The Jaguars had a run from week 7-11 in which they went 3-1 and a lot of people began jumping on the Jaguar bandwagon. Unfortunately when looking deeper, wins over the Titans, Ravens and an EJ Manuel led Bills are not as impressive as some may have thought, and sandwiching that 3-1 run around a 1-5 start and a 1-5 finish shows you truly what the Jaguars were. This was a team that struggled, mainly defensively but still has a bit of a search to find their true identity in year three of the Gus Bradley/Blake Bortles marriage. Their most impressive win came during that 3-1 span when they beat the Baltimore Ravens on the road in comeback fashion. The lowest and true sinking point came the week after the 3-1 run when they were six point favorites at home to the all but dead San Diego Chargers and lost at home getting absolutely torched by Phillip Rivers to fall back to 4-7.
The Jaguars are playing this right by not folding under the pressure of winning, and not seeing their coaches plan the whole way through. That said, Gus Bradley is now 12-36 as a head coach, and while it has been a rebuild for Bradley results may have to come at some point. Greg Olson in his first season as offensive coordinator saw his offense spike from the 31st most efficient unit and took them to the 21st ranked. It isn’t a job well done yet, and is a small step, but it is safe to say Olson wasn’t the major problem this season. Bob Babich and his defense was a major problem. While they drafted Dante Fowler in the top five to help the defense, and he gave all of nothing this season, it still is not an excuse to let the defense unravel and completely be incompetent. Bradley is a defensive coach and deserves some blame as well, but Babich was relieved of his duties and defensive coordinator will be the first thing this team needs to look at.
A lot of fantasy football players seem to have seen the Jaguars uptick in offense as an indictment of Blake Bortles. While Bortles has made some dynamic plays to account for 35 touchdowns and still has plenty of time to learn, there is still a lot to suggest that he hasn’t made significant steps forward. He still turns the ball over at an alarming rate and led the league in interceptions with 18. He also seems to just have the ball slip out of his hands with 14 fumbles this season. Bortles was also sacked 3.9 times per game, which was the 29th best mark in the league. He seems to always be rushing or his mind is racing but he really has most of the physical tools. There is no doubt Bortles will start the next two years, and Chad Henne seems fine as the backup and will know the playbook. The question is can he mentally make the jump into being a solid NFL quarterback?
Running Back Play
The offensive line still does need touching up and the run game wasn’t exactly where it needs to be, but the Jaguars have to be okay having drafted TJ Yeldon in the second round last year. For a rookie he was above average in pass protection, and that will keep him in the NFL for a while. As a runner he had his ups and downs, but showed versatility, and ability to catch and he should be the Jags running back moving forward. Dennard Robinson is another guy who should be back and fits into a role that may have the Jaguars extending him. With those two they really just need a goal line type of back as a third guy that could be addressed late in the draft or via free agency.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The biggest reason in which I feel Bortles is being overrated is due to his talented receiving core. Allen Robinson leads the league in touchdowns and plays over 20 yards. Bortles does help in that he is a gunslinger and he will throw the ball out there for his players to get. Allen Robinson with a size, speed, and footwork package should be a threat for years to come, especially with fellow Allen, Hurns. Hurns was a bit banged up through the year but managed 16.1 yards per catch and caught 10 touchdowns. Both have size and you can argue that Hurns is an even better deep threat and when you realize Robinson is only 22 and Hurns is 24 it can be a very exciting aspect for the Jaguars. Not to mention the team has both Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene who were drafted in the last two years and can serve as slot options. It is almost the perfect compliment of weapons on paper.
The Jaguars 3-1 stretch earlier also coincided with Julius Thomas’ second game back from injury. Thomas had a relatively quiet year as a pass catcher but did have a four game touch down streak. He may not have been worth the money especially because he isn’t a great blocker, but he will be back, hopefully healthy and with the young nucleus.
The Jaguars offensive line isn’t the most impressive of groups in the league, but on the whole it can be a lot worse. The biggest problem however may be the most important position, and may be the last indictment of the last regime in Jacksonville. Luke Joeckel is certainly a bust at this point, and for a former top two pick, if he played a more prominent position the media would be blasting him. As a 2013 first round pick he has one more year on his contract, and due to the Jaguars having more pressing needs you could plan to see him back in the starting lineup. One thing in which they will not be doing this off-season is extending him. They may want to spend some money extending Stefan Wisniewski this offseason, however. Wisniewski started all 16 games for the Jaguars at center, and while he wasn’t quite a pro bowl player, he is solid at the position, and certainly can hold it down well enough to look to the 26 year old towards the future. At guard, the Jags got solid play from rookie AJ Cann, as well as free agent acquisition Zane Beadles. Bringing both back as well as interior lineman Luke Bowanko makes the interior a group of little need. Jeremy Parnell is signed on for the next few years and really had no problem at right tackle. It really makes one position on the line a need, and it could come via the draft to get young talent in for competition this year, in the hopes that either the rookie or Joeckel will prove worthy to start in two years.
It is tough to get too bent out of shape, when the defenses best player, Sen’Derrick Marks only played in four games (Jaguars went 2-2). Still, Bradley and the rest of the returning front office will learn that signing a group of veteran defensive ends isn’t the way to turn the ship around over night. Between Chris Clemmons, Andre Branch and Jarad Odrick none had seasons to write home about, and of the three only Odrick is guaranteed to be returning. Clemmons at 34 has no guaranteed money due and he will almost certainly be cut by the end of the season after two disappointing seasons. Branch is only 27 and with four sacks last year, he isn’t awful as a depth piece but it is sure the team will need to bolster the pass rush this year. Most saw rookie Dante Fowler as a 4-3 defensive end, so in this scheme he will have to slot in as the starter on his new ACL. It brings a lot of pressure to Fowler next year, but at the same time relieves pressure to take another pass rusher in the top five this year. On the interior, the return of Marks could be more valuable than Fowler, and with Rory Miller, and Tyson Alualu running the system for the past three years, those three interior linemen should look similar in training camp this summer.
A personal pre draft favorite, Telvin Smith has truly proven he can play in the NFL and he does so at a high level. He is almost always on the screen when the person with the ball is tackled. Whether it is near him, or he was twenty yards away just getting to the action his ball instincts, and football speed are impressive to say the least. Only in his second year, I would expect him in the Jaguar line backing core for years to come. While Smith is now the most talented backer, Paul Posluzny is still the leader at age 31. He isn’t an elite athlete any more, but football savvy and being in the right spot are two things he can do better than almost anyone. He is only signed for two more years, and may be well past his prime by then, but for the immediate future 2/3 of the linebacker group is locked down. Hayes Pullard is a name to watch for emergence next season, and Dan Skuta will start opposite of Smith. It leaves depth as a lower need, but still the linebacker position could use a bit of refining on the back end, especially if they do not believe Pullard can eventually take over for Posluszny,
The pass rush obviously wasn’t there without Marks and Fowler, however the secondary play is by far the biggest problem with the Jaguars. Davon House is the only player locked down, and he just cannot be your top corner. He doesn’t have the skill to man up all the time, and with little behind him he spent a lot of time trying to live up to mismatches. The rest of the roster is bare with youth or talent and in a draft where secondary help may be plentiful the question becomes is it a reach to take a stud in the top five. I would assume that is probably the direction the Jaguars go here. At safety, Jonathan Cyrprien is a good in the box guy, and Sergio Brown is signed in at free safety, but an upgrade wouldn’t be a big shock at the free safety position.
Where do they go?
Gus Bradley, former defensive coordinator needs to get his defense in place. Sure, losses to Fowler and Marks will hurt, but this defense was flat out embarrassing at times. Aside from that left tackle will need to be addressed at some point. If Marks and Fowler can be healthy, they add some depth up front, and talent in the back this team should be competitive in 2016. That will leave Borltes with no excuses, and year three for Bortles is probably just as important as year four under Bradley.