6 Jacksonville Jaguars Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2014

6 Jacksonville Jaguars Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014

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    Bill Wippert

    Three new faces will enjoy expanded playing time after joining the Jacksonville Jaguars. They include a running back who gets his first chance to lead an offense rather than being an understudy.

    Of the incumbents on the roster, another running back should see his reps as a pass-catcher increase. The decision to part ways with a franchise linchpin not only took away the team's best runner, but also one of its most useful receivers.

    Jags fans can also expect to see additional passes go the way of an underrated "move" tight end who has the receiving skills to suit a more expansive offense.

    Here are the six players whose production will increase in Jacksonville in 2014.

    All statistics via NFL.com unless otherwise stated.

Toby Gerhart, RB

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    Toby Gerhart is being counted on to be a workhorse.
    Toby Gerhart is being counted on to be a workhorse.Jim Mone

    Toby Gerhart will no longer be second fiddle the way he was behind Adrian Peterson for the Minnesota Vikings. The former Stanford man is being counted on to be a workhorse in Jacksonville.

    Head coach Gus Bradley has already tabbed Gerhart as his "bell-cow back," according to NFL.com writer Marc Sessler. The four-year pro certainly possesses the attributes for that role.

    At 6'0" and 231 pounds, Gerhart is a stout yet surprisingly explosive bruiser who quickly makes his way between the tackles. He averaged an impressive 7.9 yards on only 36 carries in 2013.

    NFL.com fantasy pundit Alex Gelhar is already anticipating more impact from Gerhart:

    He lacks lateral speed, but has great burst when steam-rolling between the tackles. He routinely breaks arm tackles and is a beast at getting yards after contact. Last season, he led all backs with a ludicrous 3.8 yards per carry after contact (minimum 199 carries), and has a career average of 2.8 yards per carry after contact. That equates to extra fantasy points every time he touches the ball. With only 276 rushes to date in his career, Gerhart has fresh legs and is ready to prove he can be a top-tier NFL running back. 

    The anticipated increase in carries in Jacksonville is enough to believe Gerhart boosts his numbers significantly in 2014.

Clay Harbor, TE

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    Tight end Clay Harbor has the "move" skills to be a bigger receiving threat in 2014.
    Tight end Clay Harbor has the "move" skills to be a bigger receiving threat in 2014.John Raoux

    Despite the presence of Marcedes Lewis, expect Clay Harbor to play a bigger role in 2014's Jacksonville offense. The former Philadelphia Eagle has the "move" skills to be a more dynamic target down the field than Lewis.

    The team clearly values those skills, evidenced by the new two-year deal given to Harbor, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The Jags also offered a contract to Baltimore Ravens "move" tight end Ed Dickson, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.

    These moves show offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is seeking more playmaking potential from the tight end position. Since Dickson remains unsigned, that puts the onus firmly on Harbor.

    The 6'3", 255-pounder averaged 12.2 yards per reception in 2013. He can stretch the seams and run crossing routes like a wide receiver.

    Lewis has never really fully delivered on his obvious talent, so Harbor should seize the chance for greater work and production this season.

Jordan Todman, RB

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    Jordan Todman should feature more as a receiver in 2014.
    Jordan Todman should feature more as a receiver in 2014.Phelan M. Ebenhack

    When the Jaguars parted ways with Maurice Jones-Drew, they also waved goodbye to 43 receptions out of the backfield in 2013. Although mostly known as punishing inside runner, Jones-Drew was always a competent receiver, evidenced by his 335 career catches.

    Fisch needs to fill that void and should turn to Jordan Todman to do it. Todman will be freed up for a greater role in the offense after the signing of kick returner Tandon Doss, reported by Florida Times-Union writer Ryan O'Halloran.

    Todman spent the majority of last season as a decent returner but did offer some hints about his competency as a receiver.

    He only had 14 catches but tallied 8.3 yards per reception. Todman also snared a 21-yard scoring catch off a pass from wide receiver Ace Sanders in a Week 14 win over the Houston Texans.

    He has the speed to get down the field as well as the moves to make defenders miss once he secures a catch. Gerhart does not offer the same explosive potential as a receiver, so expect Todman to see a few more passes come his way this season.

Dekoda Watson, LB

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    Dekoda Watson can go from role player to starter in Jacksonville.
    Dekoda Watson can go from role player to starter in Jacksonville.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Dekoda Watson is one of the more intriguing signings the Jaguars made in free agency. He can play both outside linebacker and defensive end and offers superior passing-rush skills at the second level of the Jaguars defense.

    That skill in particular gives Watson a great chance to start on the strong side. Bradley's hybrid defensive alignment can sometimes resemble a 3-4 front, with a trio of interior D-linemen bracketed by a "Leo" pass-rusher and a stacked linebacker.

    Watson can fill the latter role despite only seeing limited action during four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Encouragingly, Watson was productive when he saw the field in 2013.

    He made 42 tackles, broke up one pass and intercepted another, registered two sacks and forced a fumble. That shows a certain level of playmaking skill Bradley's defense needs at linebacker.

    Expect Watson to make an even greater impact in his first year in the AFC South.

Red Bryant, DE/DT

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    Red Bryant will be the focal point of a revamped defensive front.
    Red Bryant will be the focal point of a revamped defensive front.Elaine Thompson

    Red Bryant may have seen his role reduced by the Seattle Seahawks in 2013, but the Jaguars didn't give him a four-year deal to be a passenger.

    Bryant is one of the most intimidating run-stuffers in the NFL, and he will act as the focal point on a retooled D-line. While the Seahawks were stout against the run with and without Bryant, the Jags have major problems stifling ground games, particularly power-based attacks.

    Football Outsiders ranked the D-line 28th against power-running schemes, with opponents enjoying a 74 percent success rate in 2013. Wedging Bryant's 6'4", 323-pound frame along the front will help solve that problem.

    His increased presence is a necessity in the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts offense is still directed by coordinator Pep Hamilton, a proud proponent of the power running game.

    Hamilton and the Colts will want to justify their investment in running back Trent Richardson this season.

    The Jaguars also know the threat a healthy Arian Foster provides for the Houston Texans. Houston may run a zone scheme, but the best counter to it is penetration from a mammoth interior lineman like Bryant.

    Bryant didn't see the field as much in 2013, according to Sports Illustrated scribe Doug Farrar, who notes his snap count fell from 734 to 561.

    But the Jaguars need Bryant on the field more than that in 2014.

Ace Sanders, WR

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    Ace Sanders can become more than a proponent of gimmick plays.
    Ace Sanders can become more than a proponent of gimmick plays.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The team's failure to add a marquee wide receiver in free agency, coupled with the continued absence of the suspended Justin Blackmon, should put Ace Sanders in the spotlight this season.

    The 2013 fourth-round pick became a more prominent part of the offense as last season progressed. He was flexible enough to throw a scoring pass to Harbor as well as earning two carries as a runner.

    But Sanders won't be just limited to gimmick plays in the new season. He has already proved his worth as a useful underneath receiver.

    A diminutive 5'7", 178-pound frame makes Sanders perfect for the slot. He is nimble, elusive and quick enough to escape intermediate coverage and wrack up plenty of yards after the catch.

    The value of this type of outlet won't be lost on a veteran quarterback like Chad Henne. Sanders caught 51 passes in 2013 but should expect to receive even more this year.

    The six players on the list each have a key role to play for a team that has been expertly revamped this offseason.