As we now turn to our next player, and are on the cusp of the Top 10, the debate won't necessarily be the player but the spot on the list. I also think there's one player who I did not include that will likely garner some strong opinions, but know I have my reasoning with everything in this series.
I'm interested in seeing the reaction to #11.
#11. Tony Brackens, DE, 1996-2004
No defensive player has been as big a fan favorite in their Jaguars career as Tony Brackens has. Drafted by the team in the second round of the 1996 draft, Brackens became almost instantly known as a premier pass rusher in a league that was drastically moving towards being a predominantly passing league.
Though he only started one game in his rookie campaign, Brackens was able to record 7 sacks, 55 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, and an interception, in what is now considered a "designated pass rusher (DPR)" role. His play particularly turned up a notch during the final few weeks of the regular season, helping the team in it's miracle push towards it's first ever post-season appearance in only it's second year of existence. He played sparingly in the team's three playoff games, recording a sack in the Wild Card matchup at Buffalo.
Over the next two seasons, Brackens continued to become a vital member of the team's defense, though he did not play as often as the team would've liked. He only started 11 of 32 games between 1997-98, as he was hampered by injuries and inconsistent play over this time period. In 27 games in which he appeared, he only accumulated 10.5 sacks, with 83 tackles, and 6 forced fumbles. He did not play in the '97 playoff loss to Denver, and registered a sack in two playoff games during the '98 post-season.
Brackens finally became a starter in the 1999 season, and perhaps not surprisingly had an outstanding season, helping anchor the number one defense in the NFL in points allowed. He set the franchise record for a season with 12 sacks, while recording 68 tackles, 8 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. With Brackens and nearly every aspect of the team playing at a high level, the Jaguars set a franchise record going 14-2 and earning the #1 seed in the playoffs. In the Jags first playoff game of the '99 post-season, Brackens made the signature play of his career, sacking Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, causing a fumble and unknowingly walking in for a touchdown after being assisted downfield while trying to celebrate by teammate Bryce Paup. The Jaguars would win the game by a historic 62-7 margin. Brackens would go on to record another sack and fumble recovery in the AFC Championship loss to the Tennessee Titans, a week later.
For his performance during the '99 season, Brackens was elected to his first and only Pro Bowl. He was also named to the first-team All-AFC squad by Pro Football Weekly, as well as earning second-team All-Pro honors by the Associated Press.
His next two seasons were somewhat of a bright spot, on a team that began it's downward spiral into mediocrity that would last into the near future. He played his only full sixteen game season in 2000, racking 7.5 sacks, 63 tackles, and an interception. The following year, though battling through yet another injury-plagued season, Brackens tallied 11 sacks in only 12 games. It would be the beginning of the end for the best of Tony Brackens as a Jaguar.
Brackens missed nearly all of the 2002 season, and had microfracture knee surgery to repair the knee that consistently cost him playing time throughout his career. He made a comeback in 2003, and played in all but one game of the new "Del Rio Era", recording 6 sacks, 38 tackles, and an interception. For his commitment to returning from the serious knee surgery, Brackens was named the team's recipient of the league's "Ed Block Courage Award".
Though he was able to fight through and recover well in 2003, age and the tolls of the NFL and injuries finally became too much, and Brackens was released during training camp of the 2004 season.
Brackens finished his career as the franchises' all-time leader in sacks, with 55, as well as forced fumbles with 27, numbers that still stand today with little competition. He also stands as number seven all-time in tackles for the franchise with 301.
Had he stayed healthy, and played with more consistency, Brackens likely would be a Top 3-5 player on this list and perhaps even be a Hall of Fame consideration down the line. He would undoubtedly be a no-brainer for the "Pride of the Jaguars". However, his lack of real playing, with the exception of a couple of seasons, and his inconsistent play leave him just short of those achievements, in my opinion.
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