Preseason Week 1 Preview: Jaguars at Patriots
The return of NFL football kicks into full gear this week and continues with a battle between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. Preseason games are a time for teams to find out exactly who will be playing for them, whether it be specialists, rotational guys, or full time starters. Below, PFF’s team of analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch during today’s game.
Coverage by: Aaron Resnick
Position Battle: A.J. Cann/Patrick Omameh, G
The Jaguars through their actions have made it clear they will be emphasizing the running game in 2017. To be successful, the team will need to find clarity at both guard spots. According to the current depth chart, A.J. Cann and Patrick Omameh will have first crack at the starting jobs. The Jaguars also have three others who played guard for them during the 2016 season in Tyler Shatley, Chris Reed and Earl Watford. One thing all five players had in common was they struggled in run blocking.
Cann didn’t miss an offensive snap in 2016 playing all 1,113 for the Jaguars and recorded an overall grade of 65.8. His run blocking grade of 46.5 ranked 54th among eligible guards. Omameh had the highest overall grade of the bunch at 75.5 on 454 snaps, but his run blocking grade checked in at 51.6. Watford on 788 snaps had the lowest overall grade of eligible guards at 33.6 to go along with a run blocking grade of 41.7. Shatley on 112 run blocking snaps posted a grade of 39.3 in run protection, while Reed had a run blocking grade of 42.7 on 131 run blocking snaps. As a point of reference, the league average grade for guard run blocking was 65.3. If the Jaguars do want to establish the successful ground game they’ve mentioned, encouraging signs from the players mentioned would be a huge plus.
Drafted fourth overall this past April, Fournette, who is currently listed as a co-starter on the depth chart, figures to emerge as the primary option sooner rather than later. In 2015 at LSU, Fournette recorded what to this point is the most dominant PFF season by a collegiate running back with an overall grade of 95.3. On running plays alone that year, Fournette forced 85 missed tackles and he doesn’t make defenders miss as much as he runs through them.
Ankle injuries slowed Fournette in 2016 and limited him to just 298 snaps. Still, on 129 carries Fournette managed to force 21 missed tackles. While the number of touches he sees will be limited, it will be interesting to see how a player who at times looked like a man among boys in the SEC fares in his first NFL action.
Michael Bennett, DI
The Jaguars have more than serviceable starters on the interior defensive line with Malik Jackson, Abry Jones and now Calais Campbell who could play inside if needed. Despite that, Bennett, entering his third NFL season, is a player who could have a lot on the line this preseason. Selected in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, many pundits thought the Jaguars had a steal. In his final season at Ohio State, Bennett had an overall grade of 87.6 and performed well rushing the passer with a grade of 85.1, and a grade of 84.5 when defending the run.
Bennett played 310 snaps during his rookie season but missed all of 2016 due to a calf injury. His overall grade of 50.8 in 2015 ranked 92nd among defensive interior linemen. Listed behind Jackson on the depth chart, Bennett should receive a fair share of snaps in this game, which could help him make his case for earning a roster spot.
Josh Johnson, CB
With two of the Jaguars’ top three corners in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin on the PUP list, some lesser known defensive backs figure to see extra snaps in this contest. Johnson is one to watch in particular. While 134 snaps is a small sample, Johnson recorded an overall grade of 77.3 when pressed into action this past season. In 96 coverage snaps, his 24.0 coverage snaps per reception allowed would have been first in the league if he’d played enough to qualify. Johnson also fared very well in terms of both yards per coverage snap (0.45) and coverage snaps per target (9.6) in the small sample size. While his regular season role could be limited behind A.J. Bouye, Ramsey and Colvin, Johnson is a player to watch in a Jaguars secondary assembled to rank among the league’s elite in 2017.
Coverage by: Andrew Fleischer
Position Battle: Cyrus Jones/Jonathan Jones/Justin Coleman, CB
The Patriots’ starting cornerback trio of Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Eric Rowe could rival any of the top units in the NFL. What we don’t yet know is who will secure the fourth and fifth cornerback spots on the roster. We’ll likely see a battle this pre-season among three players for those two spots: second-year vet Cyrus Jones, second-year vet Jonathan Jones, and third-year vet Justin Coleman.
Cyrus Jones was the Patriots’ second-round pick in 2016, following his 2015 season at Alabama where he earned an 83.1 PFF overall grade. Multiple fumbles and mistakes as a punt returner limited his playing time as a rookie with the Patriots in 2016. In his 2015 senior season at Alabama, Cyrus allowed a reception for every 14.2 snaps in coverage, good for 54th out of 242 FBS cornerbacks to play at least 288 snaps.
Jonathan Jones was a standout in punt coverage on special teams during his 2016 rookie season, and on limited offensive snaps, he was one of the most efficient cornerbacks at defending the run. He was responsible for a run stop on 6.3 percent of his snaps, the seventh best percentage among NFL cornerbacks.
Coleman’s 2016 performance amounted to a 55.3 overall PFF grade, but his 18.6 cover snaps per reception was the sixth best rate among eligible cornerbacks.
Austin Carr, WR
The 2017 Patriots are extremely deep at every offensive skill position, likely making it difficult for more than a couple undrafted free agents to make the final cut. Austin Carr has as good a shot as any, flashing in offseason practices so far. Carr’s 2016 season at Northwestern graded out tied for PFF’s second-highest overall grade for a WR at 88.7. He ran 97.7 percent of his routes from the slot, and his 2.91 yards per route run from there was sixth of 80 FBS receivers with at least 50 percent of their routes coming from the slot.
Deatrich Wise, ED
With Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, the Patriots have an immediate need at the edge position. Based on his early training camp performance, rookie Deatrich Wise could step right in to the opportunity. His overall PFF grade of 83.4 for his 2016 season at Arkansas was 39th among 356 edge defenders. He had 5 sacks, 11 hits and 24 hurries on just 488 snaps.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
It was a surprise to many that the Patriots elected not to trade Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason, given Tom Brady’s unparalleled 2016 performance and stated desire to play until his mid-40s. That being said, Garoppolo showed significant talent in his limited starts in 2016. His 2017 preseason performance will further define his place in the future of the quarterback position for the Patriots (or elsewhere).
His adjusted completion percentage of 76.7 was 10th best among all quarterbacks with at least 50 dropbacks in 2016. Garoppolo was under pressure for 22 of his 69 dropbacks in 2016. His quarterback rating of 100.2 was the second best among 91 quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks under pressure.