Jets Know Your Foe Podcast Preview – Scouting the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Offseason

Michael Nania continues his “Know Your Foe” series with a breakdown of the Jacksonville Jaguars offseason…

Coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the New York Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS:

Franchise Outlook:

The Jaguars finally brought an end to what was a seemingly endless rebuilding period, bringing everything together for a surprising playoff run that very nearly ended with a trip to Minneapolis to play in Super Bowl LII. After winning the AFC South for the first time ever, Jacksonville took advantage of a home matchup with the worse-than-advertised Bills in the Wild Card round, defeating them in a 10-3 slugfest. They followed that up with a shocking win in Pittsburgh, as Blake Bortles played the game of his life to lead the Jags over the Steelers 45-42. In the AFC Championship Game, Jacksonville held a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, but eventually fell by a score of 24-20 after their offense went stagnant and the defense had no answers for desperation Tom Brady.

As mentioned, 2017 marked the first time the Jaguars won the AFC South Division, and it was their first division title since winning the AFC Central in 1999. The playoff berth marked the end of a nine-year drought, with their last appearance coming in 2007. During that stretch, the Jaguars only hit .500 once, and accumulated no more than 5 wins in each of the final 5 seasons of the drought. They never ranked better than 23rd in point differential.

The drought finally ended due to a combination of some great drafting and a bevy of wonderfully executed free agent signings. A multitude of Jacksonville draft picks, such as Yannick Ngakoue, Jalen Ramsey, Marqise Lee, and Myles Jack, all began hitting their strides and becoming studs at the same time. Leonard Fournette carried the load in his rookie year with the third most carries per game in the league. In addition, Jacksonville’s free agent signings have been supurb, as Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Barry Church, Jeremy Parnell, Tashaun Gipson, and A.J. Bouye among others all were high level contributors in 2017.

With the talent on their defense and an impressive offensive line in front of a uber-talented running back in Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars figure to be contenders again. The most likely roadblock seems to be their 2014 first-round pick: Blake Bortles. The Jags decided to give him another shot instead of going down another road. Will Bortles continue to hold their offense back? Or, can he replicate what he showed in Pittsburgh during the playoffs? Whether or not the Jags get Divisional Round Blake or Wild Card Round Blake will be essential to their chances in 2018.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Positives:

Offensive:

  • 5th in scoring (26.0 PPG)
  • 6th in total yards (365.9 YPG)
  • 1st in rushing attempts and yards (32.9 per game for 141.4 yards)
  • 11th in net passing yards per attempt (6.5)
  • 2nd in fourth down conversion rate (77%)
  • 2nd in red zone touchdown rate (64%)
  • 6th in punt return average (9.6)

Defensive:

  • 2nd in scoring defense (16.8 PPG)
  • 2nd in yardage defense (286.1 YPG)
  • 1st in fewest points per drive, yards per drive, plays per drive, and time per drive allowed
  • 2nd in takeaways (33)
  • 1st in net yards per pass attempt allowed (4.8)
  • 2nd in interceptions (21)
  • 1st in fewest passing yards allowed (169.9 YPG)
  • 4th in third down defense (34%)
  • 2nd in red zone touchdown rate allowed (39%)

Negatives:

Offensive:

  • 18th in quarterback rating (84.4)
  • 19th in turnovers (23)
  • 20th in passing touchdowns (20)
  • 20th in third down conversion rate (37%)
  • 27th in extra point conversion rate (90.2%)

Defensive:

  • 26th in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.3)

Draft –

R1, #29: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: A luxury pick with the Jaguars’ overload of monstrous talent on the defensive line, but that bevy of talent actually suits the timeline of this selection. Bryan is overflowing with upside, possessing an insane athletic profile, seen below.

However, he was unproductive in college and is highly raw with his feel for the game, instincts, and technique. Time to grow behind this group of superstars could make this pick a big win in the long run.

R2, #61: DJ Chark, WR, LSU: Running a 4.34 40 at 6’3, Chark has the prototype deep receiver skillset. The Jaguars wide receiver room is a bit lacking, so although Chark might not be a full route-tree weapon off the bat, his speed could have an instant impact.

R3, #93: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: A versatile, athletic, big-hitting safety who was an early starter at Alabama. Scouts say he can clean up and refine a lot of his game in terms of his tackling and coverage, but Harrison looks like a potentially strong value for Jacksonville in late round three.

R4, #129: Will Richardson, OT, North Carolina State: Richardson has had consistent off-field issues and questionable technique, but is one of those linemen with the uncanny ability to make things work and get the job done.

R6, #203: Tanner Lee, QB, Nebraska: Classic project QB with the desired size at 6’4, 218 with 10 1/2″ hands and “plus arm talent.” However, Lee’s college production was simply very poor compared to the rest of quarterback prospects, while his IQ, processing, and decision-making are all questionable. Nothing more than a lottery ticket to compete with Bortles and Cody Kessler.

Round seven selections: #230, Leon Jacobs, LB, Wisconsin, and #247, Logan Cooke, P, Mississippi State

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – This is a tough pick to make. The Jaguars’ draft class is very much on the developmental side of the scale opposed to the instant-impact side. I highly doubt Taven Bryan contributes in 2018 with the amazing talent Jacksonville has up front. The Jaguars also have depth at almost every position across the roster, making it tough for any rookie to break in.

With all that said, DJ Chark will be my pick, simply due to his chances being the highest to earn playing time out of anybody in this class. Now, I actually think his skillset doesn’t match up well against the Jets’ defense, since Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne both did a good job taking away touchdowns and deep balls last year. Despite that, Chark is in the best position to play right away, and thus is the pick in this selection.

A dark horse? How about the Jags’ 7th-round punter, Logan Cooke? After losing stud Bryan Anger, the Jags turned to Brad Nortman. Among qualifiers, Nortman had the 4th-worst net average and 3rd-worst touchback rate. Could Cooke be a major improvement? I know you are dying to find out. As am I.

Major trades:

  • The Jags added former Browns QB Cody Kessler for a conditional 7th round pick, presumably as the prime backup without a chance to earn the starting role before the year.

Kessler’s 87.4 career quarterback rating soundly beats Bortles’ 80.8 rating. Just saying.

Notable losses:

  • The Jaguars cut Allen Hurns and Marcedes Lewis. Hurns currently sits as the Jags’ 6th-leading receiver all-time with 2,669 yards, Lewis is comfortably placed at 3rd with 4,502. His 33 touchdowns are second in franchise history.

Hurns joined the Cowboys after turning down an offer from the Jets. Lewis joined the Packers.

  • Jacksonville also saw its all-time leading tackler retire, as Paul Posluszny hung them up.

Notable additions:

  • This one isn’t an addition, but the Jags gave Bortles a new deal over 3 years and worth $54 million, up to $66.5 million with incentives. They’re locked into him for 2018, and can cut him before 2019 with $16.5 million in dead money and $4.5 million in cap savings. It’s a pretty big commitment for a player who has never even been average on a consistent basis.
  • The Jaguars landed the biggest fish in the offensive lineman lake by giving former Panther Andrew Norwell a 5-year, $66.5 million offer. Norwell was the 3rd-ranked guard in 2017 by PFF and was 2nd-ranked by Bleacher Report 1000. Norwell joins an already solid offensive line that with his addition and a second year for Cam Robinson has the potential to be very strong.
  • Jacksonville signed former Colts receiver Donte Moncrief to a 1-year, $9.6 million deal. Moncrief has missed 12 games over the last 2 years and averages only about 35 yards per game for his career.
  • Former Jet Austin Seferian-Jenkins took a 2-year, $10.5 million contract with Jacksonville. He had his moments and improved as a blocker, but the Jets were smart not to over-commit to ASJ’s replaceable 28 yards per game on an absurdly low 7.1 yards per reception.

Most damaging loss?

I think the Jaguars could miss Allen Hurns. He’s battled injuries and stretches of ineffectiveness, but Hurns has been a very solid receiving option that teams need to account for. In 2017, he transitioned to the slot and continued to accumulate great numbers when targeted (50% of his 2017 targets when for firsts; a tremendous rate). Career marks of 14.1 yards per reception, 51.3 yards per game, and 7.99 yards per target are all very solid, and were accumulated with Blake Bortles throwing the ball. Looking at the Jaguars’ wide receiver depth chart, Marqise Lee is the only name that resembles a threat to any extent. I think the Jags could have used Hurns, but of course they know more about their situation than any of us do.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? 

Andrew Norwell, bar none. Norwell is one of the best guards in the NFL, doing it with technique and ability over pure dominance most of the time. The Jets already allowed 175 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry to the Jaguars last year. With Norwell now in the fray, as mentioned, the Jaguars could have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Norwell should be an interesting test of this new-look Jets defensive line, and a measuring stick for guys like Nathan Shepherd, Henry Anderson, Foley Fatukasi, and Mike Pennel all dogging it out for reps.

Jets Connections –

  • As you saw earlier, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is now a Jaguar. He’s back in the state where he was drafted and played his first NFL stint with the Buccaneers, and also had his unfortunate series of his issues that led to him being cut by Tampa Bay. Now potentially in a more expanded role beyond the short safety blanket he was in New Jersey, ASJ will be looking to return to the efficiency levels he posted in Tampa Bay. ASJ averaged 13.4 yards per reception, 7.53 yards per target, 33.5 yards per game, and 0.39 touchdowns per game as a Buc. Those numbers are blisteringly amazing compared to the 7.1 yards per reception, 4.82 yards per target (awful), 0.23 touchdowns per game, and 27.5 yards per game he posted as a Jet.

Here is a nice ASJ catch you might remember from the Jaguars game in 2017:

  • Former Jet Tommy Bohanon was Jacksonville’s lead fullback in 2017 and figures to play the role once again. Bohanon accumulated 5 carries and 6 receptions in the regular season last year, with 2 rushing scores and 1 receiving score. In the Divisional Round game against the Steelers, Bohanon scored the touchdown that ultimately sent them to the AFC Championship, collecting a 14-yard receiving score from Blake Bortles with just over 4 minutes left to put the Jaguars up 42-28.

  • Former Jets fan favorite general manager John Idzik works as a consultant/special assistant in the Jaguars front office.

Synopsis –

All in all, the Jaguars’ patience has been rewarded as their recent draft classes have collectively begun to blossom into stars to begin a new era of success out of nowhere. Top to bottom and on both sides of the ball, the Jaguars have an excellent roster. Their secondary is sublime. Their defensive line is downright nasty. Their linebacking core is fast and rangy.

Offensively, their offensive line figures to have the potential to be one of the league’s best. Behind them, Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, and Corey Grant form a dangerous trio in the backfield.

The questions lie at the pass catching positions and at the most important of them all: quarterback. After a disastrous 2016, Bortles improved in a lot of ways in 2017. He lowered his interception rate for the third year in a row to 2.5%, hit a career high in completion percentage at 60.2%, reached a career high in adjusted net yards per attempt at 6.21 (accounts for sacks and interceptions), and posted a career low sack rate at 4.4%.

The Jags made it work with Bortles last year, winning 10 regular season games with the production that says they should have won 12 based on their Pythagorean record. They verified that with an AFC Championship Game run. Though their #5 scoring ranking is bloated by their excellent defense, the Jaguars still ranked 14th in points per drive and 13th in yards per drive. Bortles led an above-average offense last season; and with a defense this great, that’s all he needs to do. The question is, can he do it again?

Thanks for reading, and make sure to keep an eye out for the Know Your Foe Podcast coming this preseason! Stay tuned for the rest of my Know Your Foe 2018 Jets opponent previews weekly throughout the offseason; check out the entire collection here. Follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania to keep up with everything Know Your Foe and Jets!

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.