Chad Henne took the reins of the Jacksonville offense last night and gave us more-or-less what we expected of the ten-year, game-managing veteran. There were a couple of nice passes filtered into a controlled scheme and, most importantly, no bad throwing decisions.
Head coach Doug Marrone’s starting quarterback decision looked like it might be a no-brainer after Blake Bortles ended his first series with a fluttering toss behind Allen Hurns, who happened to be double-covered. The resulting interception was magnified by a 48-yard return that led to a Carolina touchdown.
But nothing is easy in the NFL. Bortles, playing behind his first-team offensive line against Carolina’s second-and-third-team defenders went on to complete 12 of his 16 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns to go with that interception.
Henne’s line looks relatively pedestrian at eight of 13 and 74 yards. However, a beautifully thrown deep ball to Keelan Cole would have greatly-improved his statistics had the rookie not dropped the easy touchdown.
What we learned
What we learned about Jacksonville’s offense last night is that the quarterbacks are not their biggest problem. Henne took three sacks behind a porous offensive line. This may also be a factor in Marrone’s ultimate QB decision as Bortles has a better escapability factor.
The line was no better in run blocking. Proving that statistics lie, the Jags’ gaudy 5.2 yards per carry jumps off the box score. Unfortunately, 51 of those yards came on a fake punt by Corey Grant. The next best “rushing” play was the quarterback scramble. Henne, Bortles, and Allen accounted for 29 more yards.
Grant carried nine other times for seven yards. Leonard Fournette and T. J. Yeldon did not play, but it is hard to imagine either doing much better than Chris Ivory’s 3.6 yards per carry when initial contact seemed to be in the backfield all night. Overall, running backs managed 50 yards on 22 carries for 2.3 YPC.
Coach Marrone conceded that he played his starting front line most of the night partially to make his quarterback competition even, but also because “they need the work.” Rookie left tackle Cam Robinson struggled mightily, but the coach expressed dissatisfaction with the overall play and coordination of the unit.
Fantasy players may be in for a letdown if they buy too high on Fournette. Even the best back will struggle without blockers (see Todd Gurley). The best thing that happened in this regard was Henne’s dropped pass to Keelan Cole and another deep ball that hit Allen Robinson in stride for 37 yards. An occasional pass like that might warrant enough respect to keep safeties from crowding the box all year.
Due to injuries, we still haven’t seen how Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett plan to mix in the other running backs. During their time together in Buffalo, no runner ever had 200 total touches. Tom Coughlin was also a fan of three-headed backfields. If this tendency plays out, along with the offensive line woes, Fournette owners could be set up for a disappointing return.
On the other hand, Chris Ivory or T. J. Yeldon may be worth a late-round flyer.
Allen Robinson remains a potential bust again this year due to the quarterback play. If Henne is behind center, Allen will receive fewer but more accurate passes. If it is Bortles, things could be even worse than last season.
Meanwhile, Allen Hurns played extended time with the third-string offense yesterday and seems to be in Marrone’s dog house. Reports are that Jacksonville is looking to trade him, but his contract makes him more likely to be cut.
Marquis Lee will be the second receiver and the Jaguars are high on the bevy of young receivers in camp behind him. Unfortunately, the Jags overall offense does not make them a good source of late-round wide receivers.
Those other fantasy guys
Remember Mychal Rivera? I seem to remember his name popping up as a potential tight end flyer a couple of years back. That was because he had hands. If Chad Henne is named the starter, Rivera will provide a safe, if short, target. He is not on my draft list, and he is still behind incumbent starter Marcedes Lewis, but it’s a situation to watch during the season.
Kicker Jason Myers hit a 44-yard field goal and was perfect on three extra points. Jacksonville is counting on low-scoring games and field goals figure to be a big part of their conservative offense. Still, Myers missed an extra point and three field goals (from 51, 50, and 40 yards) in the first two weeks. For now, he has fended off a mid-week challenge, but if the Jaguars replace him with a more reliable option, their offense seems primed for a good kicker contribution.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s defense continues to play without its top defensive backs. Carolina’s starters marched down the field on their opening drive with eight runs and two short passes, including a quick seven-yard slant for the touchdown. The defensive linemen were particularly upset with themselves, but it is hard to gauge how well they will do when the guys behind them start playing. Many of the players who saw time at safety and cornerback will not be on the opening day roster.
The starters are expected to be ready for opening day and I still expect the Jaguars to have a solid if unspectacular, fantasy defense.
Jacksonville is a team in flux. Their offensive line woes only complicate their quarterback dilemma and put a question mark on their fantasy runners. The quarterback contest complicates the wide receivers’ fantasy potential.
Beyond Fournette, it is a team with minimal fantasy expectations – even from a starting Bortles- going into 2017. They do bear watching, though, in case something clicks for their young line. If you’re too busy to watch, check back here at RealSport for lots of fantasy updates leading to the draft.
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