Bouncing Back: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars seem to be in that constant “rebuilding” phase. After seven wins in the past two seasons, it’s about time they used some of the promising building blocks that are in place to assemble some wins. So can they turn things around?

The Draft

Despite many excellent picks, the 2015 Jaguars’ draft class is facing an uphill battle to be considered successful. This is due to the fact that their first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. has already torn his ACL without playing a single down in the NFL. Hopefully he can still live up to the potential he clearly has, but he won’t have much of an influence on the 2015 season. On the other side of the ball, T.J Yeldon is primed to play a large role in the Jaguars’ backfield. The 2nd round selection out of Alabama, is believed to have already been earmarked as the potential workhorse back for this offense. While Denard Robinson could be effective as a change-of-pace back, the former “Offensive Weapon” showed last season that his production won’t hold up to a high number of carries week after week. 3rd round pick AJ Cann could start from day one. The rest of the draft brought them more potential starters, and DT Michael Bennett (6th round pick), was considered a potential 2nd rounder by many analysts. General manager David Caldwell seems to be getting the hang of this NFL Draft thing.

Free Agency

It’s difficult for teams like the Jaguars to be successful in free agency. The top free agents want to go to teams that win. Losing teams need to pay a premium if they want to swing a deal for one of these players. It’s a tax on losing games. This tax was surely a factor in the Jaguars missing out on Demarco Murray, and having to fork out over $20 million in guaranteed money to tie down Julius Thomas. Thomas was a touchdown machine in Denver, but this Jaguars offense is a totally different animal. He’ll be vital in turning around his new team’s dismal red zone numbers, and he’ll also play a big part in the development of Blake Bortles. They need him to be the same Julius Thomas we saw in Denver, but that’s no guarantee. Defensive end Jared Odrick, offensive tackle Jermey Parnell, and center Stefen Wisniewski were also solid additions, but they were forced to overpay.

The Competition

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they seem to be on the rise at the same time as almost everybody else in the AFC South. Unless Bortles miraculously becomes an elite passer in the next few seasons, it’s unlikely that they will finish above Andrew Luck’s Colts in the foreseeable future. The Texans are another team that will be tough to beat, if they can salvage consistent quarterback play from Brian Hoyer, or Ryan Mallett. The Titans shouldn’t pose much of a threat this season while Marcus Mariota adjusts to the NFL. They face a resurgent AFC East (Although as it stands they’ll be facing Jimmy Garoppolo in September instead of Tom Brady), and an NFC South that was historically bad last season. Most of their wins will still need to come from games against the Titans, and those against weak teams in other divisions.

The Good

  • Blake Bortles showed flashes of franchise quarterback play last season, and his passing mechanics are seemingly better than ever at OTAs after spending last season getting beaten up behind a shaky offensive line.
  • A strong core of young players should set the Jaguars up for a bright future. They have a young stable of pass-catchers, and the last couple of drafts under David Caldwell should give Jaguars fans some hope.
  • The defensive line should remain one of their largest strengths, despite the loss of Dante Fowler Jr.
  • They’re getting back an experienced defensive leader in the form of Paul Posluszny.

The Bad

  • The offensive line was among the worst in the league last season, particularly in pass protection. The new additions to the roster need to make an instant impact if they want Bortles to survive a second season in this league with all his internal organs intact.
  • The Jaguars secondary only had 3 interceptions last season. The additions of Davin House, and Sergio Brown, might help in some way, but the development of the young secondary from last season is the real key to improving these numbers.
  • The youth of this roster is a double-edged sword. The future does indeed look bright, but this roster just isn’t ready to compete at the highest level right now.
  • Their helmets are still two-tone abominations.

The Verdict

Taking these factors into account, it’s easy to see these Jaguars taking a step forward this season. However, the playoffs will almost certainly be out of reach for the eighth season in a row. Getting double their number of wins from last season is a reasonable expectation for this team. Playoff hopes should become more concrete in 2016.

Predicted Record: 6-10