In our continuing look at the last 20 years of the Jaguars in town, this week in honor of Blake Bortles first start, as a rookie, we’re looking at the Top 20 Impact Rookies in Jaguars history. This list actually comes in three parts: The top few are players who were strong as rookies and continued their career as standouts for the Jaguars. The middle is players who had solid if unspectacular careers in Jacksonville but were in the lineup from Day One. And the third group is guys who were in the lineup as rookies and never fulfilled the promise they showed in their first year or just never made it here or anywhere else.
Our top rookie could be debated for the brevity of his career but Tony Boselli is number one on our list. He missed the first two games of his rookie season, and didn’t start in game three but once he got in the lineup, he was a stalwart and dominant from his left tackle position. I mentioned to Tony on our pregame show last week that he “was the best offensive lineman for five years of his career,” to which he responded (playfully I hope), “What, my first year doesn’t count.” Boselli was not only the best player at his position; he was the best player on the Jaguars and the best offensive lineman in the game. On his way to a Hall of Fame career, only injury cut that path short, starting with his rookie year. That’s why he’s our #1.
In our second spot, Fred Taylor easily fits the description of a rookie who was in the lineup and fulfilled most of the promise he showed during his first year in the NFL. Taylor started 12 games, had more than 1,600 total yards and scored 17 TD’s as a rookie.
Third on the list is Blake Bortles. How can Bortles be on the list when he’s only played 30 minutes of football for the Jaguars? Because he’s given hope to a franchise that’s been downtrodden for nearly a decade. He has an “it” factor that hasn’t been seen around here in a while. Bortles has created a buzz unlike any for a rookie in recent memory. He might do nothing. He might go to the Hall of Fame. But right here, right now as a rookie, he’s on the list.
Fourth on the list is the player who I think should be next in the Pride of the Jaguars, Brad Meester. Meester started at guard as a rookie and never left the lineup. He’s the guy who it seemed every year the Jaguars were talking about replacing, but never could. Too valuable, too talented, too smart, too durable. Meester makes the list and should be on the wall of the stadium soon.
Fifth and sixth are kickers, Mike Hollis and Josh Scobee. There’s a thought in the NFL that your kicker should be good enough to neutralize the opposing kicker and clutch enough to win the game for you at the end. Hollis and Scobee fit that description and more and have done that since their rookie seasons. The both started as rookies, kept the job, excelled and have had long careers in Jaguars uniforms.
Rashean Mathis is 7th on our list. He came in as a 2nd round pick out of BCC, started immediately and you knew you could pencil his name in there every week. That’s why Derek Cox is 8th. Same thing. Started as a rookie, never had to worry about him, although his career here was shorter than expected.
We liked James Stewart in the 9th spot. As a rookie in 1995, Stewart was the back Coach Tom Coughlin was looking for when it came to running, catching and durability. Stewart perhaps never got the credit he deserved from Jacksonville fans, but was certainly an impact rookie.
In the 10th position we have Marcus Stroud. Played and started as a rookie, had most of his best years in Jacksonville and has an easy position on this list. Same with John Henderson at eleven. Rookie impact, solid career, Henderson and Stroud will always be linked in their Jaguars history.
You could easily make an argument that Daryl Smith should be higher than 12th on this list and you probably could convince us. Smith came in as a rookie and started and stayed there. Still the most underrated player in Jaguars history.
Thirteenth is Vince Manuai. Drafted out of the University of Hawaii to be plugged into the starting lineup, he didn’t disappoint. Manuai started as a rookie and held his position in a fashion that never gave the coaches any worry.
Fourteen is Eugene Monroe. Drafted as the starting left tackle, he stepped in there and developed into the Jaguars best player in some lean years. He might have his best years in Baltimore, that’s why he’s in our second ten.
And this is where it starts to get a little strange. Fifteen is Kevin Hardy. Second player picked overall, he had impact as a rookie but never fulfilled the promise of his talent. For whatever reason, he never got there. Sixteen and 17 are two guys who were drafted to be plugged into the lineup as starters and did just that as rookies, and struggled the rest of the way. Brian DeMarco was supposed to be the other bookend to Tony Boselli but despite all of his starts as a rookie, he never played any better. And Eben Britton was supposed to be the bookend to Eugene Monroe, but injuries and whatever ended his stay in Jacksonville early.
Eighteen is Renaldo Wynn. A first round pick, Wynn had a solid if unspectacular career in Jacksonville. A starter as a rookie, he continued his career in Washington in the same fashion.
Byron Leftwich is nineteenth on our list. Thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie, he looked the part of a long-term solution at QB. But he never developed into the player they were hoping for, but certainly had an impact.
And 20th, is Terrance Knighton. A starter as a rookie, he could have easily played his whole career in Jacksonville but coaching changes and a change in scheme have put him in Denver.
There’s a whole other list of guys who were “impactful” as rookies but had virtually no career here in town. Rob Johnson didn’t play much as a rookie but turned into Fred Taylor when the Jaguars traded for him. Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey, Quinton Groves and Justin Blackmon qualify as impactful rookies who’s career’s never went anywhere in Jacksonville.
Blaine Gabbert could have been anywhere on the list as an “impactful” player since the team pinned their hopes on him and he flamed out. So in terms of negative impact, he might be number one.
Here are other rookies who played, had an impact, but didn’t make the top 20:
- Pete Mitchell
- Willie Jackson
- Bryan Schwartz
- Aaron Beasley
- Donovin Darius
- Fernando Bryant
- Micah Ross (the first JU player on the Jaguars roster)
- Mike Pearson and
- Tyson Alualu
And who knows where these guys might end up but all have contributed as rookies.
- Jonathan Cyprien
- Luke Joeckel
- Denard Robinson
- Ace Sanders
- Luke Bowanko
- Allen Hurns
- Brandon Linder
- Allen Robinson
Did we miss somebody? Let us know your thoughts on twitter with the hashtag #jagstop20 or @sports4jax.
We’ll reveal your thoughts on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.