Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Defensive End

The Chris Clemons signing didn’t really work out for the Jaguars. Clemons was dominant in Seattle when Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was the defensive coordinator, but he’s over the hill. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 defensive end last season and isn’t going to get any better, going into his age 34 season in 2015. With all of his guaranteed money already paid out, Clemons could easily be cut this off-season, owed 4.5 million in salary and bonuses next season. The Jaguars really need to find a long-term edge rusher who can be what Clemons was in his prime in Seattle. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory could be very intriguing at #3 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Offensive Tackle

Luke Joeckel has been a disappointment as the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He struggled at right tackle as a rookie before going down with an ankle injury. In 2014, his first season at left tackle, he was even worse, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 67th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible. He could still pan out and it’s too early to write him off as a bust, but he might be better off moving to right tackle. The Jaguars could target a blindside protector in free agency or in the draft and move Joeckel to the right side. Even if they don’t do that, they’ll need a new right tackle as Austin Pasztor, Sam Young, and Cameron Bradfield all struggled there this season.

Middle Linebacker

5th round rookie Telvin Smith was a surprise this year, playing 723 snaps, grading out right around average, and looking like a long-term starter. He also showed some versatility, playing both inside and outside linebacker. However, both Geno Hayes and JT Thomas are free agents this off-season (the latter was horrible this season anyway), while Paul Posluszny could be a cap casualty this off-season, after missing 9 games with injury last season. If all three aren’t brought back, the Jaguars will need someone to play every down linebacker inside if they keep Smith outside or someone to play every down outside if they move Smith inside. If they bring some of them back, linebacker is still a need because Smith is the only one who projects as a long-term every down starter.

Tight End

Marcedes Lewis was limited to 8 games and 443 snaps last year by injury. Coming off the worst season of his career, he could easily be cut, going into his age 31 season. He’s owed 6.8 million in salary and bonuses in 2015 and the Jaguars can save that amount on the cap immediately by cutting him. If they do that, they’ll need another tight end because Clay Harbor wasn’t very good in his absence.

Safety

John Cyprien and Josh Evans have been their starters at safety over the past two seasons. Both struggled as rookies in 2013, but Cyprien improved in 2014. Evans, however, did not, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 85th ranked safety out of 88 eligible in 2014 and their 78th ranked safety out of 86 eligible in 2013. This should not be a surprise because, unlike Cyprien, a 2nd round pick, Evans was available in the 6th round. They should find an upgrade on him this off-season.

Center

The Jaguars were forced to start 6th round rookie Luke Bowanko at center this season and he predictably struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 29th ranked center out of 41 eligible. As is the case with Evans, if you’re starting a 6th round rookie, it’s generally a bad sign. 6th round picks rarely become starters in the NFL (hence why they fall to the 6th round). The Jaguars should bring in some competition for him this off-season.

Running Back

Denard Robinson flashed in his first season of significant action, making 9 starts and rushing for 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 135 carries (4.31 YPC). However, he’s still unproven, with just 155 career carries and it’s still unclear if the 6-0 197 pound former quarterback can handle the load long-term. There’s a reason he fell to the 5th round in 2013 and he didn’t do anything to quell durability concerns by ending the season on injured reserve with a significant foot injury. They should add another running back this off-season because they have absolutely nothing behind him and would be in trouble if he got hurt again.

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents

WR Cecil Shorts

Cecil Shorts, a 2011 4th round pick, once looked like a very promising young receiver. After a rookie year where he didn’t see the field much (179 total snaps and 2 catches), Shorts caught 55 passes for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2012. He was even better than those numbers suggested, as he did that despite missing 2 games with injuries and not playing more than 50% of his team’s snaps until the team’s 6th game of the season. He ran 423 routes on the season, giving him 2.31 yards per route run, 8th in the NFL, and he did that despite playing with the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback. However, injuries prevented him from taking that next step. He missed 6 games with injury in 2013 and 2014 combined and averaged 60 catches for 667 yards and 2 touchdowns per season. He’s never played a 16 game season in his career, playing 50 out of a possible 64 games in his career and being limited in many others. He’s talented and could post solid numbers somewhere with a better quarterback, but durability is a big concern.

OLB Geno Hayes

Geno Hayes was once one of the better young linebackers in the NFL, as the 2008 6th round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th and 11th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2009 and 2010 respectively. However, he struggled in his contract year in 2011, grading out 40th among 45 at his position. He was forced to take a one year deal with the Bears in free agency and ended up playing just 141 snaps with them in 2012, but he’s had somewhat of a career revival in Jacksonville over the past two seasons, making 25 starts. He graded out slightly below average in 2013, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker last season. Only going into his age 28 season, he deserves to be a starter in 2015.

CB Alan Ball

Ball came to the Jaguars as a 6-year veteran two off-seasons ago. The hybrid cornerback/safety had graded out below average in 5 of those 6 seasons. The only season he had graded out above average prior to 2013 was 2009, when he played just 303 snaps and he played a combined 598 snaps in 2011-2012. The only season he was ever a starter during that time span was 2010, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked safety out of 85 eligible. However, his tenure in Jacksonville was pretty solid, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked cornerback in 2013, making all 16 starts. He wasn’t quite as good in 2014, but he still graded out about average on 508 snaps as the #3 cornerback. He’d be a solid depth signing for a team.

OLB JT Thomas

Thomas, a 2011 5th round pick, played 202 snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league before being forced to make 10 starts in 2014 because Paul Posluszny missed significant time with a torn pectoral. He predictably struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible, with no one playing fewer snaps at the position and grading out worse. He shouldn’t be anything more than a reserve.

DE Tyson Alualu

Alualu was a surprise pick as the 10th overall pick in 2010 and he was a massive bust, with the likes of Anthony Davis, Ryan Matthews, Brandon Graham, Earl Thomas, and Jason Pierre-Paul going 11-15 after him. He was Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2010, 88th ranked out of 88 eligible in 2011, and 84th ranked out of 85 eligible in 2012. The Jaguars then converted him to 4-3 defensive end, but he wasn’t any better there, grading out 48th out of 52 eligible at the position in 2013 and 50th out of 59 eligible in 2014. Few players have seen regular snaps and been worse than him over the past 5 years at any position. He shouldn’t be considered a lock to make anyone’s 53 man roster in 2015.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Chris Clemons

Chris Clemons had a strong stretch in Seattle from 2010-2012, grading out as a top-12 4-3 defensive end in all 3 seasons on Pro Football Focus, excelling at getting to the quarterback. However, he tore his ACL in the post-season in 2012 and hasn’t been the same since. He was Pro Football Focus’ 43rd ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible in 2013 and he was even worse in 2014 as even former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley couldn’t get it back out of him. He was the 2nd worst ranked player at his position this year. The Jaguars can save 4.5 million in cash and immediate cap space by cutting him this off-season.

TE Marcedes Lewis

Lewis, a 2006 1st round pick, has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of the last decade or so. Lewis hasn’t put him big numbers in the passing game, catching 315 passes for 3789 yards and 27 touchdowns in 128 career games, maxing out with a 58/700/10 line in 2010. However, that’s largely because he’s been stuck with terrible quarterbacks and been asked to stay in to pass protect more than any tight end in the league over that time period, something he excels at. He doesn’t excel as a pass catcher, but he’s been decent and he’s a dominant blocker both in the run game and the pass game. However, he’s coming off of the worst season of his career, grading out below average for the first time since 2008 and missing 8 games with injury. He’s missed a combined 13 games over the past 2 seasons and hasn’t been the same player on the field. Going into his age 31 season, owed 6.8 million, the Jaguars could easily cut him loose. They’d save that amount on the salary cap immediately by cutting him.

MLB Paul Posluszny

Paul Posluszny is the Jaguars’ highest paid player, making 7.5 million next season, and he’s not worth it as he’s largely been an average starter overall in Jacksonville over the past 5 seasons. He had a good start to his tenure in Jacksonvillle, grading out above average in both 2010 and 2011, including 7th in 2011, but he’s graded out below average in each of the last 3 seasons. He’s a team leader and the Jaguars aren’t strapped for cap space so they could keep him, but he’s going into his age 31 season, he missed 9 games with a torn pectoral last season, his best years are behind him, and the Jaguars can save all 7.5 million of that immediately in cap space so they could pull the trigger.

RB Toby Gerhart

The Jaguars signed Gerhart to a 3-year, 10.5 million dollar deal last off-season, hoping that the 2010 2nd round pick could emerge as a starter, out of Adrian Peterson’s shadow. Instead, he flopped, rushing for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns on 101 carries (3.23 YPC). Part of that had to do with the offensive line’s ineffectiveness, as well Gerhart’s nagging injuries, but he’s been passed by Denard Robinson on the depth chart and the Jaguars can avoid paying him 3 million in non-guaranteed money if they cut him this off-season.

DE Red Bryant

Red Bryant didn’t flop nearly as badly as fellow ex-Seahawk Chris Clemons did in his first season in Jacksonville. He did what he was brought in to do, stop the run, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd best at his position in that aspect. However, he once again got no pass rush and the Jaguars might not want to pay 4.25 million non-guaranteed to an aging two-down player. He’ll turn 31 in 2015.

WR Justin Blackmon

It’s easy to forget that Justin Blackmon is still on the Jaguars’ roster as he hasn’t been on the field since week 8 of 2013. Blackmon has missed 28 games combined over the past 2 seasons with drug abuse related suspensions. Though he’s tentatively expected to be reinstated for the 2015 season, his 2.9 million dollar salary for 2015 is non-guaranteed as a result of the suspension so he could be let go. However, his natural talent should get him a 2nd chance (or 3rd or 4th at this point). The 5th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Blackmon had a solid rookie season, catching 64 passes for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns and then excelled in 4 games as a sophomore in 2013 before getting suspended. His 2.58 yards per route run was 4th best in the NFL among eligible receivers as he caught 29 passes for 415 yards and 1 touchdown on 161 routes run in those 4 games.

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