JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It wasn't long after Maurice Jones-Drew's retirement announcement on Thursday evening that questions about whether he belongs in the team's Pride of the Jaguars -- its ring of honor -- began to pop up.
Of course he does.
He isn't the best player in franchise history -- that's either Jimmy Smith or Tony Boselli -- and he's not the leading rusher, either. That's Fred Taylor, who leads Jones-Drew 11,271 yards to 8,071 yards and arguably belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But for a three-year stretch, Jones-Drew was one of the best running backs in the NFL and carried the franchise on his back as its lone identifiable player.
Jones-Drew ran for 4,321 yards and 28 touchdowns from 2009 to '11, including an NFL-best 1,606 yards in 2011. That stretch coincided with the team's decision to part ways with Taylor and turn the offense over to Jones-Drew, the team's second-round pick in 2006. He pretty much carried the offense, and without a lot of help, either.
Certainly not at quarterback. David Garrard was solid in 2009 and threw for 3,597 yards and 15 touchdowns that season, but four quarterbacks combined to throw for 3,356 yards the following season. Jones-Drew also was burdened in 2011 with rookie Blaine Gabbert, one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.
The Jaguars won only 20 games from 2009 to '11, which some use as a criticism of Jones-Drew's impact on the team. However, the bottom line is that the Jaguars might not have won half that many were it not for one of the most physical runners in the NFL despite his size (5-foot-7, 205 pounds). Jones-Drew made the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons.
Jones-Drew’s complete on-field credentials certainly warrant his name emblazoned inside EverBank Field alongside Boselli, Mark Brunell, Taylor, Wayne and Delores Weaver. He owns franchise records for most touchdowns (81), rushing touchdowns (68), most rushing touchdowns in a single season (15 in 2009), consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (eight) and highest single-game per-rush average (11.1).
But his impact goes beyond his numbers. This is how he should be remembered whenever he's inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars:
Colts killer: Jones-Drew ran for more yards (1,451) against Indianapolis than any other opponent. The first two 100-yard games of his career came against the Colts (103 and 166 yards in 2006). The second meeting with the Colts that year was a 44-17 victory and the Jaguars ran for 375 yards against the NFL's worst rush defense. Jones-Drew ran for 166 yards and Taylor ran for 131.
Take a knee: Jones-Drew, acting on orders from coach Jack Del Rio, took a knee at the 1-yard line late in a 2009 game against the New York Jets. The touchdown would have put the Jaguars ahead 28-22 with 1:48 to play, but Del Rio was worried that left too much time for the Jets to answer. So he told Jones-Drew to get as close to the goal line as possible and take a knee. The Jaguars ran the clock down and Josh Scobee kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jaguars a 24-22 victory. "Sorry to my fantasy owners," Jones-Drew said after the game. "They told me to get as close as I can and take a knee."
Atop the NFL: Jones-Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011. When you consider what he had to overcome to do that, it's an even more impressive feat. Not only did he battle a knee issue throughout the season, he had to fight through eight-man fronts every week. The Jaguars had cut Garrard just days before the season began and Gabbert was forced into action before he was ready to play. Defenses ganged up to stop the run but still couldn't stop Jones-Drew, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Having fun: Jones-Drew clearly enjoyed himself on the field, especially when he scored. He came up with creative celebrations, such as mimicking taking money out of an ATM after scoring against Kansas City in 2007 (which earned him a $7,500 fine) and imitating LeBron James' pregame powder toss after a touchdown against Cleveland in 2011.
Blasted: Jones-Drew earned a reputation as one of the league's best backs at picking up the blitz. It began during his rookie season, when he destroyed former San Diego Chargers defensive end Shawne Merriman. The 5-foot-7 Jones-Drew pancaked the 6-foot-5, 272-pound Merriman on a play near the goal line during the Jaguars' 24-17 victory in 2007. Jones-Drew's block allowed Garrard to complete an easy touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis.