There isn't much doubt in the minds of Jaguars fans that running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the best player on the team. His impact on the team is undeniable and after leading the NFL in rushing in 2011, it's obvious why the Jaguars will benefit from Jones-Drew maintaining a high level of play for as long as he can.
But with a league-leading 343 rushing attempts there is reason to be concerned about the longevity of his career and how quickly the team will wear down and wear out their superstar. While MJD is only 26 years old, soon-to-be 27, he has taken more carries over the last three years than any other player in the NFL since assuming the starting role for the Jaguars.
It would benefit the Jaguars to divert some of the rushing load away from Jones-Drew, but does that mean that will have to look to the draft to do so? Not necessarily, or at least not very early in the draft.Some have called for the Jaguars to draft Alabama running back Trent Richardson with their first round pick in the latest example of what seems to have become an annual call for an early running back. Last year there wasn't a top flight running back to continue the hilarity, but it was C.J. Spiller in 2009 and Beanie Wells in 2008.
Drafting Richardson would, in my opinion, make no sense for the Jaguars. While the team desperately needs to inject talent into their offense, I'll remind you that they had the NFL's leading rusher and ranked 12th in the league in rushing.
Running the ball is not the problem.
Having the NFL's 32nd ranked passing offense was the issue for the Jaguars and needs to be focus of the team during the offseason and draft. Drafting a player like Richardson is something that a team without a running back will look to do, not one that a team with the luxury of having one of the NFL's most elite backs will do.
With Rashad Jennings returning to the lineup in 2012 the Jaguars will have a back that should be more than capable of effectively taking 100 or more rushing attempts. The Jaguars in 2011 didn't have an effective back to spell Jones-Drew, but tried to force it anyway by giving 63 carries to Deji Karim who averaged just 2.1 yards/carry and was eventually deactivated for a handful of games at the end of the season.
The Jaguars called 432 designed runs in 2012 with Jones-Drew taking 343 of those carries. If the team adds offensive weapons that allow them to balance their offense with more passing it's feasible that that number of runs called for could drop below 400.
With 400 carries and over 100 going to Jennings, the Jaguars will be taking great strides towards the preservation of Jones-Drew, but that still doesn't mean they couldn't or shouldn't address the position. Karim, a 6th round pick in 2010, is likely done in Jacksonville and DuJuan Harris isn't exactly an electifying talent that can't be upgraded.
A third running back in the mold of Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster that could act as a spark plug for the offense and possibly assume kick/punt return duties is something that the Jaguars could feasibly be in the market for in the 2012 NFL Draft. But not early. It would be somewhat of a luxury pick for a team that needs to address several offensive needs.