Just three short years ago, it appeared the Jacksonville Jaguars were building a bully ball club that was going to dominate for years. They led the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium and, if a call goes their way, they would've gone to the Super Bowl.
Alas, they didn't win that game and that's where this story turned. They started the 2018 season with promise, beating the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots in Jacksonville, and going 3-1 to start the season. But, after beating the Jets to get to 3-1 in week four of that season, the Jaguars have…
Gone 8-20 in their last 28 games.
Gone through four different starting quarterbacks
Released three defensive starters from stellar 2017 defense in order to sign a high priced starting quarterback (Nick Foles)
Traded said high priced starting quarterback prior to 2020 Draft after just one year
Traded All-Pro Jalen Ramsey to the Rams
Traded All-Pro Calais Campbell to the Ravens
Traded former Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Broncos
Fined Leonard Fournette for acting the fool on the sidelines vs. the Texans in 2018.
Apparently, shopped Fournette in trades and found no takers
Lost linebacker Telvin Smith to a nasty legal situation
Felt the wrath of the NFLPA that filed a grievance against the Jaguars for fines administered
Fired EVP Tom Coughlin
Had a Twitter war with mercurial defensive end Yannick Ngakoue who said he wasn't coming back to play for the Jaguars
Then, franchise tagged Ngakoue.
Oh and they lost a key matchup in 2018 to a quarterback who had to take a bus to the game (Deshaun Watson). I remember that weekend - what a fun weekend that was! But, not for the Jags and our friends in Duval County. Well, that about covers the past two and a half years, I suppose.
The Jaguars did maintain some continuity by retaining both GM David Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone. They stayed in the building without the specter of Coughlin hanging over the team. Now, the pressure is squarely on those two to build a winner and they've added some really strong young talent to the room (Josh Allen and D.J. Chark come to mind). But, the question will ultimately be whether Gardner Minshew can be a consistent winner or if Minshew Mania ran its course as a rookie.
It really comes down to that. The Jaguars could've drafted Deshaun Watson in 2017. They didn't. They could've drafted Lamar Jackson in 2018. They didn't. They did draft Minshew in 2019 and that three step decision could ultimately determine the fate of Marrone, Caldwell and the rest of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the foreseeable future.
2019 Schedule - Record 6-10, finished 4th in the AFC South
L, Kansas City Chiefs 40-26
L, @ Houston Texans 13-12
W, Tennessee Titans 20-7
W, @ Denver Broncos 26-24
L, @ Carolina Panthers 34-27
L, New Orleans Saints 13-6
W, @ Cincinnati Bengals 27-17
W, New York Jets 29-15
L, Houston Texans 26-3 (London)
L, @ Indianapolis Colts 33-13
L, Tennessee Titans 42-20
L, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-11
L, Los Angeles Chargers 45-10
W, @ Oakland Raiders 20-16
L, @ Atlanta Falcons 24-12
W, Indianapolis Colts 38-20
Jaguars OFFENSE (in 2019 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 106.8 ypg (17th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 235.0 ypg (16th)
Total offense per game - 341.8 ypg (20th)
Turnovers lost - 20 (8 INT, 12 Fumbles lost)
Projected Jaguars starting offense in 2020
QB - Gardner Minshew II
RB - Leonard Fournette
WR - D.J. Chark
WR - Dede Westbrook
WR - Chris Conley/LAVISKA SHENAULT JR
TE - TYLER EIFERT
LT - Cam Robinson
LG - Andrew Norwell
C - Brandon Linder
RG - A.J. Cann
RT - Jawaan Taylor
Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - Keelan Cole
RB - Ryquell Armstead
3rd Down RB - Chris Thompson
OG - Will Richardson
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2020
The Jags will have a new offensive coordinator in 2020 and his name is one you'll recognize. Gruden. Not Jon, obviously, but former Washington head coach Jay Gruden. His West Coast scheme should be the right fit for Minshew and this offense, but they didn't have any on-field time to incorporate the new teachings. So, it'll be a work in progress, especially early in the 2020 season.
I made the comment last year that facing Gardner Minshew and facing Minshew Mania were two completely different things. Minshew Mania occurred when he improvised, ran out of the pocket, threw off platform and created "OH MY GOD" plays regularly. The Broncos had a loss ripped straight out of their hands due to Minshew Mania. When the Texans shut down the Jaguars in London in week nine, that was Minshew. The Texans kept him in the pocket and forced him to make throw after throw, on time and accurately. He didn't and the Jaguars got smoked 26-3. Ultimately, that's the difference. If Gruden can get Minshew and Minshew Mania to meet in the middle, the Jaguars offense could go to a completely different level.
This offseason there were rumors that the Jaguars were shopping Leonard Fournette and not surprisingly they found no takers. If teams liked the player, they didn't like the contractual situation. Then, there were teams that just didn't see the value in Fournette as a running back or in a running back, in general. So, the Jaguars were in a pretty sticky wicket as they say in the Jags' second home. He did rebound in 2019 to rush for 1,152 yards and also have 76 receptions but that wasn't enough, I suppose, to entice teams to give up draft capital so he returns in 2020. As crazy as it sounds, the Jaguars are probably the right team to maximize his value, but will Gruden see it that way? Will he find/get max value from Fournette? The flip side is that Jaguars didn't do anything significant in the offseason to bolster the position other than adding third down specialist (who played for Gruden in Washington) Chris Thompson.
Wide receivers/Tight ends
The AFC's best kept secret is D.J. Chark. He might be one of the NFL's best kept secrets, as well. He finished 2019 as a 1k receiver and also had eight touchdowns in his second season with the Jaguars. He took an enormous leap in year two and could do the same in year three with a more experienced version of Minshew at the helm. Tight end Tyler Eifert remained healthy in 2019 and that earned him a contract in Jacksonville. But, the most interesting piece of all came in the draft as the Jaguars made a second round investment in Swiss Army Knife Laviska Shenault Jr. If healthy, and that's a BIG if, he can be a unique piece to complement Fournette's running and Chark's receiving.
The Jaguars are in "Run It Back" mode on the offensive line. The same five starters will return in 2019, even though the front office wasn't completely enamored with the performance of all five guys in 2019. The best of the bunch is second year right tackle Jawaan Taylor. Why, WHY, did teams pass on him to push him into the second round last year? Oh, injury concerns, right? Yeah, he didn't miss a game once he was inserted into the starting lineup opposite left tackle Cam Robinson. Speaking of Robinson, he's got to take his game to a different level. The Robinson the Jaguars saw in 2017 as a rookie wasn't the same player in 2019. Brandon Linder excels at center so there's some talent on this line, no question. Overall, though, this group can't give up 42 sacks as it did in 2019.
Jaguars DEFENSE (in 2019 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 139.3 ypg (28th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 236.1 ypg (16th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 375.4 ypg (24th)
Turnovers generated - 19 (10 INT, 9 Fumble recoveries - Jaguars were -1 in TO margin)
Projected Jaguars starting defense in 2020
DE - Josh Allen
NT - Abry Jones
DT - Taven Bryan
DE - Yannick Ngakoue (Franchised...and not happy about it)
WLB - Myles Jack
MLB - JOE SCHOBERT
OLB - K'LAVON CHIASSON
CB - RASHAAN MELVIN
S - Ronnie Harrison
S - Jarrod Wilson
CB - C.J. HENDERSON
Nickel - D.J. Hayden
Other Key Defensive pieces
DT - RODNEY GUNTER
NT - DAVON HAMILTON
LB - Quincy Williams
CB - Tre Herndon
CB - JOSIAH SCOTT
DE - Al Woods
DE/OLB - Lerentee McCray
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2020
Three years ago, this defense scared opponents. It just flat out put fear into teams that had to try to block Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler Jr. and Malik Jackson in the pass rush. What offensive coordinator didn't fear throwing against a secondary of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church? Who liked banging heads with Telvin Smith? Well, the bad news is that by the start of 2020 ALL of those guys will be gone. That 2017 defense was as good as I've ever seen on an NFL field but, in 2020, the Jags will continue the rebuild that began as early as 2018. The X factor is Ngakoue. The Jags slapped the franchise tag on him and he wasn't happy about it. He's not been traded. He's not signed the franchise tag. He claimed on Twitter in a spat with a member of team management that he was done and never coming back. It seems a departure is more about the WHEN and not the IF. The rest of the unit is young with some talent but far from complete. Keep this unit together in 2021 and it could be a completely different story, though.
Even with Campbell on the defensive line last year, the Jaguars were abysmal stopping anyone in the running game. The defensive front got pushed around all year long and now the big fella is gone. The good news is that defensive end/rush specialist Josh Allen heads into year two after an outstanding rookie campaign. He completely dominated the college game in 2018, stepped into the NFL and did the exact same thing as a rookie. He racked up 10.5 sacks to lead the Jaguars and he earned a Pro Bowl berth as a result. However, the Jaguars knew they needed help in the front so they signed 3-4 defensive ends Al Woods and Rodney Gunter and potential 3-4 nose tackle Davon Hamilton...
...then they drafted, arguably, the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the 2020 Draft class - K'Lavon Chiasson. See where I'm going? Expect Allen and Chiasson to man the edges in sub-package situations but the Jaguars will probably play more 3-4 this year than in years prior. With Myles Jack at inside linebacker, he can play in any defense. The Jaguars needed a partner and signed former Browns Pro Bowl linebacker Joe 'The Show' Schobert and drafted Jacksonville (Orange Park) homeboy Shaquille Quarterman as well. This group will be much more consistent in the future, but will it reap dividends with a multiple defensive scheme in 2020?
With Allen and Chiasson rushing the edges, the concerns in the secondary are muted, if only slightly. Ramsey and Bouye were the perfect pairing of corners until Bouye's body started breaking down a bit and Ramsey decided he wanted to play elsewhere. So, they were both traded prior to the 2020 NFL Draft and the Jaguars selected talented cornerback C.J. Henderson to begin the rebuild. They also drafted cornerbacks Josiah Scott in the fourth round and Chris Claybrooks in the seventh round. At safety, they drafted Auburn's Daniel Thomas in the fifth round, as well. The makeover is far from complete, but it's clear that the Jaguars knew this was a problem area that needed to be addressed. The clear question is how often over the next few weeks, months and years that it'll take to fix an issue-laden secondary that was a strength just two short years ago.