Who’s the Greatest Jaguar Ever?

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL, NFL teams, sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Can you hear it?

The NFL lockout is going to end soon. Players will be back on the practice field and we’ll hear the music of preseason camp: the groans and moans, the popping of pads, the screaming of coaches, the shrieking whistles.

It’s time to get those draft picks signed. It’s time to find a jewel among undrafted rookies. It’s time putting a winning offer on the table for a free agent or two. Time is done for crying and whining about how billionaires and millionaires can’t get their acts together.

It’s time to talk and debate about fun stuff.

Today’s topic: Who is the greatest Jaguars player of all-time?

The way I see it there are only five candidates who deserve consideration: Wide receiver Jimmy Smith, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, defensive end Tony Brackens and running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, the only current Jaguar on the list.

Some of you may lobby for quarterback Mark Brunell. Others may think safety Donovan Darius belongs on the list. No doubt center Brad Meester, tackle Leon Searcy, linebacker Kevin Hardy, wide receiver Keenan McCardell and defensive tackle Marcus Stroud will make some lists. One day defensive tackle Terrence Knighton, tight end Mercades Lewis and tackle Eugene Monroe might be worthy of being in the discussion.

But, as I said, my list consists of Smith, Boselli, Brackens, Taylor and Jones-Drew. Here’s how I break down my five in reverse order.

Brackens played eight seasons and was a difference maker rushing off the edge. He’s the Jaguars all-time leader in sacks with 55, but more importantly he and Stroud are the only two Jaguar defenders ever who opponents built their game plans around. Brackens suffered more than his share of injuries and abruptly retired after the 2003 season because of nagging physical problems. He also was eager to return to Texas and become a full time rancher. Brackens, who was named all-pro only once, barely edges out Stroud, a three-time Pro Bowler. My reasoning is simple: Brackens was overlooked and he played a more important position.

MJD may wind up as the Jaguars’ greatest player if he continues the production he has had in his first five seasons. Much of his future success likely will defend on how his surgically repaired knee holds up. He made an immediate impact with the Jaguars after being a second-round pick out of UCLA in 2006, impressing his coaches as a rookie so much that he shared running back duties with Taylor. After only a few preseason practices as a rookie MJD had coach Jack Del Rio gushing about his blocking and the praise was on target because MJD is considered as the league’s best pass-blocking star runner. Not only is MJD on pace to rush for more than 10,000 career yards, he is one of the best receivers out of the backfield in the NFL and is at his best in the red zone. He already is third all-time in touchdowns, trailing only Taylor. His 4.6 per rush average matches Taylor.

Taylor spent 11 seasons (1998-2008) and became an immediate star, rushing for 1,223 yards and scoring 17 TDs as a rookie. Both are team records. Injuries and criticism of being “soft” nearly derailed Taylor’s career after his rookie season. He even admitted later in his career that he missed games when he could have played. He went on to establish himself as one of the NFL’s best runners although he only made the Pro Bowl one time. Taylor was a game breaker who had four TD runs of 70 yards or longer in regular-season play. Maybe the greatest play in team history is Taylor’s 90-yard TD run in a 62-7 rout of the visiting Miami Dolphins in the 1999 playoffs. Sadly, Taylor’s career came to an abrupt end when team officials flew to Miami, his offseason home, after the ’08 season and handed him his release.

Boselli, the Jaguars first ever draft pick and No. 2 overall in 1995, made Coach Tom Coughlin look like a genius. He established himself as one of the league’s best left tackles as a rookie and went on to be named to five Pro Bowls. In a 1996 playoff game at Buffalo, a 30-27 Jaguars victory, Boselli rose to the top player at his position when he dominated future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Not only was he the team’s dominating offensive lineman he also took on the roll of enforcer. Giving quarterback Mark Brunell as cheap shot meant dealing with Big Bo. In all, Boselli spent seven seasons with the Jaguars, but injuries to both shoulders greatly curtailed his playing time and effectiveness during his last two seasons. After the 2001 season the Jaguars made him available in the expansion draft to the Houston Texans. He never played a down for the Texans, retiring a year later and returning to Jacksonville to make his home. Many people think that one day he’ll be known as Mayor Boselli.

The shortness of Boselli’s career is the reason I place him second and give the greatest Jaguars ever nod to Jimmy Smith. Smith’s numbers for his 11-year Jaguar career (1995-2005) are borderline hall of fame: 862 receptions, 12,287 yards, 14.3-yards-catch average. He was named to five Pro Bowls. He had two seasons with more than 100 receptions , leading the NFL with 116 catches in ’99 and having 112 catches in 2001. No other Jaguar receiver is even close to Smith’s numbers.

Smith’s impact, however, was more than statistics. His speed and ability to run after the catch was the key to Coughlin’s offense. They opened holes for running backs James Stewart, Natrone Means and Taylor. They cleared the middle for guys such as McCardell and tight ends Pete Mitchell and Kyle Brady.

His off-the-field story is both inspiring and distasteful. The Jaguars signed him as a street free agent – in other words, unwanted by any other teams – after he was discarded by the Eagles and the Cowboys. In the Jaguars first-ever season Smith was used mostly as kick returner. He played in McCardell’s shadow in ’96, his first year as a starter, but then he put together five straight Pro Bowl seasons and joined the ranks of the NFL’s elite receivers.

One of the few low points during that stretch came in the AFC Championship against the visiting Tennessee Titans in the ’99 playoffs. Jacksonville led 14-10 at halftime and looked like it was going to go up 21-10 in the third quarter when Smith got behind the Titans defense. Brunell’s throw was on the mark but Smith dropped the ball. Later, Alvis Whitted dropped a sure TD pass and the Titans walked away with a 33-14 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.

Smith was one of the team’s most popular players and not just because he was a star. He was a stand up guy with the media, always available whether the Jaguars won or lost; whether he played well or not. He mingled comfortably with fans and did more than his share of charity stuff.

Little did many people know about the demons that he lived with. After the ’05 season he demanded a better contract and threatened to be a holdout. After getting a new deal, rumors started about him flunking a drug test, something about which Jaguars management knew nothing. Then came the shocking announcement that Smith was retiring. A hastily called news conference was arranged. Smith, owner Wayne Weaver, Del Rio and personnel chief Shack Harris sat on stage and jointly announced Smith’s retirement, effective immediately.

I caught personal hell for asking if drugs had anything to do with the timing. Weaver, Del Rio and Harris said nothing. Smith calmly and almost in a whisper said no. The public reaction was to blast me for being insensitive, trying to create controversy and ruining Smith’s farewell.

Soon the news broke that Smith had a drug problem and had lived with it for several years, even hiding it from most teammates and coaches. An arrest followed. Rehab followed. Smith’s fall from grace is unmatched in Jaguars history.

Still, when judging the man for what he did on the football field, he is the greatest Jaguar ever up to this point.

 

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Comments
  1. Clip Hopkins says:

    Another great artical. The only diference of opinion is pertaining to Mark Brunell.
    Your own argument about Brakens having a more important position surly must appfly to Mark.

  2. RedRocker77 says:

    Easy. NOT JONES DREW!!! Why execute a picture of him. All he does is run his mouth!

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