twitched. There are schematic ways to help hide him. Of course, a better option would be to replace him. If the Jaguars fix that issue, they’ll be looking at a decent (but certainly not dynamic) front five. A lot will depend on how Rackley bounces back from the ankle problems that kept him out last year.
Just like in previous years, the 2012 Jaguars were a mostly vanilla defense that relied on winning individual battles. When they did abandon their two-deep zones and play a variation of man, the results were hit or miss. The injury bug bit a few times but not enough to serve as a legitimate excuse. It will be interesting to see if new head coach Gus Bradley stays with the familiar two-deep zone concepts or goes with more of the four-under, three-over zones that he used in Seattle. Ideally he’d go with the Seattle scheme, but he doesn’t have the ideal personnel for it.
DE: Jason Babin, Jeremy Mincey, Andre Branch, Austen Lane
DT: Tyson Alualu, C.J. Mosley, D'Anthony Smith, Jeris Pendleton; Lost: Terrance Knighton
It was surprising Jacksonville and Babin came together after the veteran Pro Bowler’s release from Philly last December. Good move by the Jags –- they needed more speed on the edge given the disappointingly mundane rookie campaign of high second-round pick Andre Branch. On the other side, Mincey can get after the quarterback, but his greatest strength is run defense (both playside and backside). At tackle, Knighton will be missed, but Mosley stole the starting job from him outright in 2012. Smith has the run-stopping skills to warrant a serious look as Knighton’s replacement. Alualu has good initial quickness and maximizes his good-but-not-great physical gifts by playing with admirable tenacity.
OLB: Julian Stanford, Russell Allen, Kyle Bosworth; Lost: Daryl Smith
ILB: Paul Posluszny, Greg Jones
Posluszny can play coverage between the numbers and he’s a prolific tackler against the run. It wouldn’t hurt to surround him with more dynamic outside linebackers. Doing so would also put Stanford or Allen in a second-string role, thus solving the depth problems at this position.
CB: Mike Harris, Alan Ball, Kevin Rutland, Antwaun Molden; Lost: Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Aaron Ross
S: Dwight Lowery, Chris Prosinski; Lost: Dawan Landry
Harris is an aggressive run support player who, consequently, is a bit too vulnerable against play-action. Alarmingly enough, he might be the secondary’s most encouraging player. Ball brings value as a versatile backup, but he’ll get torched if caught in a lot of one-on-one assignments outside. Rutland is young and still unknown. Molden appeared in just three games last year.
At safety, the Scramble for the Ball guys were very down on Prosinski when they did their 2012 All-Keep Choppin' Wood team, but he's showed up in a positive way a few times during my film study. This will be the 2012 fourth-round pick's first training camp as the projected starter, and it seems silly to write him off at this point. Lowery, however, epitomizes the phrase "just a guy."
K: Josh Scobee P: Bryan Anger
If you are going to stupidly use a third-round pick on a punter, it helps to at least get a good one.
7 comments, Last at 01 Apr 2013, 4:50pm by Karl Cuba