Just three years removed from the AFC Championship Game, the Jacksonville Jaguars have turned over most of their roster with hopes of building it back up for another postseason run. Quarterback Gardner Minshew emerged last season as a potential starter as a sixth-round rookie, and he’ll have one more shot to see if he’s the signal-caller of the future. If not, the Jaguars are likely back picking near the top of the draft, where they'll vie for one of the highly touted quarterbacks prospects.
The roster needs work across the board, but the key for Jacksonville this season will be getting young players into the mix and ready to contribute in the coming years. While it may not translate to many wins, the Jaguars have an exciting group of young talent that should have them competing again in the near future.
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Additions/players brought back:
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (franchise tag)
LB Joe Schobert (signed for five years, $53.75 million, $22.5 million guaranteed)
IOL Tyler Shatley (re-signed for one year, $1.5 million)
EDGE Calais Campbell (via trade)
QB Nick Foles (via trade)
CB A.J. Bouye (via trade)
Here’s what I said about Gardner Minshew after the 2019 season:
Minshew was thrust into the lineup in the first half of Week 1, and he certainly exceeded expectations for a rookie sixth-round pick. Despite his mediocre arm strength, Minshew was excellent throwing the ball down the field, generating the No. 3 PFF grade on 20-plus yard throws. He did a fine job of making the most out of Jacksonville’s offense, which came into the season with few household names in the passing game. Among the negatives, Minshew picked up 38% of his turnover-worthy plays on fumbles, often spending too much time trying to create late in the down. Overall, it was a mid-tier performance for Minshew, who did show starting ability, but there’s plenty to clean up if he’s going to be considered a long-term answer.
One of the biggest stories of the 2019 season was Minshew emerging as a capable starter and giving the Jaguars something to think about for the future. He was a late bloomer in college who took to Washington State’s scheme under Mike Leach, and he carried that feel for the pass game into his rookie year.
Minshew overcame average tools to spread the ball around and help a below-average Jaguars offense exceed expectations. This season is yet another test for Minshew to see if he can elevate the offense and build on the downfield accuracy and decision-making that made him so efficient last season.
Despite rumors that he was on the trading block, Leonard Fournette returns as the Jaguars' top ball-carrier. Despite the perception that a Fournette-led rushing attack was a catalyst for the Jaguars' 2017 AFC Championship run, the reality is that Fournette’s rushing grade has landed in the 60.0s in all three of his NFL seasons and that his 2017 campaign was the worst of the bunch.
He did take a step forward last season with a career-high 3.34 yards after contact per rush while forcing 42 missed tackles, but since entering the NFL, Fournette has ranked in the bottom half in creating for himself. Last season, he caught 76 passes, but that netted him just 522 yards (6.9 yards per reception) and a 65.4 receiving grade. Fournette does not add a dynamic element to the passing attack.
However, Chris Thompson has caught the ball well out of the backfield, peaking with an 89.9 receiving grade in 2017. Thompson likely takes on some of the pass-catching duties for the Jaguars this season. The rest of the depth chart includes Devine Ozigbo and Ryquell Armstead, who combined for 44 carries as rookies last season. Fournette must build on last year’s effort and Thompson must regain his pass-game magic to get this group into the top half of the league.
The Jaguars appeared to have one of the worst groups of receivers in the league heading into 2019, but D.J. Chark‘s emergence eased that burden. Chark finished with a 75.8 receiving grade, good for 26th in the league, and his 424 yards on deep (20-plus yards) targets ranked seventh. Chark was the only Jaguars receiver to grade above 70.0 last season, so plenty of question marks remain.
Dede Westbrook has been a dependable possession option over the past two years, but he ranked just third on the team with 31 first downs. Chris Conley is another speed threat, and he racked up a career-high 775 yards. However, his career-high 62.0 receiving grade ranked just 85th among 102 qualifying wideouts in 2019. Conley also dropped 13.0% of his catchable targets, seventh highest in the league.
The Jaguars drafted Laviska Shenault in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he is a viable weapon who can line up all over the field. Shenault is an after-the-catch monster who still must polish some of his overall game as a receiver, but he has good hands and excellent explosiveness when healthy.
Keelan Cole will also compete for targets. He is a nice fourth option, as he’s averaged 15.7 yards per reception in his three-year career. The Jaguars need a few things to fall into place to elevate themselves into the top half of the league, including another big step forward from Chark and Shenault staying healthy.
Last season, the Jaguars' tight ends produced a 51.3 receiving grade, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL, and James O’Shaughnessy led the unit with just 14 catches. Free agent pickup Tyler Eifert should help, though he’s a few years removed from his best work as one of the top receiving threats in the league in 2015. Eifert played in 16 games last season for the first time since 2013, grading at 65.8 as a receiver — which ranked 25th in the NFL. Even at this point in his career, Eifert is an upgrade for Jacksonville and is still worth a look to see how much of his old form he can regain.
Josh Oliver, a 2019 third-rounder, played in just four games last season, but he has good ball skills and is a reasonable run blocker. O’Shaughnessy returns to compete for backup snaps, and his best bet for playing time is rediscovering the 2018 form that saw him earn a 78.2 grade as a run blocker.
Just having Eifert in the mix should increase the Jaguars' tight end production, but they could use a breakout from Oliver, as well. The offense is in desperate need of playmakers at any position.
It was a rough 2019 season for Jacksonville's offensive line, as it finished 26th in our final rankings. Left tackle Cam Robinson has never lived up to his perceived upside, ranking below average in every key metric in his two-plus seasons of NFL action. Robinson’s 54.8 overall grade ranked 75th out of 89 offensive tackles last season, and even though he missed two games, he still allowed 45 total pressures — tied for the sixth-most in the league.
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor had some positive moments for a rookie, finishing with a 69.2 pass-blocking grade that ranked right around league average. He wasn’t as effective as expected in the run game, however, as his 58.1 run-blocking grade ranked 53rd among players at his position.
On the interior, left guard Andrew Norwell is the highest-paid guard in the league and has three more years left on his contract. Norwell has been solid, earning the 17th-best grade (68.2) among guards since joining the team, but that’s certainly not the type of performance worth over 5% of the salary cap this season. The past two seasons have been the lowest graded of Norwell’s six-year career, and Jacksonville needs more of his 2017 league-high 92.3 pass-blocking grade to justify the big-money deal.
Right guard A.J. Cann has graded above 70.0 only once in his career — back in 2016 — and he’s coming off a career-low 55.3 overall grade. Center Brandon Linder is the most dependable player up front for the Jaguars, as his 83.1 grade ranks third among centers over the last three years. Linder has been one of the best pass-blockers on the interior since entering the league in 2014.
Jacksonville has plenty of work to do to upgrade from last year’s ranking, including development at both tackle spots and a return to form from Norwell.
A couple of years ago, the Jacksonville defense took on the label “Sacksonville” when it had the best defensive line in the game. That has been chipped away at ever since, and the departure of Calais Campbell this offseason sees the best player from the group leave town. There is still a chance that this front could be very good, but it relies on improvement from former draft picks to ensure a smooth succession plan.
Josh Allen and Taven Bryan have been back-to-back first-round picks on the defensive line, but neither has become an impact player. A disruptive player in college, Bryan has been better against the run than as a pass-rusher, posting just 37 total pressures across two seasons and 380 rushes. Allen notched 49 pressures as a rookie, but he needed 388 pass rushes to get there, and his overall grade was just good rather than great.
The Jaguars also added first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson, who has an impressive highlight reel with incredible burst and flashes of power, though it’s a concern that he graded at just 72.7 last year at LSU. At least one member of that trio needs to take a significant step forward in Year 2 to help replace the kind of impact Campbell made.
Yannick Ngakoue is in the midst of a contract standoff with the team, and while he is still just 25 years old, he hasn’t been a truly elite edge rusher since that 2017 season. In each of the past two years, his pressure rate and total pressures have declined. This team is unusually well-stocked with run-defending nose tackles — Abry Jones, Al Woods and rookie Davon Hamilton.
The talent is there for this defensive front to still be a plus unit and really affect opposing offensive lines, but there is far more uncertainty surrounding it than in past years. The Jaguars are relying on the development of the talent they earmarked over the past couple of drafts to get this unit back in the upper echelon.
There’s no sugarcoating the Jaguars’ performance last season — their linebackers had by far the worst overall grade in the league (30.1). Myles Jack disappointed with the lowest grade of his career at 45.9 overall and looked a step slow in coverage on his way to a 45.8 mark. Jack was a rangy playmaker in his first three years in the league, so he needs to bounce back to get this unit moving in the right direction.
The Jaguars signed Joe Schobert, who produced the eighth-best coverage grade among linebackers over the past two years (83.6). The former college edge rusher has taken to the position switch and become an excellent zone defender, though he’s struggled against the run with a 46.8 grade over the past two years. In addition, 2019 third-rounder Quincy Williams struggled to a 33.1 overall grade on 494 snaps while other players who are no longer on the team added to the poor performances from Jacksonville linebackers.
Jacksonville drafted Shaquille Quarterman, who adds a solid presence in run defense and as a blitzer after a strong career at Miami. On paper, this should be one of the better linebacker units in the league, but that’s dependent on Jack bouncing back and Schobert improving his game against the run.
After trading away A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville has now virtually dismantled its dominant defense from 2017. Rashaan Melvin and D.J. Hayden are now slated to start, and while both have some solid tape on their NFL resumes, there's more bad than good. It would be a stretch to label either a quality starter, meaning that first-round rookie C.J. Henderson will likely be pressed into action sooner rather than later.
Henderson was the No. 3 corner on PFF’s Big Board and has the elite traits to be a top-tier corner, but he never had a PFF grade higher than 81.0 in his college career. That leaves him with a lot of work to do to make that leap at the next level. Outside of that trio, depth is also a concern. Tre Herndon played 902 snaps last season, and though his coverage numbers weren’t terrible, his grade was below average (54.7) and he was penalized nine times.
At safety, Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison return as the two starters from a season ago, while the depth remains largely the same, too Wilson had the second-highest PFF grade in the Jaguars' secondary in 2019, intercepting two passes and breaking up another four without being penalized all year. Harrison’s coverage grade was solid (68.5), but seven missed tackles and some questionable run-fits torpedoed his grade in that area (44.4).
Overall, this Jacksonville secondary is not a great unit on paper, but a lot could change if Henderson can become the NFL player that his traits suggest lies within.
DEVELOPMENT NEEDED: TAVEN BRYAN
Entering Year 3, former first-rounder Taven Bryan has just 782 snaps and 37 pressures to his name in the NFL. The slow start was expected given Jacksonville's depth up front, but it’s his time to shine now that the defensive line has been overhauled. With Jacksonville’s recent investment in first-round edge defenders, Bryan must be able to win on the interior if they’re going to get back to form as one of the league’s best defensive lines.
DRAFT CLASS REVIEW
The payoff could be massive for the Jaguars' 2020 draft class. Their top three draft picks all come with outstanding skillsets, but there are also huge question marks. Cornerback C.J. Henderson has excellent ball skills and athleticism, but his on-field production was lacking last year. Fellow first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson is similar a story, as he flashes Von Miller-like pass rushes, though they didn’t occur often enough in college.
Second-rounder Laviska Shenault is another first-round talent who needs to have the ball in his hands, but injuries delayed him from developing into a more complete receiver. There’s also volume to the draft with third-round interior defender Davon Hamilton, who is capable of contributing right away, and fourth-round tackle Ben Bartch, who has starting potential down the road. Jacksonville has a well-rounded class that could be a home run if the top three live up to their potential.
Some of the best bets still available belong to teams like the Jaguars. Jacksonville opened at 6.5 wins and was subsequently steamrolled by the market — they would've dropped further if five wasn’t such a key number. At these levels, most simulations are going to be buying, which is exactly what we are doing with the 2020 Jaguars.
Gardner Minshew has always graded well when given the opportunity in PFF’s system. Randomness could reign supreme in 2020, so at a reduced price given the possible state of NFL rosters, the Jaguars are a buy at over five wins.