When I started these fantasy team previews yesterday, it was an act which gave me great joy and glee. Previewing something means that thing is happening soon, and football returning to our lives is glorious. Just think, in a few weeks we’ll be able to wager real money on preseason games, the kind where the starters check out after the first series. What a terrific day that will be.
But committing myself to running through these previews in reverse order of the 2012 standings may have sounded better in theory than it does in practice. There’s a built-up of sorts, sure, but there’s also a lot of depression and facepalming in the early going.
Which brings us to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Man, I’m great with this self promoting thing. But maybe — oh, just maybe — there’s a hidden fantasy gem or three to be found on the Jaguars’ offense, even though most of the value on this roster starts with Maurice Jones-Drew, and ends with Maurice Jones-Drew. Blaine Gabbert shouldn’t be started in any format (hence why he’s not included below, because he’s the devil…ditto for Chad Henne), but his fantasy impact is still looming, and dark.
Cover your eyes. Let’s dig in.
Notable additions: Mohammad Massaquoi
Notable draft picks: Luke Joeckel, Denard Robinson, Ace Sanders
The Marquee men (the elitest of the elite)
Maurice Jones-Drew (ADP: 19.0): Here’s what we know: when he’s healthy, Jones-Drew can define fantasy stud, which is a hotly-pursued title at the most shallow position. Fantasy football is very much a fake game in which we largely consider what a player has done for us lately, and then extrapolate from that what he could do for us in the future. With that mindset, it’s easy to forget that Jones-Drew is only a year removed from a season with 1,980 all-purpose yards, and 11 touchdowns. While that 2011 season is the height of his career production, it’s not an anomaly, as he still logged at least 1,300 rushing yards in both 2009 and 2010.
Alright, so a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew could easily be an absurdly productive Maurice Jones-Drew, even with his utter lack of a respectable supporting cast (see below, if you dare), a talent pool that’s been drained even further with Justin Blackmon suspended and set to miss a quarter of the season. During that career best 2011 season, Jones-Drew averaged 5.1 yards per touch, and his average long run in each game was 24.5 yards. Yep, he’s pretty good at football, and the addition of Luke Joeckel to upgrade the offensive line doesn’t hurt.
But about that health: *shrugs shoulders*.
Jones-Drew claims he’s healthy and ready to be a full participant in training camp, because of course he does. But he’s still only eight months removed from Lisfranc surgery, a potentially debilitating procedure for a running back. He’s also 28 years old, which is quite young by mortal standards, and approaching old age by running back standards. Often we focus too much on the birthday cake candles with running backs, but with Jones-Drew the concern is legitimate, and we’d likely be having this same conversation even without his 2012 injury.
That’s because prior to last year, MJD had 1,084 touches between 2009 and 2011, an average of 361.3 per year highlighted by his 386 touches in 2011. Eventually, the human body reaches its limitations, and says screw this. That’s why despite the brimming optimism around his health, the Jaguars’ coaching staff is still speaking in soft tones regarding Jones-Drew’s workload this year.
There’s inherent risk with any running back, but with Jones-Drew, it’s increased due to both his recent injury, and the lack of talent around him. His current ADP in most drafts (hovering around 20th overall) feels about right, but don’t go much higher than that. In the same draft territory you can manage your risk more effectively with the likes of Chris Johnson, Stevan Ridley, and possibly Matt Forte.
Cecil Shorts (ADP: 80.7): By the sheer amount of words dedicated to him compared to, well, everyone else, it’s abundantly clear that Jones-Drew is the main dog here. But in Shorts, we have what could be a fine little bargain at his position.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback between the walking disappointments that are Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, Shorts will be a target vacuum, especially with Blackmon out. Despite missing two games and being underused prior to the Jaguars’ Week 6 bye, Shorts was still targeted 106 times last year, which includes five double-digit target games. Excluding Week 10 (when Gabbert suffered his shoulder injury), Shorts was targeted on 19.5 percent of Gabbert’s throws. Then in Week 11 and beyond with Henne starting, Shorts was targeted on 23.1 percent of the backup’s throws.
The sample size with Shorts is small regardless of the quarterback. Still, the equation is simple: with Blackmon out he’s not just the primary option, but arguably the only option, and that’s a nice place to be for a guy who excels after the catch. Of Shorts’ 979 totals yards last year, 375 of them came after the catch. That’s almost 40 percent, which is the kind of elusiveness and open-field creativity which led to Shorts’ seven touchdowns despite a pretty moderate reception total (55).
So yes, even with the Jaguars’ clustermess at quarterback, you’re still paying a more than fair price for Shorts at 80th overall, and his ADP should stay around there due to the utter lack of confidence in anything Jags.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Justin Blackmon (ADP: 118.9): Blackmon is maddening. If he wasn’t suspended for four games and therefore set to miss a quarter of the season in reality and even more than that in fantasy (in most leagues, the fantasy regular season lasts 13 weeks), he’d be a fine WR3. But he is suspended, and therefore all of the draft value of a young wide receiver who started to blossom late last year has evaporated.
Yep, pour one out. We can make a simple, stealth cut to divide Blackmon’s rookie season: before Week 11, and after Week 11. Or if you prefer, pre-Gabbert and post-Gabbert.
In Week 11 (Henne’s first start), he exploded for 236 receiving yards on seven catches, which included an 81 yarder. Yes, he still posted a nine-yard dud game in the stretch that followed. But even with that Week 13 sucking, Blackmon’s per week receiving average over the final seven games with Henne under center was 87.9 yards, a steep increase from his average during the first nine games (just 25 yards).
See, the value is there, which makes his suspension the sort of thing that sucks the fun out of fantasy. You simply can’t draft Blackmon now. Someone will argue that if he falls far enough then the value he’s giving you becomes irresistible, and he can be stashed on a bench for four weeks. Sure, maybe, but you’re really willing to burn a precious roster spot until October, while getting absolutely nothing in return? He’ll be drafted, and then promptly released after Week 1 when there’s an injury, or a more appealing depth option. Then, Blackmon is fine Week 5 waiver wire fodder.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Marcedes Lewis (ADP: undrafted): Much like Shorts and Blackmon, Lewis’ fate is tied to the level of competency at the quarterback position. That’s a problem, because unless Gabbert face plants repeatedly in August, the Jags aren’t quite ready yet to declare him a first-round bust.
To make ourselves angry, let’s play the Gabbert/Henne comparison game again, this time with Lewis. Under Gabbert last year, he averaged 22 yards per game, and with Henne that rose to 38.3. The difference may seem marginal until we remember that 103 of Lewis’ overall 540 receiving yards came in Week 17 when he caught balls thrown by Henne.
In 2010, Lewis scored 10 touchdowns, and he’s crossed that white scoring line only four times since. Sad times, but if you’re into the whole tight end weekly streaming thing, you’re picking from ilk like Lewis, and trying to come up with triple sevens while pegging that 103-yard week. He’s a fine streaming option too since he’ll suck back targets over the first four weeks with Blackmon out. Good luck.
Mohamed Massaquoi (ADP: undrafted): The Browns ultimately admitted Massaquoi’s failure to live up to his upside on their roster. Now he’ll start opposite Shorts during Blackmon’s suspension, and although Shorts and Lewis will see the bulk of the targets while Jones-Drew is ridden into the ground, Massaquoi still has some reaching flex play value over that first month. Specifically, Week 2 against Oakland could be a good plug and play opportunity.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Jordan Shipley (ADP: undrafted): Shipley will battle with rookie Ace Sanders (FYI: also a deep sleeper) for the primary slot duties. There was a time when he was actually a fine little flex play. That time came in 2010 with the Bengals, when he turned 74 targets into a respectable 600 yards and three touchdowns. Reconstructive knee surgery severely limited the former Colt McCoy song writer last year, but over just six games he had three +20 yard grabs on only 23 catches, finishing with 244 yards.
So there’s certainly some sleeper life left in his legs, but like absolutely everything else on this doomed offense, it’s all tied to the quarterback.
Justin Forsett (ADP: undrafted): When you spend your second-round pick on a running back who had offseason Lisfranc surgery, you best be handcuffing his backup in the late rounds.
Denard Robinson (ADP: undrafted): Shoelace will be used as a running back, and although his value is extremely minimal this year, there’s intrigue around his cutting and slashing ability, especially with MJD’s contract set to expire. Those in deep keeper or dynasty leagues should monitor him closely.