by Cole Pepper
For starters, there is the question of just how valuable a running back is in today’s NFL. Here is a list of the top 10 rushers from the 2012 NFL season:
- Adrian Peterson-Minnesota
- Alfred Morris-Washington
- Marshawn Lynch-Seattle
- Jamaal Charles-Kansas City
- Doug Martin-Tampa Bay
- Arian Foster-Houston
- Stevan Ridley-New England
- C.J. Spiller-Buffalo
- Chris Johnson-Tennessee
- Frank Gore-San Francisco
Among that list, six running backs led their teams to the playoffs. It can be argued that only Foster and Peterson truly “led” their teams. New England was more pass oriented teams and San Francisco, Seattle and Washington had running quarterbacks to bolster the running games.
It also should be pointed out that the top three rushers all made the playoffs with first or second year quarterbacks.
That’s doesn’t mean that a great running back doesn’t help, but unlike 10 years ago, it’s much less of a guarantee of team success. It wasn’t that long ago that having a top 10 rusher all but assured a team of being a playoff contender.
There are many studies about how running backs tend to do as they age. This one has a rather startling breakdown. Running backs under 27 tend to improve, running backs over 27 decline.
Which brings us to the Jaguars most recognizable player, 28 year old Maurice Jones-Drew. Not only is Jones-Drew beyond the age barrier, but he’s also coming off surgery on his foot. What does this all mean for the Jaguars? It means that while they need to find some young legs to help in the running game, they also need to find some consistency at quarterback (more on that in a later post).
There has rarely been a player more explosive on the field or more controversial in a Jaguars uniform. Not controversial like Terrell Owens or Randy Moss (although the recent incident in St. Augustine may suggest otherwise, let’s see how it plays out), but Jones-Drew has been outspoken from the beginning. He chose the uniform number 32 to remind him and anyone else who would listen that 32 teams passed on taking him in the first round.
Jones-Drew may be one of the five greatest players in Jaguars history already, but Gus Bradley can’t expect a 1,500 yard season out of Drew at this point in his career. So where will the yards come from?
It’s too early to predict how Jones-Drew will play after recovering from the surgery, but I expect that he will still be a effective, if not explosive player with the ball in his hands.
The Jaguars signed former Texan backup Justin Forsett in free agency. He has shown the ability to be a solid contributor in certain roles, but he’s never been the lead back and he’s not expected to handle that role this year.
Perhaps no player has generated as much buzz this off-season for the Jaguars as Denard Robinson. The former Michigan quarterback will be used as a running back, but don’t be surprised if he lines up all over the field from time to time: as a wide receiver, in the slot, even taking snaps from center. His speed is tantalizing. The question mark is whether he’ll become the kind of impact player with 10-12 touches a game that Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch envison. Robinson will also be tried out returning kickoffs.
One of the many veteran departures is Greg Jones. Let go by the Jaguars this off-season. He was a reliable a blocking back as there is in the league.
In Jones’ place, the Jaguars will insert another former Florida State Seminole, Lonnie Pryor. Unlike Jones, who was a featured runner in college, Pryor was a blocker first, runner second. The Jaguars like what they’ve seen from him so far, but my expectation is that we’ll see fewer snaps with a fullback on the field this year than in the past.
Defining Success: For this position group, success is going to be measured largely on two points. First, how close is Maurice Jones-Drew to his “old” self? If he plays like he did before the injury, that will be a big boost for the Jaguars. If not, they’ll have to find someone to run between the tackles. Second, how much of a factor will Robinson be as a rookie. If the Jaguars get three or four explosive plays a game from Robinson, consider it a success.
Jaguars Projected Running Backs Depth Chart: