I went back and forth on the placement of our #7 player, perhaps more than any other on this list. I'm sure it will be agreed to by some and hated by others, but in the end I felt this was the best spot for him as it stands today.
Before we get on with it, I'd like to mention for those who don't know that John Oesher and the folks at Jaguars.com have also begun a "Top 25" series today, with a video presentation hosted by Brian Sexton. I'm interested in seeing how our lists compare. You should definitely give it a view as it's a pretty well done video presentation.
That said, here we go...
#7. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, 2006-Present
When the Jaguars selected him in the second round of the 2006 Draft, very few people on the east coast, let alone Jacksonville, had heard of a 5'7 running back out of floundering UCLA, named Maurice Drew. However, it didn't take long for fans both locally and nationally to quickly learn the name.
Playing as the back up to the legendary Fred Taylor, not much was expected of Jones-Drew in his rookie season. In his first two games as a pro, Jones-Drew served primarily as a kick returner and garnered only a few carries for less than 20 yards rushing. When the Jaguars traveled to Indianapolis to face the Colts in Week 3, MJD showed the first signs of bigger things to come. He rushed for his first 100+ yard game, tallying 103 yards on 13 carries, while also grabbing 4 receptions for 42 yards and the Jaguars lone passing touchodown, in a 21-14 loss. His biggest game of the season came in a 44-17 thrashing of the Colts several weeks later, where he led the team in rushing with 166 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 15 carries. He added to his career day, at the time, by returning the opening kickoff of the second half, 93 yards for a touchdown. The Jaguars rushed for a combined 375 yards that day, thanks to the joint effort of Jones-Drew, Taylor, and Alvin Pearman.
He finished his rookie season with 941 yards on 161 attempts and 13 rushing touchdowns, to go along with 436 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Despite the gaudy stats and finishing 3rd in the NFL in All-Purpose Yards, 4th in Rushing Touchdowns, 3rd in Yards Per Kick Return, and 2nd in Rushing Yards Per Attempt that year, Jones-Drew was passed over for NFL Rookie of the Year honors by Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.
Jones-Drew remained Taylor's back up in 2007 and 2008, rushing for 1,592 yards, on 364 carries with 21 touchdowns over the course of the two year span. He also continued being a valuable weapon in the passing game over that time, attributing for 972 yards off 102 catches with 2 touchdowns.
In the 2007 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, while statistically being held in check by the Steelers most of the night, Jones-Drew provided the team with pivotal big plays. He scored a 43 yard touchdown off a pass down the sideline from David Garrard to give the Jaguars a 21-7 lead in the first half. Then followed it up with a 10 yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to expand the lead to 28-10. Before scoring twice on his own, Jones-Drew set the Jaguars up for the eventual point explosion by returning the kickoff of the Jags' opening possession 96 yards, setting up a Fred Taylor touchdown run to tie the game at 7.
Taylor was released following the 2008 season, and in doing so, marked Jones-Drew's beginning as a NFL starting running back.
Despite lacking a significant passing attack, Jones-Drew has consistently produced at an All-Pro level since taking over for Taylor. In his first season as a starter, he began a three years and counting string of 1,300+ yard seasons, rushing for 1,391 yards on 312 carries and a tremendous 16 touchdowns, which tied him for 2nd in the NFL. For his performance, Jones-Drew was elected to his first ever Pro Bowl.
His performance tailed off slightly in 2010, mostly due to a previously undisclosed knee injury that kept him out of the final couple of games of the season as the Jags were attempting to clinch the AFC South title for the first time. Though the knee hampered him at times, he still managed to churn out 1,324 yards on 299 carries, but suffered a stiff drop in touchdowns finishing with 5. Jones-Drew was again elected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl team, but opted out of the game due to the knee injury.
Going into the 2011 season, after a tenuous lock out in the NFL, there were concerns about whether Jones-Drew would be able to come back adequately from off-season surgery to repair the injured knee. MJD constantly shunned those who questioned his readiness, and showed on the field he was more than fine. Fighting through a repaired knee, a rookie quarterback with no semblance of a professional wide receiver corp to work with, and a franchise in flux, Jones-Drew ran for a franchise record 1,606 yards on 343 carries, to become the first Jaguar in franchise history to win the NFL regular-season rushing title. He was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl team as a starter, and was also named a first-team NFL All-Pro by the Associate Press, to go along with first-team honors from every major NFL publication.
While Jones-Drew has produced at a consistently high level over his six year career, time still stands to tell if his statistical impact will translate into franchise altering production. Despite rushing for 1,300+ yards three years in a row, and winning the league's rushing title, the team has been a combined 20-28 over the same three year span since he became a starter, and has never made the post-season. Many other factors of course contributed to the team's record, but it's a telling tale of Jones-Drew's true impact on the team in his time as the face of the franchise.
For these reasons, and the fact that his story hasn't been fully written yet as a Jaguar, he has not yet eclipsed the status of "Top 5 Jaguar of All-Time". The chances of this changing as his career progresses towards it's end are high, but as of 2012 he comes in at #7.
I'm sure if he reads this, he'll block me on Twitter and cuss me out at Training Camp, for "disrespecting him".
I welcome it.
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