As many NFL fans know, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the laughingstocks of the league the last 5 years, resulting in coaching changes, quarterback changes, and even ownership changes. The team has managed to have a losing record 7 out of the last 8 seasons, and is always subject to memes on the internet. Since 2011, the Jaguars have had 4 different head coaches, and have had a top-10 draft pick each of the last 9 seasons.
Although Jacksonville fans are definitely sick and tired of losing year-in and year-out, this team is most definitely on the rise, and I will outline why:
To begin, let’s examine their salary cap and free agency. Currently, the Jaguars have over $52 million dollars in cap space, and that is after signing Malik Jackson to a monstrous $90 million dollar contract, as well as signing Prince Amukamara, Tashaun Gipson and Chris Ivory to rich contracts. Each year, Jacksonville has enough cap space to make splashes that can help this team compete. Last year, Jacksonville signed Julius Thomas to a lucrative contract, and the year prior, they struck out when signing Toby Gerhart to a questionable contract. But overall, the last few years in March have been beneficial for Jacksonville. 2016’s free agency acquisitions are sure to make immediate impacts to continue the trend. Malik Jackson will bolster the Jaguars’ pass rush and run defense, while Chris Ivory will pair up with TJ Yeldon to form a very powerful 1-2 punch. As for the defensive secondary, they receive a huge boost with Tashaun Gipson at safety, and Prince Amukamara to pair up with Davon House to build a solid cornerback group.
Now, what is most important for the Jaguars, is their draft class. The team has managed to add very important pieces to build around. These players include, but not limited to: Blake Bortles, Luke Joeckel, Allen Robinson, Johnathan Cyprien, and TJ Yeldon. When owner Shahid Khan bought the Jaguars, he knew he had to rebuild this team completely, and the only true way to do this is by losing, and drafting well. By building through the draft, you have the chance to get the right players for your scheme, and tailor the players to what your team wants and needs. By the Jaguars rebuilding year-by-year, they have the opportunity to add talented college prospects. They have done this, and had another opportunity with the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft to complete the rebuild. Well, they went and struck GOLD. As many of you already know, the Jaguars selected in the first round defensive back Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State, who will be a starter in the Jags secondary as soon as he returns from meniscus surgery. Although the Ramsey pick was huge for this team, it was their second round pick that caused the football world to give the Jags a standing ovation – Myles Jack, Linebacker out of UCLA. Jack was regarded as a top-5 player in the draft, but fell into the second round due to his questionable knee that he tore last season in college, along with the possibility of Jack needing micro fracture surgery down the road. Regardless of the uncertainty regarding Jack’s knee, the Jags hope the risk is worth the reward, as does the football world.
The main reason for the Jaguars being on the rise: The maturation of its players. This ties in well with the draft as well. The Jags have managed to coach these players to mature into NFL-caliber starters, and this begins with your quarterback. After Blake Bortles’ rookie season, in which he only threw 11 touchdowns in 14 games, he responded in 2015 with 32 touchdowns in his 16 starts. Fans witnessed Bortles improve his pocket presence and leadership, and is primed to improve his overall game in 2016, along with the entire offense. As well, we saw the receiver duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns combine for 2431 yards, and 24 touchdowns. How did the duo perform in 2014? They combined for 1225 yards and 8 touchdowns. The ‘sophomore pushes’ that the Allens made not only helped the offense, but helped Blake Bortles as well, building a trust level with him. These are just a few examples of the maturation of the Jaguars’ players, but other teams have seen the maturation of these players. It is up to the defense to make a huge jump this offseason to match the production of the offense.
It will be very interesting to see how the Jaguars handle Dante Fowler Jr.’s offseason. For those who do not know, Fowler was the Jaguars’ first round pick in 2015, going third overall. He was primed to boost a pass rush for the Jags, but never even made it to Training Camp. He tore his ACL in the Jags’ rookie camp, and never played in his rookie campaign. The Jaguars must approach Fowler’s situation correctly in order to ensure he matures as a player, and a person. He has never stepped onto an NFL field, and is behind in his progress compared to other rookies from 2015. Regardless, he has the talent, and the success from college to transition smoothly, and hopefully dominate at the NFL level.
I, along many others, am rooting for the Jaguars to finally give their fans some hope, and start winning at a regular pace. The team has made the necessary steps the last couple years to rebuild, and 2016 could be the year where they glue all the pieces together. The ownership has shown patience, and has gone about their business correctly. Now, it is time to shock the NFL.
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