The Jacksonville Jaguars never get any love. And based on their record over the course of the last several seasons, that is understandable. Under Gus Bradley’s three year stint with Jacksonville, the team is 12-36. Yet despite that fact, Jacksonville decided to bring him back for another season after showing some signs of improvement last season, finishing with a record of 5-11 (which is still not very good).
But there are some signs of life for the jungle cats. Blake Bortles is showing signs of becoming a legitimate NFL starting quarterback, and he is entering into his third season. He will once again have star wide receiver Allen Robinson at his disposal under Greg Olson’s offense. Bortles just needs to cut back on his interceptions, and he could find himself in the top ten for quarterbacks in the league this season.
But we are here to talk about players with more to prove than Bortles as training camp quickly approaches. July 25th will see the start of their camp, and fans will have plenty to look for. The team made some serious upgrades via free agency and the draft, so expectations will be up across the board. This will be a make-or-break season for Gus Bradley, and a slow start could very easily end his season early. They will likely need to hit at least .500 for him to retain his job come the end of the season. So here are five players that will have an integral part in making this season either a major step forward, or one that finishes Gus Bradley’s tenure.
Last season, TJ Yeldon proved he could be a solid NFL caliber running back. He ran for 740 yards, with an average of 4.1 yards a carry, but did miss four games with a knee injury. When the offseason rolled around, the Jaguars jumped at signing Chris Ivory to pair with their talented young back.
Ivory led the AFC in rushing last season, with 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. He brings a big, bruising style to the offense, to pair with the smaller Yeldon. Yeldon is certainly a good running back, but he is certainly not the best goal-line back. Ivory on the other hand, is extremely capable of handling the workload near the end-zone.
So put the two together and Jaguars fans may find themselves thinking back on the days when they had Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Both men are capable of starting, and will likely split carries overall. But the key is they both specialize in different styles of running, which will work to the Jaguars benefit.
At 28 years old, Ivory should still have some gas left in his tank. But moving to a new team and behind an offensive line that is not as good as the one he had in New York makes Ivory worth monitoring. Part of the Jaguars success will ride on Ivory doing what is expected of him. Sure Yeldon is a talented runner, but the team will greatly benefit from having two starting caliber backs in the backfield. So keep an eye on Ivory as camp opens. An Ivory-Yeldon combo will lead to less reliance on Bortles having to make the big play every game, and it will certainly keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Like Gus Bradley, this is a make or break season for Luke Joeckel. Back in May, the Jaguars declined the former second overall picks fifth year option. That means he is essentially playing on a one year contract this season, and is set to hit free agency once the season ends.
During the offseason, Jacksonville brought in veteran Kelvin Beachum via free agency. The team has said that it will be an open competition for the left tackle spot. Joeckel ended last season on a sour note, as he was responsible for four sacks in the game against the Houston Texans. That paired with his lackluster career to this point, and his position with the team is very much in jeopardy.
An inspired and improved Joeckel would give the offensive line a huge boost. The team does not have the greatest group up front, with several positions up for grabs during camp. No one on the line possesses the amount of talent that Joeckel does, but he needs to show it. He was drafted second overall for a reason, and entering season four, he needs to finally bring that to the surface.
If he loses the starting left tackle job to Beachum, he still may be able to help the team. Left guard is not set in stone, so having the combination of Beachum and Joeckel on the left side may be the best option for the team. The offensive line as a whole needs to be monitored during camp, but Joeckel is the key to the success. If he can show some of that talent and find his way on the field, the team will benefit. His and Gus Bradley’s fates depend on it.
Last year, the Jaguars selected Dante Fowler with the third overall pick out of Florida on April 30th 2015. Just over a week later, on May 8th 2015, Fowler tore his ACL during his very first day at rookie mini-camp. His season was over before training camp even began.
But that was this season. Now training camp for the 2016 season is upon us, and Fowler appears to be fully healthy and has no lingering effects from the ACL injury. Fowler is poised to bring his immense talent to a defensive line that has some serious talent on it, as well as some depth this season.
We know Fowler has a tremendous amount of talent, as he was one of the hottest names coming out the 2015 NFL Draft. Had it not been for two quarterback needy teams (Tampa Bay Bucs and Tennessee Titans) at the top to go along with two highly rated quarterbacks (Jameis Winston and Marcus Marriota), Fowler very easily could have gone first overall. He was picked ahead of names like Amari Cooper, Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters.
Now we enter a new season, and the pressure is completely off of Fowler. He has had a full year to learn the system, plus he is surrounded by some new talent. Malik Johnson was brought in from the Denver Broncos, and brings an intimidating force. Other names on the line include Jared Odrick, Tyson Alualu and Roy Miller. Bottom-line, the Jags have depth and will be able to keep their guys fresh.
And amongst all of these players, Fowler is hands down the X-factor. He possesses the most talent of anyone on the line, and that includes Johnson. If he can show why the Jaguars invested such a high pick on him, this unit is going to be scary good. So keep a look out for him during camp. Make sure he is coming off the ball strong and showing no ill effects of the knee injury. His health will be of the utmost importance to the Jags, and the ability to rotate guys in and out to keep them all fresh will only benefit Fowler and make him even more of a monster.
Hands down, Jack has the potential to be the steal of this season’s draft. Prior to the draft, Jack was considered to be a top five pick based on talent and he would make an immediate impact. It looked like the Cleveland Browns were set to have a defensive difference maker joining their squad.
But leading up to the draft the news came out about Jack’s knee. It came to light that Jack has issues with his knee that will lead to micro fracture surgery at some point down the road. This news led to Jack falling out of the first round completely, and leaving him for the Jaguars to take 36th overall, early in the second round.
But that news does nothing to take away from Jack’s speed and talent right now. Jack is a versatile player and he is able to cover the entire field. Sure his knee will need to have surgery at some point down the line, but no one ever said it was going to be this season.
A full healthy out of Jack would be a major home run for Jacksonville. It would give their line backing corps a much-needed shot in the arm. But the key word is healthy. While Jack could make it through the season without issue, it is far from a lock. That is what makes him such a compelling player to track during training camp.
If he plays, he will be electric. But it all comes down to health. Watch him closely during the pre-season games. If he is getting off slow, there may be something bugging him with the knee. Any kind of news about his knee could be a terrible break the Jaguars cannot afford.
With the fifth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Jalen Ramsey, cornerback out of Florida State. And similar to last season, the Jaguars top draft pick (also from a college in Florida), suffered an injury a few weeks later during rookie mini-camp. Ramsey suffered a small tear to his meniscus. He had surgery, but unlike Fowler, will not miss the season.
Ramsey is expected to be a go for training camp, but the team will certainly take it slow with the future star. He will be a key part to a secondary that was the prime weakness for the team last season. But the team made some moves to improve the unit, with the pick of Ramsey being chief among them.
The team also signed Tashaun Gipson, who had more interceptions during his four-year run in Cleveland than the Jaguars’ secondary did during a three-year stretch between 2013 and 2015. Free agent and former first round pick Prince Amukamara was also signed to a one year deal. These guys will pair with Johnathan Cyprien to make up the new look secondary.
But Ramsey is the key cog. He, like teammate Myles Jack, are potential defensive rookies of the year. But Ramsey needs to show he is healthy this season. So during camp keep a close eye on his knee. Knee surgery is not the easiest thing to come back from, especially when you pair it with having to learn a new system that any rookie does. So Ramsey has a lot of adversity facing him, and if he can overcome it, the Jaguars secondary will go from liability, to one of its key components.
But it all starts with training camp. Make sure you pay extra attention to Ramsey, as it will foreshadow what the season will hold for him, and his defensive unit.
We know Bortles has the talent and weapons to pass the ball to. The offensive line and running game are the areas that need focus during camp. Ivory can help form one of the best running duos in the league if he can live up to his contract and Yeldon can be used when needed. Joeckel may be on his final legs, so he needs to step up his game, even if that means a position change.
The defensive side of the ball is where the fun will be this season. This team has some serious talent now on that side of the ball, and you could not have said that about a Jacksonville Jaguars team in recent memory. Fowler has a year of learning the schemes and system under his belt, now he just needs to put his immense talent to work. Myles Jack has defensive rookie of the year potential, but needs his knee to hold up to the grind of the NFL. And Jalen Ramsey should also find himself in the discussion for defensive rookie of the year. The secondary should be much improved, and Ramsey needs to be a big reason why.
At the end of the day, this team has the talent to make some noise. The AFC South is a rather wide open division, and could lead to some interesting late season action. Will the Jags make enough noise to be in the discussion come seasons end? Very possible, especially if this defense proves to be as good as their talent says they can be. Keep a close eye on Jacksonville during training camp, as they hold plenty of intrigue before the season begins.
Final note for fantasy players, if you are at the end of your draft in need of a defense with your last pick, take a roll with Jacksonville. Week one is not a favorable matchup having to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but with the young talented core, they are certainly a sleeper that could have you smelling a championship come seasons end.