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End of the Road: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
It has been a tough season for first-year coach Mike Mularkey. (US Presswire)

As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Jaguars.

What Went Wrong

And so ends another inglorious season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They still have to play out the schedule, but their playoff hopes have officially been dashed and we're barely into December. So what went wrong? In simple terms, the NFL is a passing league and the Jags don't have a passer. They took Blaine Gabbert in the first round of the 2011 draft, and he has been wholly unimpressive over nearly two seasons. He ended up on injured reserve last month and was replaced (and subsequently outplayed) by Chad Henne.

The isn't entirely Gabbert's fault, of course. A season ago, Jacksonville didn't have any capable wide receivers and the offense went through Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD has been sidelined most of this season with a foot injury, and the upgrades at wideout -- free-agent signing Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon both struggled with consistency.

Long term, the Jags need to figure out if Gabbert is in their plans. If not, they should move on immediately. The offense has the potential to score, something we've glimpsed at times this season.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has been equally awful -- ineffective against both the run and the pass.

What Went Right

This shouldn't take long. But if we've learned anything from other organizations, it's that with the right people in place the rebuilding process doesn't have to take decades. Instead, we're talking two years, maybe one. But until we get to that point, the Jags have a few things to be optimistic about. They appear to have found a quality backup in Henne, who's under contract through 2013. (Yes, we know, this last sentence reeks of the soft bigotry of low expectations but, well, we are talking about the Jaguars. They're a bad team.)

Then there's wide receiver Cecil Shorts, the second-year player out of Mount Union who, through 13 weeks, has 43 catches for 824 yards (19.2 YPC) and seven touchdowns. He leads the team in receiving, 267 yards ahead of Blackmon. As these players grow together, the Jags could have a formidable young wide receiver duo, something we haven't been able to say since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell were on the roster at the beginning of this century.

The team last week also landed defensive end Jason Babin, who is under contract through next season. If he can regain the form that made him one of the league's best pass rushers, it could take some pressure off the secondary.

Fallout

The Jags have a new owner in Shad Khan, who tried unsuccessfully to trade for Tim Tebow last spring. Given how things have worked out for Tebow in New York, it's reasonable to assume Jacksonville would still be one of the league's worst teams with him on the roster. Khan did hire new coach Mike Mularkey, who is understandably frustrated with how this season has gone. And, depending on which coaches become available in the coming weeks, Mularkey could be one-and-done in Jacksonville as Khan tries to turn things around. Last month, Khan called the team's 1-7 start "embarrassing." That not only reflects poorly on Mularkey, but general manager Gene Smith, whose job could also be in jeopardy.

Draft Outlook

Five teams are currently in the mix for the first overall pick: the Raiders, Panthers, Eagles, Chiefs and Jags -- with the Chiefs and Jags both leading the way with 2-9 records.

One of the unintended benefits of being one of the worst outfits in the league is that you're almost certainly going to land a player in the draft who can help you immediately. In the most recent NFLDraftScout.com mock draft, Rob Rang has the Jags picking No. 2 and taking Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. Dane Brugler has LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo going to Jacksonville.

The message: the defense needs to be overhauled and, as CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco likes to say, good teams have passers and pass rushers. Right now, the jury's still out on Gabbert and Babin. But you already knew that.

2013 Will Be…

... Decided by who ends up in the front office and with the head coach's title. This isn't to say that Smith and Mularkey are goners, but we've seen what new blood can do for a languishing organization. The 49ers went 13-3 in their first year with Jim Harbaugh. The Rams, a two-win outfit a year ago, are trying to make a late-season playoff push under Jeff Fisher.

Could that be the Jags a year from now? Well, a lot has to change in the next 12 months. And Khan doesn't sound like he's opposed to mixing things up.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

 
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