Offseason Spotlight: Jacksonville Jaguars
You might think the Indiananapolis Colts have a stronghold on the AFC South for the foreseeable future with Andrew Luck dominating divisional rivals. While I don't usually buy into the 'worst to first' possibility ever, the Jacksonville Jaguars stayed true to their promise of being aggressive during free agency locking down top tight end Julius Thomas, and now center Steven Wisniewski to help them compete against the Colts. The defense will also benefit from defensive lineman Jared Odrick as well as cornerback Davon House. These additions along with the development of franchise quarterback Blake Bortles could challenge the Colts for the division title even after suffering a 3-win season in 2014.
The young Jaguars franchise has gone through several transformations since the NFL's expansion in 1995 allowed Jacksonville to enter the league. Quarterback Mark Brunell and head coach Tom Coughlin marked the inaugural era that yielded 4 playoff appearances while his successor Jack Del Rio faced adversity in the form of mass injury and draft busts. Maurice Jones-Drew provided an exciting spark as a promising rookie runningback, but still the Jaguars failed to reach the playoffs after 2007.
Jacksonville got aggressive in 2011 trading up for Missouri's Blaine Gabbert in the first round, but he struggled in his starting role being sacked 40 times and fumbling a league high 14 times. A torn labrum in the following year and hand laceration in the next sidelined the young quarterback and eventually warranted his trade to the 49ers in 2013.
Now in the Gus Bradley era, things are looking up in Jacksonville. The home stadium added fancy new scoreboards while the novelty of the glossy helmets introduced in 2013 still add an element of rebirth for a struggling team and fanbase.
A strong yield in the draft along with an extremely active offseason should complement the development of their returning players' development to help the Jaguars make a huge leap forward in terms of overall success for the franchise.
Their young quarterback Blake Bortles hopes to eliminate a history of first round quarterback busts and instilled a lot of confidence in the franchise throwing for over 200 yards in 7 games during his rookie campaign.
Standing at 6'5", Bortles definitely needs to improve his pocket prescence. He's got the speed to scramble when he needs to, but also has the frame to stand strong and take a hit in order to complete a pass. Now with one of the league's best tight ends in Julius Thomas, along with the corresponding development of young receivers Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson, this aspect of his game should improve as he gains more trust in his targets and establishes confidence in the pocket.
Denard Robinson was able to usurp the runningback job from Toby Gerhart and proved productive in his quick cut run style after making the positional conversion from quarterback. Bernard Pierce now also makes his way to Jacksonville from Baltimore while second year Storm Johnson remains untapped but the Jaguars should look to secure a runner in the second to fourth round. Miami's Duke Johnson would be an excellent fit as would Alabama's TJ Yeldon or USC's Buck Allen who all should be ready to take at the beginning of each round.
Signing Steven Wisniewski was also a huge upgrade to a young offensive line. Keeping the franchise quarterback healthy should be a top priority. Luke Bowanko out-performed expectations in his rookie year after being drafted in the sixth round while Brandon Linder and Zane Beadles are also projected to return. The Jaguars also secured free agent tackle Jeremy Parnell but the tackle position should be supplemented in the third round with Hobart's Ali Marpet or South Carolina's Corey Robinson.
Defensively, newcomers Davon House and Jared Odrick were extremely welcomed additions to one of the softest units in the league. Sen'Derrick Marks was a bright spot providing pressure from the defensive tackle position but an extremely young linebacking core and weak secondary allowed offenses to have their way in 2014.
It is all but certain that the Jaguars will use their 3rd overall pick on Florida linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. who fits perfectly in the attacking 3-4 scheme. Rumors continue to circulate about trading down with Cleveland which could also be tremendously beneficial allowing them to select Trae Waynes at 12 and perhaps Todd Gurley at 19.
Should they stay put and select Fowler, Marcus Peters may be available at the start of day 2, falling due to character concerns. Miami's Derron Smith would also make sense strengthening a weak safety hole for Jacksonville as would cornerback Quinten Rollins.
Later in the draft, look for the Jaguars to add more depth to the secondary with players such as James Madison's Dean Marlowe, or Penn States' Adrian Amos while adding big bodies to the defensive line should also be a priority addressed by Clemson's Corey Crawford, or Texas. Cedric Reed.