For the first time since 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars made the playoffs in 2017. They finished the season with the second-best defense in the league and adopted the name ‘Sacksonville’ during the season. Their defense only gave up a total of 4,578 years at the end of the season. They also gave up the least amount of passing yards in the entire league, totaling 2,719 yards. Opposing teams only averaged 169.9 passing yards per game against the 2017’s Jag’s defense.

The Jaguars were predicted to have a strong season two years ago in 2016 following a strong draft with selections like Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngkaoue. Unfortunately, it did not materialize and the Jaguars finished 3-13.

It was speculated that 2017 would be the Jaguars year for redemption after three disappointing seasons under former head coach Gus Bradley. Prior to 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars had only won a total of 14 games to 48 losses from 2013-2016.

A New Era

Former Buffalo Bills head coach, Doug Marrone, replaced Gus Bradley as head coach after the Jaguars reached a 2-12 record in 2016. During the 2017 offseason, former Jaguars and New York Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin, returned to the Jaguars to become the executive vice president.

It was clear from day one, with the return of Coughlin and Marrone as head coach that the culture of Jacksonville Jaguars was to be changed. Coughlin was the head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars between 1995-2002 and took the Jags to consecutive playoff appearances between 1996-1999.

During the off-season, prior to the 2017 season, the Jaguars signed multiple players during free agency. They brought in three-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell, who needs no introduction. In addition, they brought in former Houston Texans undrafted cornerback, A.J Bouye who was highly sought after by multiple teams concluding his 2016 season with 16 passes defended, one interception, 48 total tackles and one sack.

Lastly, the signing of former Dallas Cowboy safety, Barry Church, was intended to fill the void left at strong safety when Jonathan Cyprien departed for the Tennessee Titans. Church was to play alongside free safety 2014 Pro Bowler Tashaun Gipson – who was signed in the 2016 offseason.

It was evident that the Jaguars head office were looking to find the missing pieces to solidify the Jaguars defense, even though in 2016 the Jaguars defense finished sixth place in the league. However, some head offices prefer to focus on one aspect at a time. The Jaguars were smart with taking care of their defensive needs by moving middle linebacker, Paul Posluszny, to left outside linebacker, whilst former 2016 second round pick, Myles Jack could gain more reps as the middle linebacker. Both Posluszny and Jack had to switch and learn new positions, but one reason the switch was made was because Posluszny was considerably older than Jack. The 2013 Pro Bowler was set to turn 33 during the 2017 season so it made sense to move him to strong side linebacker.

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Andy Dalton face to face with ‘Sacksonville’ week 8

Jacksonville’s offense needed addressing too. The 2017 draft saw the Jaguars select LSU’s Consesus All American Award winner, running back Leonard Fournette. It was evident that the Jaguars wanted a strong feature back for the franchise to relieve some pressure of off quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles, who showed a glimmer of hope for the Jaguars in 2015 failed to repeat success in 2016, ending the season with a quarterback rating of only 42.8. Entering the 2017 season, Bortles was on a ‘prove it’ deal to show he could lead the team to victory. They brought in more protection for Bortles, by drafting offensive tackle, Cam Robinson.

The 2017 season saw the Jags shock the league after several miserable seasons. The defensive signings had evidently helped the team, ‘Sacksonville’ accumulated 55 sacks, 21 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles to end the regular season. They were number one in the league in rushing, totalling 2262 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. It is also important to note that they had the most rushing attempts in the league at 527, which clearly displays the team wanting to adopt a run heavy style offense. Blake Bortles, as a result, did not return back to his 2015 form exactly, but he did show much improvement after a controversial 2016 season and concluded the season with a career high of 55.8 QBR – the 12th highest QBR in 2017. When you pride yourself on the run game and rush 527 times during the regular season, it is unlikely for a quarterback to surpass 4,000 passing yards, which Bortles did back in 2015.

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Leonard Fournette laying a stiff arm on Steeler’s linebacker Bud Dupree

 

The Playoffs

After a 10-6 season, the Jaguars were off to a strong start during the playoffs. Ending the short lived joys of Buffalo Bills fan’s, cheering for their team who hadn’t made the playoffs since 1999 and upsetting the Pittsburgh Steeler’s. However, the Jacksonville Jaguar’s dreams of winning a SuperBowl were stopped short by the New England Patriots in the controversial AFC championship game. Some fans may dispute some of the calls made during the Jaguars and Patriots matchup, but if we learnt anything from SuperBowl 51 it is this:

You do not play conservative against the Patriots.

The Jags got off to a great start and maintained the lead throughout the first half. Despite this, the Jaguars decided to play conservative. The call to kneel the ball with 55 seconds left in the first half was a questionable call. The Jaguars could have potentially worked their way up for a field goal to give them a 17-10 lead.

Furthermore, the Jags called 15 rushing plays and averaged a total of 2.6 yards per carry during the second half. It was apparent that Jacksonville wanted to run down the clock by rushing the ball, nevertheless, it is important to play aggressive against the Patriots – as made evident by 2017 SuperBowl champions, Philadelphia Eagles. It is increasingly difficult to run down the clock when you are only averaging 2.6 YPC on the ground. However, Blake Bortles proved he can lead his team to success and had a strong post-season with zero interceptions.

It could be argued that Bortles didn’t have a great passing game against Bills in the wildcard matchup, nevertheless, he was clutch and scrambled to gain the yards instead when the Bills played man coverage, in order to keep the Jaguars playoff hopes alive.

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Blake Bortles scrambling in the wildcard matchup against the Buffalo Bills

 

The Future for the Jaguars

Now here comes the question. Can the Jaguars make the playoffs consecutively? I believe they can. The loss of both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns may hurt some fans, but both Dede Westbrook’s and Keelan Cole showed plenty of promise and potential last season at wide receiver. The Jaguars also signed offensive guard Andrew Norwell this off season, which provides Bortles with some solid protection. Norwell has not allowed a sack in his career as of yet.

The signing of tight end Austin Sefarian Jenkins should aid the Jaguar’s offense and relieve some stress of the wide receivers. Some fans may still be upset about Marcedes Lewis being cut, although Lewis was a more effective blocking TE, the Jaguars needed a pass catching tight end and Lewis is 34 years old. They also signed wide reciever Donte Moncrief, which may not make some fans particularly ecstatic, nonetheless it makes the Robinson and Hurns depature slightly more manageable.

Jacksonville also have a lethal  cornerback duo with Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye, who both made the Pro Bowl in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, AJ Bouye had a 26.0 passer rating, six interceptions and gave up zero touchdowns in the regular season last year. Jalen Ramsey had a 54.3 passer rating and four interceptions on the season.

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AJ Bouye (left) and Jalen Ramsey (right)

The Draft

The 2018 draft was fairly balanced for the Jaguars. Three defensive players, three offensive players and one special teams player were selected.

  • Round One, 29th Overall: Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Florida
  • Round Two, 61st Overall: DJ Chark, Wide Reciever, LSU
  • Round Three, 93rd Overall: Ronnie Harrison, Safety, Alabama
  • Round Four, 129th Overall: Will Richardson, Offensive Tackle, NC State
  • Round Six, 203rd Overall: Tanner Lee, Quarterback, Nebraska
  • Round Seven, 230th Overall: Leon Jacobs, Linebacker, Wisconsin
  • Round Seven, 247th Overall: Logan Cooke, Punter, Mississippi State

Bryan keeps the defensive line intact because both Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus are due $21.3 million combined in salary in 2019 (not guaranteed), according to ESPN. From this perspective, this pick makes sense because not all players can be paid their desired contracts. Plus, Bryan could learn a lot from Campbell and as an added bonus Bryan has shown versatility, being able to play inside and outside on the defensive line.

Chark will most likely be paired with Donte Moncrief because they both have speed. Chark ran a 4.34 in the 40 yard dash at the combine whilst Moncrief ran a 4.40. Both have shown effective run blocking skills, which helps the Jaguars run heavy offense. Although dealing with inconsistent quarterback play, DJ Chark managed to finish his three seasons at LSU with 66 catches, 1,351 yards and six touchdowns.

The selection of Harrison gives the Jaguars needed speed and youth at safety. Barry Church is currently 30 years old so this pick provides much needed depth. Harrison may even take the starter role depending on whether the Jaguars decide to move on from Barry Church or Tashaun Gipson. Both Church and Gipson combined hit $15.3 million against the salary cap in 2019 with $1.6 million in dead money. Harrison has been described as a hard hitter who can man up against tight ends and has shown effective run support and blitz skills, according to draft profiles.

What’s not to like about an offensive line draft pick? It might not be a pretty pick, but this provides Blake Bortles with some more protection. Will Richardson, despite off field issues back in 2015 and 2017, will compete with Jeremy Parnell for the starting spot at right tackle. In addition, Richardson has got the skill set to play offensive guard if need be. AJ Cann has not been consistent enough at right guard as of current, so Richardson could compete for that position too.

Before we talk about the selection of Tanner Lee. The Cleveland Browns traded former quarterback Cody Kessler for a 2019 conditional seventh round pick. Cody Kessler, despite only starting in 12 games for the Browns, maintained a 2:1 TD to INT ratio whilst being sacked on average twice a game. Kessler did suffer multiple concussions which kept him off the field, but he should make a good backup QB for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Many fans were still in two minds about Bortles being a starter and were hoping for a quarterback to be selected early rounds. Tanner Lee is a developmental quarterback and even though he threw a total of 46 TD’s overall for Nebraska, he is not expected to take over the starting spot any time soon.

As aforementioned, Bortles was on a ‘prove it’ deal and certainly deserved to keep his spot as the franchise QB. Hence, getting a three year extension on his contract worth $54 million. Bortles contract currently ranks 17th amongst other QBs in contract value.

The selection of Leon Jacobs makse sense due to the announcement of Paul Posluszny’s retirement in March. Much needed depth is needed and the competition between 2017 fifth round pick, Blair Brown, should help the Jaguars find Posluszny’s successor.

Logan Cooke was intended to keep the workload off Brad Nortman during OTA’s, mini camp and training camp. It is important to keep punters fresh, punters are people too.

The Verdict

To summarise, taking into account all the changes and the current state of the Jacksonville Jaguars, I predict they will go no higher than 11-5 with a serious shot at making it to the SuperBowl, in the 2018 season. One thing I hope for is that the Jaguars utilise running back Corey Grant more, who wreaked havoc against the Patriots and on special team trick plays this season. The Jaguars organisation will want to return to the same success they achieved from 1996-1999, the return of tradition.

 

(Cover Photo Source: footballscoop.com)

(Photo 1 Source: fivethirtyeight.com)

(Photo 2 Source: clutchpoints.com)

(Photo 3 Source: post-gazzette.com)

(Photo 4 Source: jaguarswire.usatoday.com)

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