Free agent additions: RB Chris Ivory, OT Kelvin Beachum, OT Jeff Linkenbach, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, DE/DT Malik Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, S Tashaun Gipson, P Brad Nortman
Free agent departures: RB Toby Gerhart, G Zane Beadles, C Stefen Wisniewski, DE Chris Clemons, S Sergio Brown, P Bryan Anger
Early Draft selections: CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Myles Jack, DE/OLB Yannick Ngakoue, DT Sheldon Day
Offense: The Jaguars only won 5 games last season, but they had to be very pleased anyway. Why? QB Blake Bortles took a big step forward in throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. He’ll have to cut down on his interceptions (18) and improve his accuracy (58.6 completion percentage), but those will get better with a better offensive line, running game, and secondary (so he doesn’t have to throw as much), all of which were areas of emphasis this offseason.
In the running game, the Jaguars already have TJ Yeldon (740 yards) and Denard Robinson (266 yards), but they felt the need to throw $32.5M at Chris Ivory from the Jets. After Ivory and his agent quit laughing maniacally, they signed the contract in about 0.1 seconds. Ivory isn’t a bad running back, but does a 28 year old running back who ran for 1,070 yards last year deserve that? Absolutely not. Ivory runs hard, but he lost some steam down the stretch last year after a strong start. Perhaps having TJ Yeldon around to spell him will keep him fresh as the season goes along.
Funny story, Denard Robinson was found asleep in a sinking vehicle at 4:20 AM recently, but he wasn’t drunk or high according to authorities. Hmmmm……..
In the receiving game, the Jaguars have two young wideouts in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Robinson has turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL, catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. That was only his second season so he could get even better. Hurns is no slouch himself, catching 63 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Jaguars are lucky to have them. TE Julius Thomas was their big name acquisition last offseason, and he was a disappointment with only 455 receiving yards in 12 games. Maybe an injured hand bothered him, but there will be no more excuses for him this year.
The offensive line is the weak point of the Jaguar offense. Luke Joeckel has been a huge bust so far as a former #2 overall pick. He’s still on the roster, but he will be replaced at left tackle by Kelvin Beachum, who was too expensive for the Steelers to keep. Perhaps Joeckel will move to left guard, but the Jaguars signed Mackenzy Bernadeau away from the Cowboys, and he plays that position as well. The rest of the line is comprised of Brandon Linder (center, moving from guard), AJ Cann (RG, need to improve from rookie year), and Jeremy Parnell (RT, not very good).
Defense: The Jaguars defense allowed 28 points per game last year, so major upgrades were needed, and subsequently, obtained. The big name is Malik Jackson, who signed a 5-year, $90M contract after winning the Super Bowl with the Broncos. Obviously, the Jaguars overpaid, but Jackson will provide a boost in both the run game and pass rush. Another boost to the pass rush will be the debut of 2015 #3 pick Dante Fowler Jr., who missed all of last season with an injury. At defensive tackle, the Jaguars have Roy Miller (great at stuffing the run), Sen’Derrick Marks (great at rushing the passer), and Jared Odrick (good at both). The Jaguars were actually pretty good against the run last year (3.7 yards per rush allowed).
At linebacker, the Jaguars caught the steal of the draft when Myles Jack fell to them in the second round. Teams had major questions about Jack’s knee, but he is already practicing. That’s good news, as the Jaguars could really use his coverage skills from the linebacker spot. Paul Posluszny is currently a big liability and I’m sure the Jaguars are hoping that Jack replaces him as soon as week 1. The other linebackers are Dan Skuta, and Telvin Smith, who both aren’t anything to brag about.
The secondary was their main weakness last year. To fix it, the Jaguars drafted Jalen Ramsey at #5 overall, signed CB Prince Amukamara, and signed S Tashaun Gipson. Ramsey hasn’t practiced yet, but should be ready for training camp. Regardless, he will start right away at outside corner. Right now, Amukamara is projected to start at slot corner. He is a good player when healthy but he has missed 13 games the last 2 seasons. Gipson is a very good safety whose skills should improve the play of Jonathan Cyprien, Jacksonville’s other starting safety. The Jaguars only recorded 9 interceptions last year, a number that will almost surely improve this year.
Special teams, schedule, and intangibles: The Jaguars have been very bad the last 4 years and have an 8-23 home record to show for it. I don’t think the new pool has been helping. The potential for a homefield advantage is there however. They had an 83-53 record from 1995 – 2011.
The Jaguars traded longtime kicker Josh Scobee to the Steelers last year and let Jason Myers handle the placekicking duties. Myers went 26-30, but missed a laughable number of PATs (7!).
Last year’s punter, Bryan Anger (a former third round pick lol) has been replaced by Brad Nortman, who was 17th in net punting average last year.
Jacksonville’s return and coverage units were about even last year, but the Jaguars were able to take a punt back to the house themselves.
The Jaguars really don’t have any easy games. Week 1 is at home against the Packers, so that new-look secondary will be tested quickly. Their non-divisional games: vs. Packers, @ Chargers, vs. Ravens, @ Bears, vs. Raiders, @ Chiefs, @ Lions, @ Bills, vs. Broncos, vs. Vikings. 5-5 would be an achievement I think. 3 wins in their division would also be an achievement. I think the Texans are going to dominate this year, while the Colts and Titans will both be better.
Position Ratings (out of 5 stars):
Summary: The Jaguars hit rock bottom (and stayed a bit) after years of poor drafts (Blaine Gabbert over JJ Watt) and talent-starved rosters. No more. There is something to be excited about in Jacksonville now with a good young QB, 2 electric receivers, and an improving defense. Depending on how the season plays out, they may have a shot at the playoffs, but I think they are still a year away from making it.
Prediction: 8-8 (3rd AFC South)