Despite the NFL’s best efforts to prevent dynasties, there are a handful of teams that seem to always be above the rest. New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Denver, and now Seattle all come to mind. While many teams struggle to find consistency, every year a team will come out of nowhere one year and surprise everyone. I believe the surprise team in 2016 will be the Jacksonville Jaguars
Although they finished the season with a 5-11 record, there was a lot more to show for it. The Jaguars showed off their young talent and if they can keep these players together, they will be great for a long time. In the offseason the Jaguars were able to add running back Chris Ivory, top free agent defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and defensive backs Prince Amukamara, and Tashaun Gipson. All were weak positions on the team and the Jaguars definitely had the money to spend. The Jaguars also hold the 5th overall pick in the draft and will get back last years 3rd overall pick Dante Fowler. So basically this year they have two first round picks coming into the season as Fowler never saw the field with his injury.
Now let’s talk about the young talent of the team. The team possesses a blossoming young quarterback in Blake Bortles. After a shaky rookie season Bortles bounced back with a great sophomore season. He finished with 4,428 passing yards, 35 TD’S, and 18 interceptions. This mostly was due to his counter parts in the season the young receiving tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Both have huge upside after both posted over 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns. They were able to help bring up there pass offense from 31st in 2014 to 10th in 2015, which is a huge jump. All three of these players are under the age of 25 and if they stay together and play at level they did last year, the Jaguars and their fans will have a lot to look forward to in 2016.
The addition of Chris Ivory to the backfield will pair him with second year running back T.J. Yeldon, which should help take pressure off the newly formed passing threats and make play action deadly for opposing defenses. Both running backs bring two different running styles to the team and will help out tremendously. Ivory is a big downhill, trucking type of back, while Yeldon uses his agility and speed to make plays. I also see last years free agent signing, Julius Thomas, taking on a more bigger role in the pass catching category, as he a had poor first year with the Jaguars. The main thing the Jaguars need to improve at is protecting Bortles. Over the last two seasons, he has been sacked 106 times, which is the most in the NFL over the last two years.
The Jaguars ranked 31st in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed on defense, which makes winning an uphill climb for the offense. With $80 million in cap space this year, the Jaguars landed Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson. In 2015, Jackson was able to disrupt many running lanes and ended the season with 34 tackles, 5 sacks, and 7 passes defended. The Jaguars are hoping he can bring that type of play to their young defense. Defensive backs Prince Amukamara and Teshaun Gipson bring young talent to the defense. Prince brings help with speed and instincts in his zone coverage skills and has decent press coverage, re-routing receivers at the line. Gipson brings ball-hawking skills along with great tackling ability. He led the AFC in interceptions in both 2013 and 2014.
What doesn’t get talked about a lot is the return of Fowler. Last year’s 3rd overall pick never got to play a down due to injury. He was rated a top edge rusher in last year’s draft class and should thrive with the newly signed Jackson on the defensive line.
The Jaguars also hold the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft. Many scouting experts lean towards the Jaguars taking a defensive player in the draft and I would definitely agree. This draft is filled with defensive talent. The best fit with them would be Myles Jack, UCLA’s star outside linebacker. He would make an immediate impact on the young, rebuilding defense. If Jack is taken before the fifth pick, other players that would fit the defense well include Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, and DeForest Buckner. Two talented pass rushers and two secondary monsters. The Jaguars should have no problem finding a talented player in this draft with the 5th overall pick.
On the Jaguars active roster only four players are 30 years of age or older, which shows how young the team is. With all the young talent they possess, I think they finally are on the right track to taking over the division within one or two years. While the AFC South is a tough division with the Colts and Texans, they are ready to compete and make a run at the division title.
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