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AFC South Roundtable: Jacksonville Jaguars

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As mentioned repeatedly here at BRB, the bloggers of the AFC South were each tasked with examining a division rival as we head into the 2007 season.  There's no real format for that examination; it's pretty much at the blogger's discretion.  Hence, BigBlueShoe's hatchet job on the Texans.  Our friends over at Big Cat Country then took their turn with a fair and balanced look at The Team That Used To Call Houston Home Until Their Wretched Owner Turned His Back On Our Fair City.  Now, it's BRB's turn to cast a watchful eye at the one team that the Texans seem to consistently compete against year in and year out--the Jacksonville Jaguars.

There's a lot to like about the Jags.  At the outset, there are two areas that even a biased observer such as myself has little choice but to praise.  Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew comprise one of the best one-two punches at RB in the entire league.  While Taylor may be entering the twilight of his career and has a reputation for being prone to injury, he's still a threat every time he touches the ball, and he stayed healthy last season.  A big reason for his health last season, in my humble opinion, was the emergence of Maurice Jones-Drew as an absolute stud.  For all of the gushing over Reggie Bush, Jones-Drew had a better rookie campaign than ESPN's inamorata.  Watch for Jones-Drew to continue to cement a reputation as one of the better backs in the NFL this season.

The other area where you have to give the Jags credit is at defensive tackle.  Marcus Stroud and John Henderson may well be the best DT tandem in the NFL.  Running up the middle against those guys is akin to running into a brick wall.  While the Jacksonville defensive ends may not strike fear in the hearts of their opponents, they often reap the benefit of having a single assignment because of the attention that Stroud and Henderson command.

Additionally, I really like what the Jags did in the draft this year.  Well, that is to say that I really, really like the addition of Reggie Nelson.  He, along with Rashean Mathis (a terrifically underrated cornerback, if a Pro Bowler can still be underrated) should anchor their secondary for the next decade or so.  I know that Jags fans were none too pleased by the unceremonious departure of Donivan Darius, but the arrival of BRB favorite Josh Gattis may ease some of that pain (assuming, of course, that Gattis can actually play SS in the NFL).

Things aren't all rosy in Jacksonville, however.  Their proposed starting wide receiving corps of Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams is uhhhhhhh, a bit lacking in productivity.  And the depth chart, to my admittedly amateur eye, doesn't exactly inspire confidence at WR.  Matt Jones' numbers last season (especially YPC) were pretty solid, so it says a whole lot that he's still slotted behind Wilford and Williams.  As good as the running game is, the passing game would seem to be almost as bad.

That's not entirely the fault of the receivers though.  Byron Leftwich still hasn't made the leap to superstardom that was forecast for him when he came out of Marshall, and he's openly grousing about his place on the organizational totem pole.  Is Leftwich the starter?  Or is it David Garrard's job to lose?  Truth be told, I'm not sure that either guy is the answer.  It says here that the Jags will be looking hard at quarterbacks come April of 2008.  Well, that and wide receivers.  I'm no Gary Kubiak, but I think both of those positions are pretty important to creating any semblance of a balanced and/or productive offense.  Having lived through the David Carr and Jabar Gaffney Eras, I'm fairly qualified to opine on that, I think.

Given their abundance of riches at certain positions and their metaphorical homelessless at others, what should we expect from the Jags in 2007?  I still think that they are the second-best team in the AFC South.  Having to play the NFC South and AFC West this season, however, isn't going to do the Jags any favors.  Therefore, I'm going to call eight or nine wins and a missed playoff berth for Jacksonville this year.  As always, feel free to blast or commend that prediction in the Comments below.