As I stated in the piece, as it stands TODAY, I believe the position is valid though with another season or two of production and actually helping the franchise become relevant again, his position at the end of his career will undoubtedly be Top 3 or 4 when it's all said and done.
Moving on to our #6 player, I doubt the debate will be as heavily towards one side or the other, as opinions on this guy have been mixed since his departure.
Here we go....
#6. Mark Brunell, QB, 1995-2003
On the eve of the Jaguars inaugural draft in April of 1995, then head coach and GM Tom Coughlin pulled the trigger on a trade for an unknown backup quarterback in Green Bay by the name of, Mark Brunell. At the time, it's doubtful many people knew just how monumental that trade would turn out to be for the future of the newborn franchise.
The left handed quarterback, with the jittery looking legs, made his first impressions on Jags fans right out the gate, as he led a near comeback in the Hall of Fame game against expansion twin Carolina. He didn't see much action early in the team's inaugural year, as veteran QB Steve Beuerlein was named the starter entering the season.
In Week 5, the 0-4 team went to Houston looking for it's first win in franchise history. Coughlin decided to bench the ineffective, and to that point winless, Beuerlein for Brunell with a quarter left in the game. Down six points with little time remaining, Brunell hit wide receiver Desmond Howard for a 15 yard touchdown pass to win the game, and secure the franchise's first ever regular season victory. Beuerlein never saw the field in a Jaguars uniform again. He went on to start the remainder of the season, leading the Jags to three more victories, including a game against the eventual AFC Champion Steelers. The team set a NFL record for an expansion franchise, with 4 victories, although the Panthers set the bar slightly higher with their 7 wins in the same year.
Brunell was the unquestionable starter going into the 1996 season, and although he was performing well on the stat sheet, the team started the season losing 3 of it's first 5 games, including a 3 game losing streak following an opening day win against the defending conference champion Steelers. The team was nearly falling apart due to locker room issues between players, as well as a near mutiny against Coach Coughlin, when Brunell began to really come on and sparked a 5 game winning streak to end the season, culminating in a last second field goal miss by Atlanta kicker Morten Anderson in the season finale', to propel the Jaguars into their first ever playoff appearance, in only their second year of existence.
The team traveled to Buffalo in the Wild Card round to play a Bills team that had never lost a playoff game at Rich Stadium. Though Brunell didn't have a great game statistically speaking, he was 18/33 for 239 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions, he made plays at the right time and along with some opportune performances by running back Natrone Means and the defense, the Jaguars pulled off what to that point was one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
In the Divisional Round the following week, the Jaguars were looked down on by many in the media, particularly by a certain Denver columnist who now makes national ESPN appearances, as a fluke happenstance that had no business being in the position it was in. Brunell and company would end up getting the last laugh. He went 18/29 throwing for 245 yards and rushed for 44 more, while throwing for 2 touchdowns, as the team pulled off the miracle upset of the #1 seeded Broncos, 30-27. Brunell, led the team back from a 12-0 deficit to 23 unanswered points, and capped the upset with a spectacular 29 yard run on 3rd down in the fourth quarter, in which he juked and jumped over defenders for the first down, that eventually led to the game winning touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith. Though the their expansion partner Carolina also advanced to their conference championship game, the victory made the franchise national media darlings for the week leading up to their AFC Championship match up with the New England Patriots.
Cinderella's glass slipper eventually shattered for Brunell and the Jags in that AFC title game in New England. The Patriots led by Al Groh's defense, shut down every aspect of the, to that point, explosive Jags offense. Even with the team stifled offensively, the Jags were only down 6 in the fourth quarter. It appeared the Jaguars were poised to take the lead in the 4th and perhaps fulfill the ultimate in Cinderella stories, as Brunell led the team down to the Patriots 6 yard line. It wasn't meant to be, however, as Patriots safety Willie Clay intercepted a Brunell pass in the end zone intended for tight end Derek Brown. The Patriots Otis Smith returned a James Stewart fumble 47 yards for a touchdown on the Jags next posession, to seal the Pats ticket to the Super Bowl, as the Jags lost 20-7.
Brunell finished the '96 season as the leagues leading passer in yardage, with 4,367 yards. He also finished second in passes completed as well as attempts. Ironically, Brunell finished the year with a relatively low 19 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. Despite the low scoring stats, Brunell was named as an alternate to the Pro Bowl and eventually played in the game, winning MVP honors.
It appeared Brunell was headed to the type of stardom as fellow left-hander Steve Young, as a versatile QB who could both pass and run. In the 1997 Pre-Season opener, fate came into play. On the second drive of the game against the New York Giants, Jaguars center Dave Widell stupidly shoved a blitzing Jessie Armstead unknowingly into Brunell's right knee. The event led to Brunell catastrophically tearing all three ligaments in his knee. Somehow, Brunell was able to return to the team only a few weeks later in the team's first ever Monday Night game against the Steelers. However, the mobility that made him a dual-threat weapon was never the same.
He led the team to consecutive playoff appearances in '97,'98, and '99, including the team's first and only two division titles in '98-'99. This included a franchise record 14-2 season in '99, in which the team clinched the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Though the team's playoff run was never seen before for a franchise in it's infancy, Brunell was never able to replicate the type of run the '96 team had. The team made one more AFC title game appearance in '99, but Brunell threw a pedestrian 216 yard, with a touchdown and 2 interceptions, as well as taking a sack for a safety early in the second half, as the Titans came back to defeat the Jags, 33-14.
Over the span of his career as a Jaguar, Brunell appeared in two more Pro Bowls ('97 and '99), and was statistically among the Top 10 among quarterbacks in the NFL. Though somewhat surprising, he never threw for more than 20 touchdowns in a season.
His production began to tail off as the team began it's deconstruction process out of salary cap hell. Following the 2003 season, after being replaced due to injury by the teams first round pick Byron Leftwich, Brunell was traded to the Washington Redskins. Brunell led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2005, before being relegated to a back up role. He has since served as a back up for the Redskins, as well as the Saints and most recently the Jets. In 2009, he served as the back up to Drew Bress in New Orleans, and ended up with his first and only Super Bowl ring as the Saints won the NFL title. Brunell was not re-signed by the Jets following the 2011 season and though he has yet to formally announce it, appears to be retired from the NFL.
Brunell finished his career as a Jaguar with 25,698 yards, 144 touchdowns and 86 interceptions. He is the leader in every relevant passing category in franchise history, with the exception of Passing Touchdowns in a Season.
Though his mark on the franchise is as wide as any to have donned the teal jersey, much of his success can be contributed to his supporting cast. He was enabled by Pro Bowl receivers in Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell for every successful season as a Jaguar, and was later boosted by the addition of future Hall of Famer Fred Taylor as his backfield mate. It also must be noted, that he had perhaps the best tackle tandem in the NFL over the course of the mid-late '90s with Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy. Three times over the course of his Jaguar era, in '96, '00, and '01, Brunell was Top 2 among quarterbacks with the least amount of times sacked.
It is due to these facts, that I have Brunell just missing out on the Top 5. That said, he will forever be remembered by any Jags fan who watched the team since their inception and through the early successes. His spot in the "Pride of the Jaguars", though perhaps slightly undeserving, is a near certainty at some point following his retirement.
To this day, the Jaguars have never had a quarterback match the successes Brunell had on the field in a Jags uniform.
The Top-25 List:
#25. Aaron Beasley, CB, 1996-2001
#24. Bryan Barker, P, 1995-2000
#23. Donovin Darius, S, 1998-2006
#22. David Garrard, QB, 2002-2010
#21. Josh Scobee, K, 2004-Present
#20. Kyle Brady, TE, 1999-2006
#19. Kevin Hardy, LB, 1996-2001
#18. Brad Meester, C, 2000-Present
#17. Vince Manuwai, G, 2003-2010
#16. Mike Peterson, LB, 2003-2008
#15. Mike Hollis, K, 1995-2001
#14. Gary Walker, DT, 1999-2001
#13. Daryl Smith, LB, 2004-Present
#12. Leon Searcy, OT, 1996-2000
#11. Tony Brackens, DE, 1996-2004
#10. John Henderson, DT, 2002-2009
#9. Rashean Mathis, CB, 2003-Present
#8. Keenan McCardell, WR, 1996-2001
#7. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, 2006-Present
#6. Mark Brunell, QB, 1995-2003