Despite the marked improvement of some key players, the 2015 Jacksonville Jaguars (-91.0 overall grade, 27th in the NFL) finished with a 5-11 record and a top-five spot in the NFL draft for the fifth consecutive season. Led by budding superstar receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, the Jacksonville’s offense rose from lowest-graded offense in 2014 to the 16th-highest-graded offense in 2015. The defense, hampered by injuries to 2015 first-round pick Donte Fowler and star defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks, struggled to a total defensive grade of -97.4, which was 30th in the NFL last season. 2015 rookie Rashad Greene was fantastic as a punt returner, helping the Jaguars finish a respectable 12th in special teams grading last season.
Looking to push recent futility aside, the Jaguars have assembled a 2016 roster with considerable talent, using both the draft and free agency:
Overall grade: A
Free agency and trades
Key additions: DT Malik Jackson (87.6), RB Chris Ivory (81.2), CB Prince Amukamara (78.9), S Tashaun Gipson (43.7), OT Kelvin Beachum (79.4), OLB Bjoern Werner (57.7), P Brad Nortman (NA)
Key retentions: TE Marcedes Lewis (68.4)
Key losses: C Stefen Wisniewski (67.4), Sergio Brown (54.6), G Zane Beatles (47.9), DE Chris Clemons (43.3)
Jackson was the Jaguars’ prize acquisition in free agency. He created a lot of pressure for the 2015 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, finishing 4th and 11th among 3-4 defensive ends with a 60 total pressures and a 9.5 pass rush productivity, respectively. He figures to play the 3-technique in Jacksonville’s 4-3 defense, where the acquisitions of Amukamara and Gipson figure to supplement a secondary that acquired free agent Davon House in the 2015 offseason. Amukamara finished a respectable 17th in yards per coverage snap for the New York Giants in 2015, and appears slotted for the third cornerback position behind House, despite House’s weaker effort in that area last season. Gipson struggled in 2015, allowing four touchdowns on the 19 passes into his coverage. He was a far better player in 2014, allowing just a 41.9 QB rating into his coverage and earning the seventh-highest coverage grade among safeties that season.
The perpetually-underrated Ivory was a stud again for the New York Jets in 2015, finishing third in breakaway percentage (40.7), fifth in elusive rating (52.7), and third in pass blocking efficiency (96.8) last season. He will team with 2015 rookie T. J Yeldon in the Jaguars backfield in 2016. Yeldon was solid as a rookie, playing in 629 of the team’s first 813 offensive snaps and finishing seventh in Elusive Rating, before finishing the season with a moderate knee injury.
The skill position players Ivory, Yeldon, Robinson, Hurns and 2015 free agent acquisition Julius Thomas stand to benefit from the acquisition of Beachum, who will take over the left tackle position from disappointing 2013 first-rounder Luke Joeckle – who stands to compete with underwhelming 2015 free agent acquisition Jermey Parnel for the right tackle spot. While Beachum played only 329 snaps in 2015, he was fantastic in 2014 – earning the third-highest Pass Blocking Efficiency among tackles that season.
2016 NFL draft
Round 1, pick 5: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
Round 2, pick 36: (from BLT): Myles Jack, ILB, UCLA
Round 3, pick 69: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Maryland
Round 4, pick 103: Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Round 6, pick 181: Tyrone Holmes, DE, Montana
Round 6, pick 201 (from PIT): Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas
Round 7, pick 226 Jonathan Woodard, DE, Central Arkansas
Jacksonville was a real winner on draft weekend – making it out of the first two rounds with two of the arguably three best defensive players in the draft. Ramsey was the top run defending cornerback in college football last season, which will greatly help the Jaguars nickel defense (where he will play in the slot). His length and athleticism helped him yield just 0.68 Yards per Coverage Snap in 2015, which was good for 17th among college corners, meaning he can play cornerback in Jacksonville’s base defense as well. Ramsey, House, Amukamara and Aaron Colvin give Jacksonville four solid options at cornerback going into the 2016 season.
When the Jaguars moved up to acquire Jack, they gained a versatile player with substantial potential in both pass coverage and as a run defender. His knee is a concern, as he played only 207 snaps in 2015. However, in 2014 his +14.7 coverage grade was the best among collegiate inside linebackers that season, with his seven passes defended ranking second. A was a positively-graded run defender in both 2014 and 2015 as well.
Ngakoue and Day give the Jaguars solid depth along the defensive line. Ngakoue figures to be a pass rush specialist early on, where his pass rush productivity of 12.8 was among the top 15 among qualifying collegiate 3-4 OLB in 2015. He has a ways to go as a run defender, where his grade was -10.4 last season. Day was the second-highest graded interior defensive lineman in college football last season, with a solid performance as both a pass rusher and as a run defender.
There’s a lot to like about the 2016 Jaguars, who promise to be one of the most intriguing teams heading into the upcoming season. With stability at both head coach and quarterback with Blake Bortles under center, surrounded by increasingly-talented supporting players, Jacksonville appears poised to finally contend for the wide-open AFC South this upcoming season. Bortles, benefiting from possibly the best WR duo in the league in Robinson and Hurns, and a top running back duo in Yeldon and Ivory, will be in a great position to build upon the offensive improvement enjoyed in 2015.
For Jacksonville to make the ascension necessary to be real contenders, realizing the promise of newcomers Jackson, Fowler, Jack, Ramsey, Gipson and Amukamara must be paired an increase in productivity by holdovers such as House, Jared Odrick, Dan Skuta, Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny and Johnathan Cyprien – players that have often disappointed in the past. Odrick, a 2015 free-agent addition, was specifically disappointing – with a pass rush productivity of 4.6 and a run stop percentage of 4.3 ranking 48th and 40th last season among qualifying 4-3 defensive ends, respectively. Nonetheless, a defensive improvement in 2016 commensurate with that of the offensive improvement seen in 2015 is certainly possible and would be a substantial step towards playoff contention this upcoming season.