By Jim Green
We thought we’d mix it up this time around and look at a team that’s having a rather good year, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the more recent years, the Jaguars have consistently found themselves in the bottom half of the league. They’ve consistently had high draft picks and lots of cap space to bring in some big names but often, it’s not really worked out for them. That is until 2017 when things finally seem to be coming together.
During 2016, Shad Khan got rid of head coach Gus Bradley and replaced him with Doug Marrone who went on to become a permanent fixture. Khan also bought in former head coach and two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. A rather grandiose title for what many consider to be ‘Coaching Overlord’. Many thought it would undermine Marrone, but so far all seems to be going well.
Whilst they are doing well few would bet on them winning the Super Bowl. This is despite them having a league leading defence and a solid running game – ingredients that have seen lesser teams win the whole thing. So why is that? And what’s next for the Jaguars?
There have been many a debate about this both on the BBW podcast and within our fantasy league Whatsapp group. Is Blake Bortles good enough to lead a team to win the Super Bowl? In my view, on his day, he is. I’ve watched him in a couple of games this season (vs the Ravens at Wembley and vs the Seahawks last week) and he’s thrown with precision and purpose. In neither of those games did he throw an interception and in both he didn’t put his team in trouble. That’s one side of him.
The problem is that there’s another side of him which we’re all too familiar with. And that’s the Blake Bortles who throws bloody stupid interceptions and lets his team down by giving the ball away. It’s this side of him that has people doubting him and started many a rumour about Eli Manning being traded to Jacksonville before the trade deadline earlier this year (again, something we’ve also argued about!).
Ok, so is he that bad? Or is just bad press?
So far, this season, his completion rate is at it’s highest it’s ever been (60%), though since he came into the league he’s remained steady at 59% each year. What has increased since last year is the number of TDs he’s thrown per attempt which in 2017 currently stands at 3.9% vs 3.7% last year. It was at it’s highest in 2015 when it stood at 5.8% – a season in which he threw 35 TDs (he’s currently on par to throw 19 this year).
What about those pesky interceptions? Well, every year since he’s been in the league the rate at which he’s thrown interceptions has decreased. Currently it’s at 2% (interceptions over pass attempts) which is down from 2.6% last year (3% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2014). He’s also taking less sacks, again the rate is dropping every year he’s been in the league. All this points to him getting better every year. When you take all of this into account, should the Jaguars move on? I would suggest not.
Bortles has undoubtedly benefitted this year from a much-improved running game led by rookie Leonard Fournette. This has taken the pressure off him as he doesn’t have to throw the ball as much. The defence has also helped. With the team not having to chase games as much as the defence stopping the opposing team from scoring Bortles can relax a bit, lean on a running game and get the job done, in his own time.
Despite all that, there is the very real prospect of the Jaguars moving on from Bortles. Should they decide to do this then I would expect them to look at acquiring a new quarterback via a trade or free agency. I see no reason for them to take a new quarterback in the draft for that would be a step backwards for the organisation. They’re also likely to be picking too high to be able to draft one of the top prospects coming out of college next year.
Kirk Cousins is one name which keeps springing up and his future will depend on what the Redskins do about his contract. The Jags have a decent amount of cap space so could step in and pay for it in their stead. The other name that intrigues me is Andrew Luck. There’s been rumours he’s not happy with the Colts and wants to play with a contending team. I think it would have to be a massive price to pay for the Jags to tempt the Colts to let Luck go to a division rival but the brass in Jacksonville are just crazy enough to pull the trigger on a move.
Finally, there’s Eli Manning. There’s the obvious connection with Tom Coughlin but as it stands I really don’t see this as an upgrade and as such I now can’t see it happening.
Whoever the quarterback is going to be he’s going to need more weapons if the team are expecting to get more out of their attack. Of course, in 2018, Allen Robinson should return from the injury that ruled him out of the 2017 season. In the past, Allen Hurns has showed flashes of potential, but he’s not really done it every week. Marquis Lee is another that has had one or two good outings but again, there’s a lack of consistency.
With that in mind, I would be looking to strengthen the wide receiver corps with some new blood, ideally from the draft on the basis that with the two Allens, there should be enough experience. Both those players are a decent size, have pace and on their day, can be a terror for any cornerback running the deep corner or post routes. This is set up perfectly by having the strong running game which they can use to run play action schemes off.
If it were me going in to the draft, I would be looking for a big target to run the crossing routes with strength. This could be either another strong wide receiver or a tight end. Mercedes Lewis has had a few good games but there’s no doubt a new weapon here would go down well with Bortles (or whoever is at QB!).
Should they go down this route two names spring to mind when considering a first-round pick. The first is Hayden Hurst, the tight end out of South Carolina. At 6’5” and 250lbs he has the size and his projected 40m time is expected to be around 4.65s which is good for the position. He has suffered from not having as much production due to the lack of opportunities afforded to him at South Carolina but he’s highly thought of an expected to go within the first two rounds.
The other name is a wide receiver, and it is some name (I really hope at some point the guys have to mention him on the podcast!). Equanimeous St. Brown from Notre Dame. He’s 6’4” and 205lbs and has god given athletic ability and body control which will translate well at the NFL level. After Kizer left last year, the QB play at Notre Dame has been poor and as such St. Brown has not had as many chances as others to show what looks like amazing ability. Check this guy’s video highlights, they’ll have many a fan smiling.
The defence is good, of that there is no doubt so it’s difficult to say where they could improve. In fact, it’s probably not about improving it as adding depth.
One area that they could look at is inside linebacker. Jaguars stalwart Paul Posluszny is the current occupier and is flanked by the speedy duo of Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. If I were looking to add depth, I’d want someone behind Posluszny who is now no spring chicken (currently 33).
If the Jags are going receiver in the first few rounds of the draft, then they can look to day three to pick up a potential replacement for Posluszny. Darius Leonard from South Carolina State is having a good year with 103 tackles, nine for loss and 5.5 sacks. He’s got good size and a knack for making plays. He’s likely to go in round 3 or 4 for the draft.
So, what next?
Decide what to do about the quarterback. Having dug a little deeper into this my opinion is to keep Bortles. He knows the system and he’s getting better with it.
Keep the defence together, keep them hungry and keep them playing at their current level. This is going to be primarily a job for their coaching team. They need to challenge them to be better than they have been this year which would be no small feat.
The Jags are the closest thing the UK has to a franchise given that they’ve played here for a number of years in a row. It’s been great to see them playing to their potential this year and looking good for a playoff position and hopefully something further…..