2016 season preview: Jacksonville Jaguars
After finishing last season with a 5-11 record and a top-five pick in the NFL draft for the fifth-straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2016 season with substantial optimism—and for good reason. After acquiring starting-caliber players like DT Malik Jackson (Broncos), RB Chris Ivory (Jets), CB Prince Amukamara (Giants), S Tashaun Gipson (Browns), and OT Kelvin Beachum (Steelers) in the offseason, Jacksonville was able to secure two of the arguably top-five defensive players in the 2016 draft in DB Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) and LB Myles Jack (UCLA) to go with the return of 2015 top-three pick Dante Fowler from injury. While substantial offseason overhauls often turn out to be disappointments, the drastic improvements of core players like QB Blake Bortles, WR Allen Robinson, and WR Allen Hurns last season serve as a formidable foundation for the Jaguars to realize the promise generated this offseason in a wide open AFC South.
Below we summarize how the Jaguars stack up personnel-wise relative to the rest of the league, and preview what to expect from each position group in 2016.
[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situations, offensive lines, running back units, receiving corps, secondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]
Blake Bortles must continue season-to-season improvement
While ranking all 32 quarterback situations, colleague Sam Monson recently stated, “Blake Bortles took a huge leap forward in his second season, much like Derek Carr, but while his improvement may have actually been greater, his overall play wasn’t as good at the end of it.”
Indeed, while Bortles went from being the lowest-graded quarterback in the league in 2014 to the 14th last season in cumulative grading, as a passer, he still finished with a negative grade. His PFF QB rating was 29th in the league (83.17) in 2015, while his adjusted completion percentage (70.0) ranked 32nd. The Raiders’ Carr finished 13th and 21st in those same categories, respectively. In 2016, the Jaguars are surely hoping that Bortles’ quality of play continues to improve, eventually matching or exceeding the level of his fantasy statistics (4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns) from last season. If these improvements occur, Bortles—and Jacksonville’s offense in general—should be pushing the boundaries of the league’s upper echelon over the next few years.
Addition of Chris Ivory gives Jags’ backfield top-five potential
Running backs: Seventh
Incumbent runner T.J. Yeldon (83.2 overall grade in 2015) had a nice rookie season, producing the 12th-most yards after contact and the fifth-most missed tackles forced before an injury in Week 14 finished his year. He was the second-highest-graded rookie running back in 2015. Despite the presence of Yeldon, the Jaguars moved to sign former Jet Chris Ivory this offseason. Ivory is one of the most underrated players in the league, with the third-best breakaway percentage (40.7), fifth-best elusive rating (52.7), and third-best pass blocking efficiency (96.8) among running backs last season. Any improvement in Yeldon’s second year will give the Jaguars’ backfield the potential to break out just as the team’s receiving corps did in 2015.
Robinson, Hurns impressing in 2015, but room for improvement
Receiving corps: Fourth
The Jaguars’ Allen duo (Robinson and Hurns) emerged in a big way in 2015; Allen Robinson tied for the league-lead among WRs with 14 touchdowns and surpassed 1,400 receiving yards, while Allen Hurns turned only 99 targets into over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. While Blake Bortles had over a 105 passer rating throwing to this duo last season, there still seems to be room for improvement, as Robinson’s eight drops were the 13th-most among wide receivers in 2015, and Hurns’ 1.78 yards per route run were only the 36th-best at the position last year. Continued improvement by Robinson and Hurns, coupled with a return of tight end Julius Thomas to his 2014 form, would go a long way in moving the Jaguars’ offense towards being one of the truly elite units in 2016.
Free-agent addition Kelvin Beachum provides upgrade at OT
Offensive line: 23rd
In 2013, the Jaguars spent the second-overall pick on tackle Luke Joeckel. Three years later, Joeckel is in a battle for a starting job, with 2016 free-agent signing Kelvin Bechum (Steelers) likely at left tackle and/or 2015 free-agent disappointment Jermey Parnell at right tackle. While Beachum is potentially a nice upgrade at LT, he’s coming off a season where he played only 329 snaps (suffered season-ending injury in Week 6), and projected starting center Brandon Linder missed most of 2015, as well (197 snaps last season). With this level of uncertainty across the board, colleague Nathan Jahnke’s statement that, “Offensive line was the weak point of the Jaguars’ offense in 2015, and that will likely hold true again in 2016,” when ranking offensive lines earlier this offseason appears particularly appropriate.
Investment, uncertainty both themes of Jags’ defensive front-seven
As colleague Ben Stockwell said earlier this offseason, the Jaguars’ front-seven can be summarized as a unit with, “So much investment, so many options, so much uncertainty.” Jacksonville’s pass-rush was very weak last season, generating pressure on only 26.5 percent of passing plays in base personnel (last in the NFL). The acquisition of DT Malik Jackson (Broncos) and the return of Fowler from injury should help. While base defensive end Jared Odrick recorded just the 48th-best pass-rushing productivity mark (4.6) among 4-3 defensive ends, Jackson was able to generate 60 total pressures from the inside in 2015 for Denver (good for the seventh-best pass rushing grade among interior defenders). Fowler’s pass-rushing productivity mark of 13.0 was fifth-best in college football in 2014 among 4-3 defensive ends. At linebacker, Myles Jack (UCLA) was one of the best players in pass coverage in college football over the past two years, while Telvin Smith has shown flashes of being a top-10 linebacker at times during his career. If Jack can stay healthy and Smith can build upon his strong finish last season, the Jaguars’ defense (which graded third-worst in the NFL last season) can become one of the most-improved in the league.
Overhauled secondary could take time to mesh
This is another unit where the Jaguars have invested heavily in recent seasons, spending a top-five pick this offseason on cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) and signing Prince Amukamara (Giants), Tashaun Gipson (Browns) and cornerback Davon House in free agency the past two years. In Ramsey, House, and Amukamara, the Jaguars boast three solid options in a league that has increasingly required three starting-caliber players to keep up with precision passing games. Amukamara has allowed just nine touchdowns into his coverage over the course of his career, with quarterbacks earning a pedestrian 84.2 passer rating throwing into coverage since 2011. House has been similarly solid, allowing just a 51.0 percent completion percentage on throws into his coverage over the course of his career. Gipson is an interesting story—he struggled mightily in 2015, allowing four touchdowns on 19 throws into his coverage. In 2014 he was far better, allowing a passer rating below 50.0 into his coverage and earning a top-10 coverage grade among all NFL safeties.