Jaguars Positional Analysis: Quarterback

For the next few weeks, we are going to grade the team, position by position, based on the 2006 performance. We will assess strengths and weaknesses, and give an opinion whether or not an upgrade is necessary. The first position grouping we are going to look at is the most important position in sports, the quarterback position.

As you know, quarterback is one of the only positions on the football field in which substitution is not a good thing. In 2006, the Jaguars had the unfortunate pleasure of playing three quarterbacks during meaningful games, which led to a quarterback controversy amongst many fans, and therefore a media circus. Jack Del Rio and the rest of the coaching staff saw this issue manifesting into 2007, so they acted decisively, and named Byron Leftwich as the starting quarterback for the 2007 season without an open competition. This decision was questioned by many fans and media outlets, but Del Rio did the right thing for his football team to minimize the distractions. Leftwich has beaten out Garrard and Gray for the last four seasons in training camp, it is more than likely that a healthy Leftwich would beat them out again. Garrard had his opportunity to put a stranglehold on the job last season, he played his way into a permanent backup role.

Strengths: When starting quarterback Byron Leftwich is healthy and playing, he has one of the strongest arms in the entire NFL. Leftwich has the ability to scan the entire football field and can make any throw. Leftwich's arm strength and accuracy can make up for certain deficiencies at the wide receiver position. Leftwich will hang in the pocket to the very last second, trying to let plays develop, and is fearless in terms of taking hits. Defenses can't stack the line of scrimmage against Leftwich, because he has shown an ability to pick apart coverages when he has time.

David Garrard is Leftwich's backup and he received extended playing time this season, due to Leftwich's ankle injury which caused him to have surgery. Garrard's strengths include great mobility, a strong arm, and an ability to extend plays when the pocket breaks down.

Quinn Gray played for less than one half in '06, in the season finale against Kansas City due to Garrard being benched for ineffectiveness. In his limited playing time, Gray showed an ability to move around in and out of the pocket, went through progressions, and showed good arm strength.

Weaknesses: Byron Leftwich's biggest weakness is his ability to stay healthy. Leftwich has missed 16 of the last 22 regular season games for the Jaguars, and has missed time in each of his last three seasons. Leftwich's lack of mobility and long windup cause him to take some unnecessary hits which cause him to miss playing time.

David Garrard's biggest weakness is his inability to read defenses and go through his progressions. Garrard is a nice "change of pace" type of quarterback coming into a game, but the team becomes instantly one-dimensional when he is in the game. Garrard doesn't stand in the pocket and he will run for his life when his first receiver is covered. Garrard had been turnover prone in 2006, and refuses to throw the ball away to avoid taking a sack.

We have the least amount of information on Quinn Gray, so many of his deficiencies haven't been leaked yet. In Gray's limited playing time, he tends to force footballs into coverage, which can end drives in turnovers. Other than forcing the football, Gray has looked solid in his short cameos.

Overall 2006 season grade: D
With the 24th ranked passing game in the NFL, and a combined quarterback rating of around 80, the Jaguars quarterbacks were inconsistent, and most of the team's victories this season, especially when Leftwich went down, were in spite of the quarterback position, not because of it. With the Jaguars running game being as good as it was, an average amount of production out of the quarterback position should have yielded the team 11-12 wins in 2006, at the very minimum.

Are changes necessary?
Not this season. Byron Leftwich is clearly the most talented quarterback on the roster, but next season is the final year on his contract. The team can't pay him big money if he isn't able to stay healthy. David Garrard showed this season that he is a solid backup, but his inability to go through his progressions, and his lack of respect for the football will keep him from ever being a full-time starter. Quinn Gray is the wild-card in all of this. Gray has a nice mixture of accuracy and mobility, with a big arm. Gray is very much unpolished, and will likely have a much tougher time if teams can game plan for him.

2006 Position Strength: 6/10
The Jaguars didn't ask their quarterbacks to win very many games in 2006, they just didn't want them to lose games by making poor decisions. That was the primary reason for the three game losing streak to end the season. They have three guys who are capable for short stretches, but they need Byron Leftwich to not only step up and claim the position, but stay healthy.

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