2016 season cheat sheet: Jacksonville Jaguars
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
There’s a lot to like about the 2016 Jaguars, who promise to be one of the league’s most intriguing teams heading into this season. With stability at both head coach (Gus Bradley) and quarterback (Blake Bortles), surrounded by increasingly-talented supporting players, Jacksonville appears poised to finally contend for the wide-open AFC South. After acquiring up to five new defensive starters in free agency and the draft this offseason, both established and young talent on the defense will acclimate to an improved offense — one that rose from the lowest-graded unit in 2014 to 16th in 2016. A similar rise from last year’s 30th-highest-graded defense would go a long way towards the Jaguars earning their first playoff berth since 2007.
Three biggest things to know
1. Blake Bortles improved substantially in 2015, but he’s not yet an elite QB.
Bortles — benefiting from possibly the best WR duo in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns — generated impressive fantasy statistics (4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns) in 2015, improving from the lowest-graded quarterback in the league 2014 to the 14th last season. However, his PFF QB rating was 29th in the league (83.17) in 2015, while his accuracy percentage (70.0) ranked 32nd. In 2016 the Jaguars are surely hoping that Bortles’ quality of play continues to improve, eventually matching or exceeding the level of his raw statistics. 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.
2. The Jaguars added a great deal of talent on defense. Will it come together?
Malik Jackson was the Jaguars’ prize acquisition in free agency, signed after finishing fourth and 11th among 3-4 defensive ends with a 60 total pressures and a 9.5 pass rush productivity, respectively, for the 2015 Super Bowl champions. Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson figure to supplement a secondary that acquired free agent Davon House in the 2015 offseason. Amukamara finished a respectable 17th in yards per coverage snap (1.04) for the New York Giants in 2015, and appears slotted for the third cornerback spot behind Ramsey and House. Gipson struggled in 2015, allowing four touchdowns on the 19 passes into his coverage, but was pretty good in 2014. When the Jaguars moved up to acquire Jack, they gained a versatile player with substantial potential in both pass coverage and as a run defender. His knee is a concern, as he played only 207 snaps in 2015. However, in 2014 his coverage grade was the best among collegiate inside linebackers that season, with his seven passes defended ranking second.
3. The addition of Chris Ivory gives the Jags’ backfield a formidable 1-2 punch.
The perpetually-underrated Ivory was a stud again for the New York Jets in 2015, finishing third in breakaway percentage (40.7), fifth in elusive rating (52.7), and third in pass blocking efficiency (96.8) last season. The man he was brought in to complement, second-year pro T. J Yeldon, was solid as a rookie, playing in 629 of the team’s first 813 offensive snaps and finishing seventh in elusive rating (48.7) among running backs before finishing the season with a knee injury. These backs split reps relatively evenly in the preseason with the first unit, signaling an honest-to-goodness share of the carries between the two backs this coming year, which should aide in their effectiveness as the season progresses.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: CB Jalen Ramsey (Round 1, pick No. 5 overall, Florida State), LB Myles Jack (Round 2, pick No. 36 overall, UCLA), DE Yannick Ngakoue (Round 3, pick No. 69 overall, Maryland)
Signed in free agency: DT Malik Jackson (Broncos), RB Chris Ivory (Jets), CB Prince Amukamara (Giants), S Tashaun Gipson (Browns), OT Kelvin Beachum (Steelers)
Left via free agency: C Stefen Wisniewski (Eagles), G Zane Beadles (49ers)
Retired: DE Chris Clemons
Rookie to watch
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State (Round 1, pick No. 5 overall)
It’s always a bit hyperbolic to suggest that a team received a steal while using the fifth overall draft pick on a player, but the Jags acquisition of Ramsey has that feel. Long and athletic, he was one of the most versatile players in college football in 2015, yielding just 0.68 yards per coverage snap (17th in the country), while posting the top run defense grade among college cornerbacks. Whether he starts over free agent acquisition Prince Amukamara or not, Ramsey figures to get plenty of playing time all over the field in 2016, and promises to substantially improve a Jaguars defense that finished third-to-last last season in pass coverage grades.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Allen Robinson, WR, 86.2 overall grade
After a positively-graded rookie season, Robinson exploded last year for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning Blake Bortles a 107.6 quarterback rating on passes in his direction. His 2.11 yards per route run were 11th among wide receivers, and his 10 missed tackles forced were 20th. While consistency is often an issue for young players, Robinson had only four negatively-graded games last season, despite playing over 93 percent of the team’s snaps. If he can improve on his drop rate (8.05), Robinson’s size, speed and athleticism will be a force to reckon with for defensive backs for the foreseeable future.
Dante Fowler, DE
Fowler has been a star of camp, displaying the pass rushing skills that earned him a pass rush productivity of 13.0 in 2014 — fifth-best in college football among 4-3 defensive ends that season. With the acquisition of Malik Jackson inside, the Jaguars defensive front should improve on a pass rush that graded sixth-worst in the league in 2015.
Base defense (2015 season grades shown)
Base offense (2015 season grades shown)