When football fans think of Jacksonville, they think of a city starved for success and for good reason. But it wasn’t always that way. The Jaguars don’t have the storied-success of the Packers or Cowboys, or the present-day dominance of the Patriots or Seahawks, but for a team established in 1995, they have a history to be proud of. It takes a great franchise to make the AFC Championship game twice in its first four years. And while inaugural head coach Tom Coughlin and his successor, Jack Del Rio deserve a great deal of credit lets look at the players who helped make it all happen.
Here is the list of the Top 10 Jaguars players in franchise history:
1. Tony Boselli
The original Jaguar – No. 2 overall pick in 1995 – Tony Boselli enjoyed seven great seasons in Jacksonville after an illustrious career in college. The former USC Trojan earned five straight trips to the Pro Bowl (1996-2000), including three first-team nods, while starting 90-career games at left tackle for the Jaguars. At 6-foot-7, Boselli was the ultimate bodyguard for quarterback Mark Brunell and set the stage for a successful offense through the late 1990s. Many experts would consider him one of the all-time great offensive linemen in NFL history, and those in Jacksonville unanimously agree that he was not only the best lineman, but overall player, in Jaguar history.
2. Fred Taylor
Over 11 seasons in Jacksonville, Fred Taylor rushed for 11,271 yards and 62 touchdowns. He added another 2,361 yards and eight scores through the air, becoming one of the most dynamic, dual-threat running backs of his time. The former Florida Gator star, selected No. 9 overall in the 1998 draft, didn’t take long to make his presence felt on the Jaguars, rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie while leading the team to their second AFC Championship game in four years. Taylor would go on to record six more 1,000-yard seasons, only failing to reach the mark during years he spent at least six games out with an injury. The 6-foot-1 running back, who currently ranks as the 16th leading rusher in NFL history and first in Jaguars’ history, exceeded high expectations in Jacksonville and will always be remembered as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew
The passing of the torch in the Jaguars’ backfield was a swift transition, as Maurice Jones-Drew hit the scene in coordination with Fred Taylor hitting the twilight of his career. After three seasons of sharing the backfield and eclipsing the 700-yard mark all three times, Jones Drew was ready to be the Jaguars bell-cow – the heart and soul of their offense. Taylor departed after the 2008 season, giving way to the former second-round pick out of UCLA to have three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons to add to his already impressive receiving resume. A jack-of-all-trades running back, MJD caught at least 30 passes a year from 2006-2011, adding at least another 300 yards to his season-total in yards from scrimmage. At 5-foot-7, Jones Drew defied all odds for undersized running backs and solidified his status as an elite ball-carrier during the prime of his eight-year career in Jacksonville. From 2006-2013, he rushed for 8,071 yards, including the rushing title in 2011, while adding another 2,873 through the air on 335 receptions. The three-time Pro Bowler was undoubtedly the face of the franchise for a five-year period and will always have a spot in the hearts of Jacksonville fans.
4. Mark Brunell
The franchise’s inaugural quarterback is still the undisputed greatest signal-caller in the Jaguars’ history. From 1995-2002, Mark Brunell made three Pro Bowls and finished his career in Jacksonville as the team’s all-time leading passer, with 25,698 yards. In addition, he still holds every record for a Jaguars’ quarterback. With the dynamic wide receiver duo of Jimmy Smith and Kennan McCardell at his disposal in the late ‘90s, Brunell thrived in head coach Tom Coughlin’s offense and led an impressive entrance into the NFL for the Jaguars. His eight-year run, which included two AFC Championship appearances, will go down as some of the best years of football in North Florida.
5. Jimmy Smith
Once considered a second-round bust after injuries ended a two-year stint with the Cowboys, Jimmy Smith revived his career in Jacksonville and then some. From 1995-2005, the 6-foot-1 receiver had nine 1,000-yard seasons and holds nearly every record for Jacksonville wide receivers, including yards, touchdowns and receptions. Combined with Keenan McCardell, the Jags had arguably the most lethal receiving corps in the NFL – one that paved the way for two AFC Championships and a combined six Pro Bowls. Smith contributed with five. It’s taken the Jaguars over a decade to recapture that magic at the receiver position – three first-round busts since 2005 – and while Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have shown promise, they still have a long way to go before reaching Smith & McCardell-status.
6. Keenan McCardell
Naturally, Keenan McCardell is next on the list. The speedy wideout played Robin to Jimmy Smith’s Batman in Jacksonville for six seasons, as the duo became known around the league as “Thunder and Lightning.” A journeyman throughout his career – played for six teams over a 17-year span – McCardell, aka “Lightning”, was best known for his time in Jacksonville, recording four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and earning a Pro Bowl nod in 1996. He finished his time as a Jaguar with 499 receptions for 6,393 yards 30 touchdowns. So while he won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in 2002 and came back as a WR coach from 2010-2012 on his original team, Washington, Jacksonville can still claim one of the 1990’s most electric receivers as its own.
7. Marcus Stroud
In the early 2000’s, Marcus Stroud dominated. A first-round pick in 2001 – and one of the most highly-touted defensive tackles to enter the draft – Stroud played in every game through his first five years and earned trips to the Pro Bowl from 2003-2005. During seven seasons in Jacksonville (2001-2007), the former Georgia Bulldog tallied 22 sacks and 256 tackles. Along with John Henderson, an honorable mention on the list, the interior tackles formed an immovable defensive front for the Jaguars. Stroud’s on-field career and work in the community make him a sure-fire Top 10 player in franchise history.
8. Rashean Mathis
Jacksonville native Rashean Mathis is the best cornerback to put on the black and gold helmet. Drafted in the second round out of Bethune-Cookman in 2003, the 6-foot-1 defensive back played 10 years for his hometown team and established himself as one of the top corners of the 2000 decade. His 30 interceptions are still a team record, as are his 99 pass breakups and three defensive touchdowns. While Mathis often failed to gain league-wide recognition – which was largely due to playing in a small market – he finally earned his long-overdue trip to Hawaii in 2006, following an eight-interception season. A well-rounded and physical player, Mathis also finished his time in Jacksonville with 533 tackles, an especially impressive mark for a cornerback. Like their history at wide receiver since the days of Smith and McCardell, the Jags haven’t quite found the heir to Mathis yet in the secondary. Stay tuned for 2016, though, as first-round pick Jalen Ramsey looks to start a new day.
9. Daryl Smith
Currently a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Daryl Smith is the only active player on the list. The 6-foot-2 linebacker enjoyed three great seasons in Baltimore, including a Super Bowl in 2012, but it all started in Jacksonville. Smith thrived under head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Mike Smith from 2004-2011, overcoming injuries (missed only four games in eight years) to remain the driving force in the middle of the Jags defense. Before moving on to the Ravens, Smith finished his career in Jacksonville with 22.5 sacks, 537 tackles and 36 pass deflections. His value and impact on the Jaguars was validated even more this offseason, when Mike Smith, now the Bucs defensive coordinator, sought to reunite with his former outside linebacker in Tampa Bay eight years after they first split ways.
10. Tony Brackens
Unlike all others on the list except Tony Boselli, Tony Brackens played his entire, nine-year career in Jacksonville (Maybe it’s a Tony thing). A star defensive end at Texas, Brackens was taken in the second-round in 1996 and continued his success at the NFL level. He finished his career with 55 sacks and 28 forced fumbles, both Jaguar records, in addition to 353 tackles. In 1999, Brackens hit his peak, recording 12 sacks and forcing eight fumbles, en route to his first and only Pro Bowl. While his career ended with injuries – and a nationally broadcasted release on HBO’s Hard Knocks –Brackens made his mark in Jacksonville as one of the most fierce defensive ends in franchise history.
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