In 2017, the Jaguars made it all the way to the AFC Championship and came within a 4th quarter collapse of making the franchise’s first Super Bowl. That team finished the season 2nd in first down rate differential at +4.45%, led by a league best defense and supported by an offense that ranked 14th. However, that success was very short-lived. Their defense suffered the fate of many top defenses that have been unable to keep all of their talented players together long-term, while the decent offensive performance they managed in 2017 proved to largely be the result of an easy schedule.
For a variety of reasons, the Jaguars collapsed much quicker than they needed to. One of those reasons was simply that after things started to get bad, the Jaguars basically pulled the plug on the whole thing and embraced a rebuild. It could easily prove to be the right move in the long-term, but in the short-term, it led to the Jaguars entering the 2020 season with one of the worst teams in the league on paper. Just three seasons after their impressive 2017 campaign, the Jaguars no longer had 20 of the 26 players who played at least 400 snaps on either side of the ball in 2017 and, in their place, was a roster of largely unproven young players that had the 2nd lowest average annual salary in the league.
Sometimes bad teams on paper exceed expectations and it seemed like the Jaguars could be heading in that direction after week one of last season when they beat a Colts team that was expected to make the post-season and ultimately ended up doing so, but that game proved to be a complete fluke, as the Jaguars lost their next 15 games by an average of 12.9 points per game, giving them the league’s worst record at 1-15 and the worst schedule adjusted first down rate differential in the league at -5.85%.
However, the Jaguars picked a good season to be bad, as the resulting #1 overall pick they received could be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, one of the surest #1 overall picks in NFL history, a likely long-time NFL starter who has the potential to be among the best quarterbacks in the league. No prospect is ever a sure thing, but Lawrence has a great chance to finally lock down the Jaguars quarterback position for years to come. The Jaguars are also hoping to lock down the head coaching position for years to come as well, hiring ex-college coach and NCAA National Champion Urban Meyer.
There are certainly questions about Meyer’s fit as an NFL head coach and Meyer’s track record would seem to suggest that him sticking around for the long-term is probably wishful thinking, but Meyer came into a good situation. Not only do the Jaguars have Lawrence, but their lack of spending on their roster last season led to the Jaguars having the most cap space in the league this off-season. Teams don’t always spend cap space in the best ways, but having a significant amount of money to play with in free agency is a good way to build a team up quickly and in fact is how the 2017 Jaguars team was largely built, with free agent signings like AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell standing out.
The Jaguars have also accumulated draft capital in recent years, in part due to their own struggles and in part to trading veteran players for draft picks, and they have some promising young players as a result, with nine draft picks over the past three drafts falling in the top-45, including four in 2021. Again, teams don’t always use draft capital in the best ways, but accumulating a significant amount of young, cheap talent at once is also a good way to build a team up quickly. That’s especially true if you can get a cheap young franchise quarterback like Trevor Lawrence could easily be, as that allows the Jaguars to continue being aggressive adding veterans in free agency to supplement their cheaper young players.
Since the salary cap era began, just 7 of 27 Super Bowl champions have had quarterbacks take up more than 10% of their cap space, with more than half of Super Bowls being won by quarterbacks who took up less than 7% of cap space. The 7 exceptions were all Hall of Famers, so history shows that you either need a reasonably priced quarterback or a very high level quarterback to win the big game. If Lawrence is as advertised, he could potentially be both and, even if he is merely a solid starter, the Jaguars have four cracks at a Super Bowl with him on a cost controlled rookie deal.
The Jaguars were somewhat aggressive adding free agents with their cap space this off-season and now have the 20th highest average annual salary in the league, a metric that correlates heavily with winning, but they also still have the flexibility to add a lot more in the future, with among the most projected cap space in the league over the next two off-seasons as well. The Jaguars could easily prove to be at least a year away still in 2021, but things are looking up for this team, in large part due to their exciting new quarterback.
The Jaguars still have 2019 6th round pick Gardner Minshew, who is essentially their incumbent quarterback and hasn’t looked horrible across 20 career starts, with his 7-13 record actually being pretty decent all things considered. Overall, he’s finished 21st and 27th among quarterbacks on PFF over the past two seasons respectively, hardly the worst in the league. There was speculation that the Jaguars would try to move Minshew this off-season to a team that viewed him as a low cost starting option, but he remains on the roster and, while he could still be moved later if a team loses their quarterback to injury and wants Minshew as a replacement, the Jaguars didn’t add a better backup this off-season, so this should still Minshew’s job for the time being.
The Jaguars did sign ex-49ers backup quarterback CJ Beathard, but his career 81.1 QB rating leaves something to be desired and he’s gone just 2-10 in his career with more talent around him with the 49ers than Minshew has had with the Jaguars. The Jaguars also have 2020 6th round pick Jake Luton in the mix, but he struggled mightily in limited action last season and the regime that drafted him is gone and now replaced by one that has drafted another quarterback and added a veteran in free agency, so he has a really uphill battle to even make this final roster as a 3rd quarterback.
One of Minshew or Beathard is likely to be the backup, with Minshew seemingly the favorite unless he gets traded before the season begins. Beathard could be kept regardless though, as the 2-year, 5 million dollar deal this off-season guaranteed him 2.5 million. Regardless of who the backup is, the Jaguars aren’t even pretending they’re going to make Lawrence compete for the starting role, so they would only see action in case of an injury. Lawrence could easily have growing pains as a rookie, but he should easily be an upgrade for this team at the game’s most important position and he is probably the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
One of the Jaguars’ big additions this off-season was to add ex-Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones on a 2-year, 12.5 million dollar deal to give Trevor Lawrence a proven target to throw to. Jones has been a reliably consistent wide receiver over the past eight seasons, dating back to his second season in the league. He’s only once topped 1000 yards as mostly a secondary receiving option, but he’s averaged a 64/923/8 slash line per 16 games across a total of 101 games, with a 1.63 yards per route run average as well and above average grades from PFF in every season. Jones is going into his age 31 season, but he hasn’t shown any signs of decline and even if his decline begins this year, I would still expect him to remain a solid starting option.
The Jaguars lost Chris Conley and Keelan Cole this off-season and they gave this team decent production (40/471/2 and 55/642/5 respectively), but they should more than make up for that with the addition of Jones, along with second year wide receivers Laviska Shenault (2nd round) and Collin Johnson (5th round) seeing more playing time after averaging 1.55 yards per route run and 1.60 yards per route run respectively as rookies. Shenault has the greater potential for a second year breakout, but Johnson flashed more upside than you’d expect out of a fifth rounder in his rookie season.
The Jaguars also still have DJ Chark, who was their nominal #1 receiver last season, leading the team in receiving with a 53/706/5 slash line and in targets with 93. I say nominal because, while Chark played like a #1 receiver in 2019, posting a 73/1008/8 slash line with a team leading 1.69 yards per route run and finishing as PFF’s 27th ranked wide receiver, that was not the case in 2020, when his yardage dropped significantly and his per route run average dropped to 1.48.
That wasn’t just because of bad quarterback play either, as Johnson, Shenault, and Conley all had higher averages and Chark fell all the way to 58th among wide receivers on PFF as well. Chark is still young in his age 25 season and is a former 2nd round pick (2018), so he has bounce back potential and could post career best numbers with the best quarterback he’s ever had, but his 1.49 yards per route run average for his career is in line with what he did last season and it’s not a guarantee he improves drastically.
While Jones was a nice addition at wide receiver, it’s surprising the Jaguars didn’t make a significant addition at tight end, where they had just 69 receptions last season, 36 of which went out the door with veteran free agent Tyler Eifert this off-season. James O’Shaughnessy had 28 of those catches and remains on the team as the de facto starter, but he’s been a blocking specialist for most of his career and a mediocre one at that. Now in his 7th season in the league with just a 1.04 yards per route run average, it’s very unlikely he suddenly becomes a receiving threat.
The Jaguars off-season additions at tight end include blocking specialist Chris Manhertz, who is a solid blocker, but has averaged just 0.51 yards per route run in his career, 5th round rookie Luke Farrell, who could factor into the mix as a receiver by default, and the wild card of the group, former first round pick Tim Tebow. Tebow was famously drafted as a quarterback, 25th overall by Denver in 2010, and went on an improbable run as the Broncos starting quarterback in 2011 that culminated with a post-season victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, only to fall back to earth in a big way the following week against the New England Patriots.
Despite being 9-7 as a starter with the Broncos, Tebow’s issues as a passer showed and his 4.9 average margin of victory contrasted badly with his 20.6 average margin of defeat, leading the Broncos to search for a more consistent option, finding an obvious one in Peyton Manning, leading to Tebow being traded from Denver. Tebow first went to the Jets where he only ever backed up Mark Sanchez and he ended up never making another start again, despite stints with several different teams who gave him a chance.
Tebow’s athleticism made him a threat on the ground which allowed him to have the success that he did have, but his lack of accuracy as a passer doomed his career as an NFL quarterback. His combination of size and speed always made him an intriguing option as a tight end, but Tebow refused a position switch and opted to play minor league baseball for several seasons, before finally deciding to give playing tight end a shot in Jacksonville this off-season, with his former college head coach Urban Meyer.
The problem is not only has Tebow never played tight end before, but he’s going into his age 34 season and it’s hard to say if he’ll have the same athleticism as before, even though he’s remained a professional athlete. Reports suggest Urban Meyer is serious about Tebow making this roster and, even if he plays more of a Taysom Hill wildcat/hybrid role, he could still have value for this offense as a short yardage option. Anything more than a dozen catches from him would be a surprise though, as I don’t expect him to play significant snaps as a pure tight end. The tight end position figures to be even less of a focus on the passing game this season compared to last, but the Jaguars do cover for that somewhat with a solid group for wide receivers.
The Jaguars also used a first round pick on another Clemson offensive player, taking Trevor Lawrence’s college backfield partner Travis Etienne. It was a surprising pick, as investing a first round pick in a running back is rarely worth it and the Jaguars didn’t seem to have a big need at the position, with incumbent starter James Robinson averaging 4.46 YPC with 7 touchdowns on 240 carries last season as a mere undrafted rookie and veteran backup Carlos Hyde being added behind him in free agency. Hyde has never been a receiving back (0.61 yards per route run, 5.67 yards per target) and, while James Robinson had a decent 49/334/3 slash line last season, it came on an average of 1.20 yards per route run and 5.73 yards per target, so there was a need for a receiving back, which Etienne will provide, but they played a steep price for him.
Because of that steep price, Etienne also figures to get a lot of carries as well, at the expense of James Robinson. Robinson was not a guarantee to repeat last season’s performance and it’s not unnoteworthy that the entire league, including the Jaguars, didn’t think he was worth drafting just a year ago, but the Jaguars didn’t really need to find an early down upgrade on him. It’s unclear how the Jaguars will split up the carries, but Etienne and Robinson should form a solid tandem, with Robinson serving as a more powerful between the tackles runner and Etienne being a speed and space back.
Carlos Hyde seems to be buried on the depth chart behind Etienne and Robinson now, but he could still get a few carries per game. Hyde is now in his age 31 season and his 4.10 YPC for his career is underwhelming, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him step in and be a serviceable #2 running back if either of their top-2 backs got injured. Overall, this is a solid backfield, albeit one where the Jaguars somewhat unnecessarily used a high draft pick this off-season.
The Jaguars also used a second round pick on another offensive player, taking Stanford’s Walker Little 45th overall. Little probably won’t play much as a rookie barring injuries ahead of him, with the Jaguars having a pair of other recent first round picks in Cam Robinson (2017) and Jawaan Taylor (2019) locked in as the starting tackles, after making all 16 starts in 2020. Robinson was franchise tagged as a free agent this off-season though and Little’s selection seems to suggest he’s not getting a long-term deal.
Even Robinson being franchise tagged was a bit of a surprise, as he’s never played at a level to justify the 13.754 million guarantee he is set to take home in 2021. Robinson has been a starter on the left side since day one, but finished 79th out of 90 eligible offensive tackles on PFF as a rookie in 2017 and 75th out of 86 eligible in 2019, with a lost year due to a 2018 torn ACL sandwiched in between those two disappointing seasons. Robinson had the best year of his career in 2020, but still only earned a middling grade from PFF.
Capable left tackles don’t grow on trees and Robinson at least was that last season, but the Jaguars franchise tagged him like they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to find a cheaper replacement or upgrade. With Little being added to the mix, Robinson’s days seem numbered, barring a breakout 2021 campaign. Still only going into his age 26 season, it’s possible that could happen and that 2021 will be his best season yet, but he could just as easily regress to his pre-2020 form when he was a consistently below average starter.
Jawaan Taylor didn’t play all that well either last season, actually finishing 79th out of 89 eligible offensive tackles on PFF. He showed himself to be a more capable starter as a rookie and already has 32 starts under his belt, while not even turning 25 until later this year, so he has the upside to be better going forward, but him breaking out as an above average starter is definitely far from a guarantee. This is an unspectacular young duo, barring one of them breaking out, but the Jaguars at least can expect there to not be much dropoff if one misses games this time around, with Walker Little now the swing tackle.
While both of the Jaguars’ starting tackles avoided injuries in 2020, they were not so lucky at other positions on the line, most notably center, where Brandon Linder was limited to 530 snaps in 9 games. Not only that, but Linder is probably their best offensive lineman when healthy, ranking 3rd among centers on PFF last season, his 5th straight finish in the top-7 among centers, since switching to the position in 2016. A 3rd round pick in 2014, Linder also was PFF’s 12th ranked guard as a rookie, so he’s been a consistently high level player throughout his career.
The one concern is injuries, as Linder missed most of 2015 with injury and also was limited to 9 games in 2018, before last year’s injury plagued year. Still in his late prime in his age 29 season, Linder has bounce back potential if he can stay on the field, but that’s not a guarantee. The Jaguars brought back reserve Tyler Shatley as a free agent and he was solid in Linder’s absence last season, but the 7-year veteran has been middling at best in 25 career starts and now is in his age 30 season, so he would obviously be a downgrade if he had to see significant action again in 2021.
At guard, Andrew Norwell and AJ Cann seem locked in on the left side and the right side respectively, giving the Jaguars the same starting five upfront as they had last season. Both played well in 2020 too, finishing 23rd and 19th among guards on PFF in 13 starts and 15 starts respectively. For Norwell, this is nothing new, as the 2014 former undrafted free agent has finished in the top-23 among guards on PFF in all seven seasons in the league (94 starts), with his best seasons coming in 8th ranked finishes in 2015 and 2017. His age is a slight concern, going into his age 30 season, but he doesn’t have much of an injury history and could easily continue being an above average starter for another couple seasons.
Cann, meanwhile, played a little out of the ordinary last season. Cann also finished 32nd among guards on PFF in 2016 and has made 90 starts in 6 seasons in the league since being selected by the Jaguars in the 3rd round in 2015, but he’s largely been a middling starter and, now going into his age 30 season as well, I wouldn’t expect him to repeat the best season of his career again in 2021. He should remain a capable starter at least, but he’ll probably take a little bit of a step back. Only 2020 4th round pick Ben Bartch (219 mediocre rookie year snaps) is on the depth chart behind Norwell and Cann, so both are locked into starting roles. This group looks very similar to a year ago, but they weren’t a bad group, they should be healthier on the interior this season, and, if their tackles aren’t as healthy as they were last season, now they have better insurance.
The Jaguars didn’t make any big additions at the edge defender position, but that was to be expected, as they have a pair of recent first round picks at the position who they are expecting more out of in 2021. They also added 4th round pick Jordan Smith to the mix and he could compete for a role in year one. They also added Jihad Ward, a rotational player who has played 315 snaps per season in five seasons in the league, while earning largely mediocre grades. If he makes the final roster, he could earn a role as well.
However, the big reason for optimism is the presence of the two recent first round picks. Josh Allen was selected 7th overall by the Jaguars in 2019 and has played pretty well in two seasons in the league, earning slightly above average grades from PFF in both seasons and totaling 13 sacks, 23 hits, and a 11.2% pressure rate, but he missed 8 games with injury last season and has the potential to be a lot better than he’s been. If he can stay healthy in 2021, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him take a big step forward in his third season in the league.
K’Lavon Chaisson, on the other hand, started his career off with a dud, being selected 20th overall by the Jaguars, but finishing his rookie season 118th out of 124 eligible edge defenders across 569 snaps. Chaisson was seen as a potential liability against the run as a prospect, but he was horrendous in that aspect of the game and didn’t rush the passer nearly well enough to make up for it, finishing with 1 sack, 8 hits, and a 8.6% pressure rate. He was very much part of the problem for this Jaguars defense last season, especially after Josh Allen got hurt, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be a lot better in his second season in the league. Even if he doesn’t suddenly become an above average starter, it wouldn’t be hard for him to be better than he was last season and, at least as a pass rusher, he does have a very high upside.
With Allen missing time and Chaisson struggling, the Jaguars were led in snaps played on the edge by Dawuane Smoot (665 snaps) and Adam Gotsis (579 snaps). Smoot led the team with 5.5 sacks, but that isn’t an impressive total and the Jaguars had just 18 sacks as a team, second fewest in the NFL. Smoot also had just a 7.9% pressure rate on the season and earned a below average grade from PFF overall across 665 snaps. Smoot was retained on a 2-year, 10 million dollar deal as a free agent this off-season and was originally selected by the Jaguars in the 3rd round in 2017, but he wasn’t much better across 82 snaps total in his first three seasons in the league and is unlikely to take a big leap forward in 2021.
Gotsis, meanwhile, got even less pass rush than Smoot, with 0 sacks, 3 hits, and a 4.1% pressure rate, but the converted defensive tackle played primarily in base packages. He wasn’t as good against the run as his 6-4 287 frame would suggest though and his lack of pass rush was a major concern. Both Smoot and Gotsis should play fewer snaps on the edge this season, especially Gotsis, who should see more action on the interior with the Jaguars transitioning to a 3-4 base defense. Gotsis has been a middling player at best across an average of 428 snaps per game in 5 seasons in the league and is unlikely to play a big role or make a big positive impact regardless of where he lines up though. This group should be better by default in 2021 and they have the upside to be significantly better if their recent first round picks take big steps forward.
The Jaguars spent more resources on the interior this off-season, which makes sense because, unlike the edge, where they have two promising young players, the Jaguars had a big need on the interior, especially moving to a 3-4 base defense in which they’ll be using three interior defenders at once in base packages. Their two big moves were to trade for Malcom Brown from the Saints, taking on Brown’s contract, which was restructured to 11 million over 2 seasons, for a late round pick in what amounted to a salary dump, and to sign ex-Bear Roy Robertson-Harris to a 3-year, 23.4 million dollar deal. The Jaguars also used a 4th round pick on USC’s Jay Tufele, although he might not factor into the mix much in his first year.
Robertson-Harris should be the best pass rusher of this group, adding a much needed element to this defense. Robertson-Harris might have been a little bit of an overpay given the market this off-season, as he’s averaged just 339 snaps per season over the past four seasons, while never topping 544 snaps in a season. Those 544 snaps came in 2019 and he was on pace for a similar total in 2020, with 245 snaps in 8 games before getting hurt, so he’s been a heavy rotational player for each of the past two seasons and his limited snap counts have primarily been due to him being a mediocre run stuffer, while the Bears have had other options. As a pass rusher though, he’s seen regular action and, while he’s only totaled 7.5 sacks, he’s added 25 hits, and a 8.9% pressure rate in 52 games over the past four seasons combined. He should be a similar player in his new home in Jacksonville.
Malcom Brown, meanwhile, will be the nose tackle and primarily focus on stuffing the run on early downs. A first round pick by the Patriots in 2015, Brown never lived up to expectations, in large part due to his underwhelming pass rush ability, as he has a career 5.8% pressure rate and, in large part due to that, has never played more than 595 snaps in a season in his career, as primarily a base package player.
However, he has been an effective run stuffer, so he should fit the role the Jaguars need from him well. Brown has earned an above average grade from PFF for his run defense in five of six seasons in the league, maxing out at 12th among interior defenders in run defense on PFF in both 2016 and 2017 and also finishing 16th in 2020, while playing 345 total snaps in 13 games with the Saints. Still young in his age 27 season, I would expect more of the same from him in 2021, which will make him a useful player.
Along with Brown and Robertson-Harris, the Jaguars will also be hoping to get more out of young holdovers. One of those key holdovers is 2018 1st round pick Taven Bryan. Bryan showed potential in his first two seasons in the league, but that came in snap counts of just 301 and 481 respectively, on a much better Jaguars defensive line. In 2020, the Jaguars leaned on Bryan for more and he didn’t respond well, finishing 87th out of 139 eligible interior defenders on PFF. Bryan’s snap count of 511 wasn’t much higher than when he was a reserve, but he saw 387 of those snaps in the first 9 games of the season, before being benched for ineffectiveness down the stretch.
Bryan is still only going into his age 25 season and should still have upside as a former first round pick who showed promise earlier in his career, so there is a good chance he’ll be better in 2021 than 2020, especially if he plays a more limited rotational role, but it’s far from a guarantee that he ever lives up to his draft status or his early career promise. The Jaguars also used a 3rd round pick on a defensive tackle in 2020, taking Davon Hamilton, but he proceeded to struggle across 408 rookie year snaps. The potential is obviously there for him to be better in his second season in the league, but he would have to take a big step forward to become a solid starter.
The Jaguars also have Doug Costin, who, despite going undrafted in 2020, played better across 456 rookie year snaps than his higher drafted teammates in Bryan and Hamilton and by season’s end was playing more than both Bryan and Hamilton. Costin didn’t show much pass rush last year, but he played the run well and earned a slightly above average overall grade from PFF for his efforts. However, he’s still pretty unproven and it can’t yet be ignored that the whole league let him go undrafted a year ago. He could be a useful rotational player for this team, but I wouldn’t expect more from him. This is a deeper group than a year ago, but they still lack a high end talent, relying more on a rotation of 4-5 players to get to likely middling play.
The Jaguars didn’t make any big additions at linebacker, but they already have a pair of highly paid players every down options in Myles Jack (4-year, 57 million dollar contract) and Joe Schobert (5-year, 53.75 million dollar contract). It’s questionable whether either one is worth that though. Jack has earned an above average grade from PFF in four of five seasons in the league since being selected by the Jaguars in the 2nd round in 2016, including a 15th ranked finish in 2020, but he’s never finished higher than he did in 2020 in his career, while his down season came in 2019, when he finished just 89th out of 100 eligible linebackers. He’s a solid every down player at his best, but I’m not sure if that’s worth his contract and he comes with some downside as well.
Schobert, meanwhile, signed with the Jaguars as a free agent last off-season, after being selected in the 4th round in 2016 by the Browns and spending his first four seasons in Cleveland. He became an every down starter in his second season with the Browns, ranking 30th among off ball linebackers on PFF that season and then improving to 10th the following season in 2018, before seeing that fall to 57th among 100 eligible in his contract year in 2019. The Jaguars took a chance that his contract year struggles were a fluke, but he continued to underwhelm in 2020, finishing 53rd among 99 eligible off ball linebackers. Schobert is still young in his age 28 season and has bounce back potential, but he might not be better than a middling player in 2021 even if he bounces back.
Jack and Schobert are locked into every down roles, but if injuries strike, replacement options are underwhelming. Those options include 2018 7th round pick Leon Jacobs, who flashed potential across snap counts of 146 and 325 respectively in 2018 and 2019, but then saw just 33 snaps in last season, 2020 4th round pick Shaq Quarterman, who didn’t play a snap on defense as a rookie, 2019 3rd round pick Quincy Williams, who struggled mightily across 494 rookie year snaps and then saw just 89 snaps last season, 2019 7th round pick Dakota Allen, who struggled mightily in the first 103 snaps of his season last season, and veteran Damien Wilson who might be their best option by default.
Wilson has struggled over the past two seasons across snap counts of 709 and 531 respectively though and he wasn’t much better earlier in his career as a reserve, so he would be an underwhelming option as well. Jack and Schobert aren’t a great starting duo, even if they are being paid like one, but the Jaguars need them to remain healthy because their lack of depth would almost definitely be exposed if one of them were to get injured.
The secondary is the group that the Jaguars invested the most in this off-season and, at the cornerback position, that goes back to last off-season as well, when they used the 9th overall pick on CJ Henderson, who became a week one starter. Henderson’s rookie year got off to a good start, but he struggled as the season went on and ultimately ended up with a below average grade from PFF, before going down for the season with injury after just 474 snaps in 8 games. Henderson still has a huge upside though and could easily take a step forward in year two if he’s healthy.
This off-season, the Jaguars also added veteran Shaq Griffin in free agency on a 3-year, 40 million dollar deal to start opposite Henderson and they also used a 2nd round pick on Georgia’s Tyson Campbell, who could easily earn a role in three cornerback sets as a rookie. Henderson has good upside and Campbell does as well for that matter, but Griffin should be the Jaguars top cornerback. A 3rd round pick of the Seahawks in 2017, Griffin has made 53 starts in 57 games in four seasons in the league, earning above average grades from PFF in three of four seasons, including a career best 11th ranked finish in 2019. He’s not quite an elite cornerback, but he’s at least an above average starter and, only in his age 26 season, it’s possible he still has untapped upside.
Tre Herndon led this group with 1,017 snaps played last season, but he struggled mightily and doesn’t figure to factor into the mix much this season. The more intriguing holdover is Sidney Jones, who flashed potential across 303 snaps, but missed much of the season with injury, playing just 9 games total. Injuries have been a big problem for Jones dating back to a torn achilles suffered during the pre-draft process that dropped a likely top-15 pick down to the 43rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, selected by the Eagles.
Jones returned to play a little at the end of his rookie year, but that started a 3-year stretch where injury and inconsistency plagued him, as he played just 643 snaps in 22 of a possible 48 games, leading to the Eagles releasing him before the final year of his rookie deal last off-season. The Jaguars took a flyer on him and were rewarded with solid play while he was on the field, but once again injuries limited his availability.
Jones showed the Jaguars enough for them to bring him back this off-season and, still only going into his age 25 season, he has the upside to continue playing at an above average level if he can stay healthy, but he’s been very tough to rely on thus far in his career. He also has an uphill battle for a role in a much more talented cornerback group. With Henderson and Griffin likely locked in as starter, that leaves Jones to compete with rookie Tyson Campbell for the #3 cornerback job.
Counting to add to their secondary, the Jaguars also signed a safety and drafted a safety this off-season, just like they did at the cornerback position. The free agent acquisition was ex-Charger Rayshawn Jenkins, who comes over on a 4-year, 35 million dollar deal and third round rookie Andre Cisco. Jenkins’ salary should lock him into an every down starting role, but the Jaguars also bring back Jarrod Wilson (765 snaps) and Andrew Wingard (461 snaps) who weren’t bad in their playing time last season, so this is a decently deep position, meaning Cisco is unlikely to see a big role as a rookie.
Like most of the Jaguars’ free agent signings this off-season, Jenkins is not a high level player, but he should be a solid starter for them, as he was the past two seasons with the Chargers. Selected in the 4th round in 2017, Jenkins hardly played in his first two seasons, limited to 175 defensive snaps total, but he flashed potential and, since then, he’s made 31 of 32 starts over the past two seasons, while earning a slightly above average grade from PFF in both seasons. Still in his prime in his age 27 season, that should continue with his new team.
Wilson and Wingard, meanwhile, are likely to compete for the other starting job, with Wilson likely the favorite. Undrafted in 2016, Wilson also played sparingly early in his career, playing 305 snaps total in his first three seasons in the league, but he also flashed potential and then translated that into being a capable starter over the past two seasons, making 28 of 32 starts total. Wingard, on the other hand, has played just 646 snaps in two seasons since going undrafted in 2019 and, while he’s shown potential, he hasn’t proven much yet. This secondary lacks high end talent, but they’re solid overall and have decent depth.
The Jaguars had overall middling special teams last season, ranking 18th in special teams DVOA, but their one glaring weakness was their place kickers. The Jaguars cycled through six different kickers last season who combined to make just 85.7% of extra points and 72.0% of field goals. Aldrick Rosas and Josh Lambo were the best of the bunch, combining to make 89.5% of extra points and 81.3% field goals, and they will compete for the starting role in 2021, with no outside competition being added.
Lambo has been the Jaguars’ kicker for four seasons and was much better prior to his injury plagued 2020 season, combining to make 93.8% of extra points and 94.7% of field goals from 2017-2019, while never finishing worse than 9th among kickers on PFF. Assuming he’s healthy, he has a good shot to bounce back in 2021 and should be considered the favorite for this role, even if Aldrick Rosas is likely to give him a real competition.
Rosas was the Giants kicker for three seasons from 2017-2019, including a dominant 2018 campaign in which he was PFF’s 1st ranked kicker, but he followed that up by finishing 35 out of 38 eligible kickers in 2019 and in total he made just 91.5% of his extra points and 82.7% of his field goals in those three seasons. If he beats out Lambo, it’s probably going to be more because Lambo struggled than Rosas impressed. Either way, it would be hard for the Jaguars to not have significantly improved kicker play in 2021 compared to 2020.
Punter Logan Cooke wasn’t terrible last season, but he wasn’t good either, finishing 26th out of 34 eligible punters on PFF. The Jaguars punt DVOA was their best of any special teams aspect, but that was mostly due to the play of their other special teamers. Cooke was their primary kickoff specialist last season as well, but he especially struggled in that aspect, finishing 37th out of 38 eligible on PFF.
However, the Jaguars still finished slightly above average in DVOA on kickoffs, also in large part due to the play of their other special teamers. It’s possible Cooke could concede kickoff duties to Lambo or Rosas, who have both been capable in that aspect in their careers and would both likely be upgrades on Cooke. The Jaguars aren’t going to have one of the best kicker/punter duos in the league, but they could easily get decent play from both spots.
The Jaguars also finished above average in punt return DVOA and they averaged an above average 11.4 yards per punt return last season, but 91 yards came on one return touchdown from Keelan Cole where the supporting cast did most of the work and they averaged just 6.7 yards per return on their other punt returns, while their kickoff return specialists combined to average just 20.5 yards per return. Cole is also no longer with the team, leaving the Jaguars to find a new punt return specialist and new kickoff return specialist this off-season.
The Jaguars did so by signing Jamal Agnew, who has been one of the better return men in the league over the past four seasons since being selected in the 5th round by the Lions in 2017, averaging 11.6 yards per punt return on 74 attempts and 25.8 yards per kickoff return on 64 attempts, while scoring five touchdowns. He should continue that strong play in 2021 with his new team in Jacksonville, upgrading both spots for the Jaguars. If the Jaguars can continue getting strong play from their supporting cast, they could have a very explosive return game and even if they don’t, Agnew should give them above average production.
As I mentioned the Jaguars got strong play from their other special teamers last season and the good news is they’ve retained their top-10 in snaps played from a year ago, with the best performances coming from Daniel Thomas (190 snaps), Doug Middleton (189 snaps), and Dare Ogunbowale (202 snaps), who finished 9th, 29th, and 48th respectively among special teamers on PFF. Dakota Allen (251 snaps) and Brandon Rusnak (371 snaps) led the unit in snaps played and also earned above average grades from PFF.
There are some concerns though, as all five of those players are coming off by far the best special teams seasons of their careers and might not be as good in 2021, while the Jaguars also will be changing special teams coordinators from Brian Schneider to Nick Sorensen, which could hurt their continuity. This should at least be a solid group again, but they might not be as good as a year ago.
The Jaguars only won a single game a year ago, but teams are almost never that bad two seasons in a row and the Jaguars had a lot of the signs of a team that could be significantly improved at the end of the off-season. They had one of the most valuable #1 overall picks of all time, along with another three picks in the top-45, after selecting five times in the top-45 in the previous two drafts, and they also had the most cap space in the league in an off-season when most teams couldn’t afford to spend big in free agency due to a reduced salary cap.
However, I don’t think they improved as much as they could have. They sat on a lot of that cap space, which will benefit them when they roll it forward to future years, but it doesn’t help them this season. The select free agents they did bring in were more in the solid to good range, rather than high level impact players. They used one of their other high draft picks on a running back, which is normally ill-advised even if you do have a big need at the position, which the Jaguars did not, and then they used another one of those picks on an offensive tackle, who could start in 2022 and beyond, but is unlikely to make an impact in year one.
The Jaguars may be viewing this as a 2-3 year rebuild, which could prove to be smart, even if many of their signings this off-season could have been seen as overpays, but either way I don’t think this team is going to be overly competitive this season. They’ll win more games, but they still seem to be in the bottom third of the league on paper. I will have a final prediction for the Jaguars at the end of the off-season with the rest of the teams.
8/8/21: Not much has changed for the Jaguars, who are unlikely to get a significant impact either way from their special teams unit.
9/4/21 Update: I didn’t love the Travis Etienne pick, but there is no doubt this team will miss him with him out for the season, particularly in the passing game, where they lack capable pass catching backs and tight ends and will be very reliant on their wide receivers. This team will be better in 2021, but they should be at least a year away from getting back to the post-season.
Prediction: 6-11 3rd in AFC South