The Jacksonville Jaguars made a statement when they signed Mike Mularkey as their new head coach that they were prepared to get serious about centering their franchise on the quarterback position.
Mularkey has been around the NFL for a long time, always dealing with the offense and once before as a head coach. Most recently, Mularkey was the man heralded for molding Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons into the player he is. We expect he will turn things around for Blaine Gabbert and make him a bona fide fantasy football sleeper quarterback in 2012.
In the 2011 NFL draft there were four quarterbacks drafted in the first 15 selections, with only Cam Newton expected to be taken in the top half or even in the first round altogether. Most draft experts expected the second round to be where the run on quarterbacks would start, including players like Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert.
That is, until the Tennessee Titans changed the scope of the draft.
While most teams put up smoke screens and hid their agendas in the draft, many of us were surprised when the Titans selected Jake Locker 10th overall. That move shook up the draft and forced the Jaguars to trade their second-round pick and 16th overall selection to move up and select former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Coming out of college, Gabbert was heralded for upper-echelon arm strength and above-average mobility in the pocket. Playing in a spread formation at Missouri, Gabbert started in his sophomore and junior seasons, throwing 40 touchdowns and over 6,750 passing yards. Despite a shortened offseason, the Jaguars felt comfortable enough in Gabbert’s abilities to throw him into the starting lineup only three games in to the 2011 season.
If you watched any Jaguars games last season, as unlikely as that is, you will probably refute my opinion that Gabbert has any future as a starter in the NFL. Sure, he had a rough go of it last season, but very little of the blame can be placed solely on Gabbert’s shoulders.
Last year, the Jaguars faced an incredibly tough season for a rookie quarterback. Gabbert started his career out against the Jets, Saints, Bengals, Steelers, Ravens and Texans in his first seven NFL games. Needless to say, Gabbert got beat up.
Let’s also point out that the Jaguars provided almost zero protection for the young gunslinger. Gabbert’s 40 sacks were the third most in the NFL and the constant pressure fueled many of his 12 interceptions. Last year, the Jaguars' starting offensive line featured a rag-tag crew of young, untested linemen with only 12-year veteran Brad Meester providing any real consistency on the line. Right tackle Eben Britton missed the majority of the season and had offseason back surgery.
As far as quarterback help is concerned, Gabbert may have had the least going for him of any starting quarterback last season. Former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio rarely put together an offensive game plan good enough to keep his team in the game, and the team’s receiving corps was a joke.
Marcedes Lewis, the team’s only true receiving weapon, had to deal with injuries but also was a bit of a letdown. The team’s best receiver, Mike Thomas, gave up on the team near the end of the season and also underperformed.
Obviously, Gabbert had no help on that offense last season. This year, he may not exactly have the best offensive weapons at his disposal, but the addition of an offensive-minded coach and new receiver Laurent Robinson are major upgrades. Britton should return healthy, giving some added skill to the right tackle position as well.
The Jaguars have an easier schedule ahead of them in 2012. According to our fantasy football strength of schedule calculator, Gabbert will face the ninth-easiest schedule for fantasy quarterbacks. Last year, the Jaguars had the 12th toughest schedule and while it wasn't exactly the most daunting schedule, it wasn’t the best way to start an NFL career at quarterback.
We’re not going to tell you that Gabbert is going to be a top 10 quarterback, not now that 350-yard passers have become the norm in the NFL. We will say that his stock is rising quickly and in a two-quarterback league, Gabbert could be a starter. Considering his early average draft position is so low he doesn’t have one, Gabbert’s inevitable surprising play should make him a worthwhile fantasy football quarterback sleeper.