It has been a long time since the Jacksonville Jaguars approached even an average regular season record (2010). It’s even longer since they made the playoffs (2007). In short, the Jaguars have been bad for a long time. But all of that could be about to change. After having high picks for years the Jaguars could finally be about to turn the corner and become a respectable, and potentially feared, team. Only if that young talent works out of course. We already know they’ve had injury issues when it comes to young players. Their 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler Jr missed his entire rookie year after tearing his ACL in OTA’s. This year’s top pick Jalen Ramsey tore his meniscus in a similar incident. It has been far from smooth sailing for them. However Ramsey is expected back before the season starts, and Dante Fowler is looking every bit the QB nightmare the Jags drafted him to be in OTA’s this season. The progress of the team depends on him, and the other young stars, to become leading players in the league. Let’s take a look at who could be pulling the Jaguars back into contention:
Blake Bortles & the Allen twins
Every offense runs through the quarterback, and Jacksonville seem to have found themselves one as well as a pair of receivers with which to torment opponents. Bortles threw 4,428 yards last season (his second in the league) with 35 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. You’d like to see that interception number come down a bit in his third season, but given the fact that he threw 606 passes last year and spent a lot of the season behind on the scoreboard needing to catch up it’s not a terrible total. It is actually an improvement, percentage-wise, over his rookie year. Joining Bortles are a pair of receivers from the same draft class. Allen Robinson and then newly extended Allen Hurns caught 2,431 yards & 24 of Bortles’ touchdowns. Robinson in particular was a monster last season, logging 3 games with over 150 yards receiving. Together they give Bortles a nice blend of deep and underneath targets. They’re not Randy Moss & Wes Welker from 2007 but they can give defensive coordinators nightmares when in rhythm.
A big part of the Jaguars struggles in recent years has been their terrible defense. Improving that was one of the main reasons Gus Bradley was hired in 2013. It has been slow going for him but recent draft classes have been focused on improving the defense as a whole. As a result there is a whole raft of young talent on that side of the ball. From Jonathan Cyprien at safety trough Jalen Ramsey to Telvin Smith and Myles Jack and then Dante Fowler, this defense is stacked with players aged 25 or younger who should only get better over the next few years. That collection of talent is focused very carefully around defending the pass. From the outright edge rush of Fowler to the blitz/cover potential of Jack and Smith and the incredible range of Ramsey, it’s all designed to make life horrible for opposing quarterbacks – and it almost certainly will.
Of course no team is perfect. Jacksonville have their weaknesses, specifically up front on offense. The offensive line is very poor. The one young player who hasn’t worked out is Luke Joeckel, the left tackle they drafted 2nd overall in 2013. As a result their ability to protect Blake Bortles has been compromised and the quarterback has eaten over 100 sacks in his 2 years. Of course that number isn’t helped by playing against JJ Watt twice a year, but that’s a huge amount for a developing quarterback to be hit. The free agent signing of Chris Ivory will help the run game, which might take some pressure off of the passing attack. If the defense can step up and keep Jacksonville in games then they won’t have to force deep passes as often as previously but it’s still going to be dangerous for Bortles to hang onto the ball.