2020 NFL Team Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

2020 NFL Team Previews

By Professor MJ

Jacksonville Jaguars



1. Introduction

This franchise has been struggling quite a bit since 2008, except for the 2017 season where they rode a stout defense all the way to the AFC Championship Game. During this 12-year time span, the Jaguars have compiled a 63-129 record, which equates to a mediocre 32.8% winning percentage.

What puzzling is the team does not seem to have a sound plan in place. From looking at their roster, there does not seem to be much hope for short-term, nor long-term success.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

The million-dollar question is whether Gardner Minshew is a starting NFL-caliber quarterback or not.

Minshew clearly exceeded expectations that you would normally have for a rookie sixth-round pick. He threw 21 TD passes versus just six interceptions, while racking up 3,271 passing yards and 344 more yards on the ground. His 60.6% completion rate wasn’t great, though.

All in all, he showed nice flashes, but was inconsistent at times. He did develop a nice rapport with second-year receiver D.J. Chark.

You can tell that the organization is not 100% sold on him. There were strong rumors that the franchise had a lot of interest in Andy Dalton when the Bengals released him. However, he signed with the Cowboys.

The backup QB role will be settled through a battle in training camp between Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton.

Dobbs was acquired via a trade with the Steelers after Nick Foles went down to an injury in the season opener. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft out of Tennessee. He has attempted 12 passes in three years.

As for Luton, the Jags took him in the sixth round in this year’s draft. He played his college ball at Oregon State, where he mostly played the role of a game manager. He repeatedly completed short passes and he completed a very low percentage of his throws under pressure.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Leonard Fournette was on the trading block, but the Jags weren’t able to find any suitors. His career got off to a fast start with 1,040 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards and 10 total TDs as a rookie in 2017.

However, things didn’t go too well for him as a sophomore. His 2018 season was shortened due to an injury and he averaged a dreadful 3.3 yards per rush.

Last year, he had season-highs in rushing yards (1,152), yards-per-rush average (4.3) and receptions (76). The only problem was that he reached the end zone on only three occasions. For the first time of his career, he stayed relatively healthy by playing 15 games.

Fournette does not seem like a good three-down back. He is probably best suited as a power back in a committee-approach in the backfield.

The number two runner last year was Ryquell Armstead. He was a rookie fifth-rounder who had received just 34 touches prior to the season finale. He filled in as the starting RB in Week #17, a game in which he rushed 10 times for 33 yards, while catching 5 passes for 52 yards. He finished the season with a mediocre 3.1 yards per carry average.

I really like how the team addressed the lack of depth at the position by signing free agent Chris Thompson, who played the first seven years of his pro career with the Reskins. I really liked him early in his career, as he showed great flashes and big-play ability both as a runner and as a receiver. He was a great change-of-pace back.

However, his production on the ground has dipped many years in a row. Take a look at his yards per carry average since 2015: 6.2, 5.2, 4.6, 4.1 and 3.7. At least his pass catching output has remained consistent, hauling in between 35 and 49 passes in each of those seasons.

In my own humble opinion, he’s an underrated player who has a chance to revive his career. He’s 29 years old, but he has plenty of gas left in the tank considering the relatively small number of career touches. He has a good burst and nice playing experience. He will be reuniting with OC Jay Gruden who was his head coach in Washington.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

D.J. Chark was the go-to guy in the passing game last year. He really blossomed in his second year after catching just 14 passes as a rookie. In 2019, he posted a nice 73-1008-8 receiving line. He is pretty fast for a 6’4’’ guy. He stumbled a little bit down the stretch, but he was slowed by an ankle injury.

Starting opposite Chark was Chris Conley. It’s unclear yet whether he can be a good No. 2 WR, but he had a good first season in Jacksonville after spending four years with the Chiefs. He set career marks in receptions (47), receiving yards (775) and 5 TD catches. His 16.5 yards per catch average was very solid.

Conley is likely to fight with rookie Laviska Shenault for some playing time. Shenault was used in a variety of fashions with the Buffalos. Head coach Doug Marrone said he might also use him in the backfield or as the F tight end. Shenault has been plagued with injuries, so we’ll see how the team uses him if he can stay on the field.

The starting slot receiver, Dede Westbrook, underwhelmed a little bit last year. His receiving yards and TDs regressed. His 10.0 yards per catch average was fairly disappointing as well. He is still a decent weapon, though.

Keelan Cole’s time in the NFL could very well be running out. He burst onto the scene as a rookie undrafted free agent in 2017 with 42 catches for 748 yards and 3 TDs. Things have gone in a downward spiral since then. He reeled in just 24 grabs last year and finds himself on the outside looking in, especially after the team drafted Shenault.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

James O’Shaughnessy led all Jags tight ends with 14 receptions, despite playing just five games. It seems fair to affirm the position underperformed in 2019.

If you project O’Shaughnessy’s numbers into a full 16-game season, you would obtain a 45-490-6.4 receiving line, which isn’t bad. He was on pace for his best season before tearing his ACL. Can he really become a starting TE in this league, considering he has never caught more than 24 passes in any of his first five years?

The most likely starter is Tyler Eifert, who signed a two-year contract with Jacksonville after a seven-year career that has been marred with injuries in Cincinnati. He showed great flashes, especially in 2015 where he scored 13 TDs on 52 grabs. In the following three years, he has played 14 games and he has missed 34 of them. Unreal!

For the very first time of his career, he played all 16 bouts last year. His workload was reduced, though. He is a big question mark that could either be a boom or a bust in 2020.

Seth DeValve and Nick O’Leary both left via free agency, but they didn’t play a big role last year anyway.

How does second-year man Josh Olivier fit in? He was taken early in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft out of San Jose State. He only caught three passes in four games and struggled to make his mark in limited time.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

Brandon Linder is a much underrated center in this league. He does not get much publicity playing in a small market like Jacksonville, but he has done a phenomenal job at the pivot for six consecutive years for the Jags. Last year’s 75.3 PFF grade was his worst of the past four seasons, and yet he graded as the fifth-best center in the league!

Minshew’s blindside protector is Cam Robinson. That’s not necessarily good news for the signal caller. Robinson has been among the most terrible tackles in the NFL since he was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft.

At the other end of the offensive line, at right tackle, the starter is Jawaan Taylor. He enjoyed a respectable rookie season by finishing 50th out of 81 tackles last year. He slid out of the first round and was a good value pick for the Jaguars during the 2019 draft.

Left guard Andrew Norwell came out of nowhere and played great in four seasons with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State. Indeed, his PFF marks during this time frame lied between 73.6 and 81.1, which is well above average. He then signed a hefty contract with the Jags, and his PFF grades dropped to 69.3 in 2018 and 65.5 last year. His pass blocking is very efficient, but he has more trouble opening holes for the running game.

Right guard A.J. Cann is another guy whose career is going south. He showed promise in his first two seasons as a pro, but has regressed big time in the last three years. Last year, he graded out as the number 60 guard out of 81 qualifiers.

Will Richardson is ready to step in if an offensive lineman gets hurt. He missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and was horrendous in spot duties last year.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The Jags scored the 26th most points in the league last year. Can we expect an improvement in the upcoming season?

The starters remain the same, except at tight end where the team upgraded with the acquisition of Tyler Eifert. Can the often-injured big fellow stay healthy for the second year in a row?

The team added depth with running back Chris Thompson and rookie WR Laviska Shenault. Both could provide a boost to a suspect offense. The whole receiving corps is pretty young and likely to improve.

The entire OL is back, which is good for continuity reasons. Some studies have shown that continuity is a key factor to an offensive line’s success. LT Cam Robinson and RG A.J. Cann are a source of concern, though.

An offense often goes as far as his quarterback takes them. In Jacksonville, that’s a big question mark.

Will Gardner Minshew grow in his second year? As a former sixth-round pick, that’s not a gimme. The depth at the position is worrisome as well after Nick Foles left for Chicago, leaving Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton as the lone alternatives (unless GM Dave Caldwell signs a veteran before the season kicks off).

On paper, I would normally tag this group as a small upgrade over 2019. However, I find it difficult to project them to finish much higher than last year’s 26th rank. If Minshew goes down, things will get even uglier (again, unless the Jags add another QB).

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Abry Jones played the most snaps on the interior of the line last year, and he wasn’t great. He graded out as the 82nd DL out of 114 qualifiers based on PFF rankings. He had a subpar season, receiving a 60.1 mark after getting over 70 in each of his previous three seasons. The undrafted alumni from the Georgia Bulldogs has spent his entire seven-year career with the Jags.

Taven Bryan was pretty solid against the run last year. The 2018 first-rounder has only picked up three sacks in his two years as a pro, but he’s an efficient run-plugger.

Marcell Dareus played just six games last year; he underwent core muscle surgery during the offseason. He has yet to sign with any team; Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell is open to bringing him back if they can agree on a deal. Dareus posted 28.5 sacks in his first four seasons in the NFL compared to just nine over the last five years! He has always been a very good run-stopping force, but even this aspect of the game dipped last year. He would be playing his age-31 campaign.

The team signed former Cardinal Rodney Gunter to a three year deal. His PFF grades have been very consistent year-over-year; he regularly finishes in the middle of the pack among all interior defenders.

The Cards also acquired Al Woods via free agency. The 33-year-old is an above average player defending the run, but only has 4.5 sacks in 10 years. He is projected to be a rotational player in this defense.

Another guy who is likely to be a reserve player is rookie Davon Hamilton, who was taken early in the third round last April. He will be groomed for a starting defensive tackle job in 2021. He is extremely strong, but needs to improve his burst in order to become a disruptive force in the big league.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Ouch. This group took a big hit during the offseason.

First, stud DE Calais Campbell was traded to Baltimore in return of a fifth-round pick (!!!). This was clearly a cap-clearing move since Campbell finished as the second-best edge defender in the whole league last year, based on the PFF rating system. He has averaged 8 sacks in the last 11 years, which is quite impressive. He is known for his pass rushing skills, but he was an awesome run defender. A big loss for the Jags.

Yannick Ngakoue has demanded a trade and has been fighting publicly via Twitter with co-owner Tony Khan. No deal has been done yet. It seems unlikely he will be in a Jaguars uniform again. Ngakoue is in his prime years and has recorded 37.5 sacks in four years as a pro. Another big blow to this defense.

Josh Allen’s rookie season was a success. He led the team with 10.5 sacks. He could improve against the running game and in coverage, though. Overall, he obtained the number 48 rank out of 107 edge defenders.

Things weren’t as pretty for Dawuane Smoot last year. Sure, he racked up six sacks, but he graded out as the worst edge defender in the NFL. One of the main reasons was his abysmal run defense performance.

With the 20th overall pick, the Jags selected K’Lavon Chaisson out of LSU. He’s a great pass rusher with elite burst. He still needs development due to his young age, but his raw talent is impressive. A good get for Jacksonville.

The team also acquired Cassius Marsh, formerly of the Cardinals. Don’t hold your breath hoping he’ll be a star. This is his fifth team in seven years and he has never received very good PFF grades in his career.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

The Jaguars had a putrid linebacking corps last year, and it does not bode very well for 2020 either.

Sure, they signed Joe Schobert away from Cleveland, who has stuffed the score sheet with at last 100 tackles in each of the past three years. He also plays all downs, but his run defense is suspect. He grades out as an average LB in the NFL.

Myles Jack’s career is not going in the right direction. His PFF grades have deteriorated in each of the past three seasons, going from 79.2 in 2017, down to 68.1 in 2018 before plummeting to 46.1 last year. Following the signing of Schobert, he will slide to outside linebacker, a move that he is excited about. The young former second-rounder is primed for a bounce back year.

Quincy Williams had an awful rookie season. The 2019 third-round pick was amongt the worst LBs in the league. So was his teammate Donald Payne. 31-year-old Najee Goode isn’t a viable solution either.

Jacksonville claimed Preston Brown off waivers late last year after getting depleted by injuries at the position. He has not been good in any of his six years in the NFL, so why would it change in 2020?

Perhaps Leon Jacobs can provide adequate play? He was taken in the 7th round of the 2018 draft, but he has surprised with strong play as a tackler in limited time. He played just 31% of the snaps last year, but we’ll see if the team gives him a heavier workload in 2020.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Jacksonville made another cap-related trade by getting rid of their No. 1 corner, A.J. Bouye. He had a surprisingly bad 2019 season and he will be looking to rejuvenate his career in Denver.

In order to compensate for the loss, the Jags took C.J. Henderson with the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft. He is at his best when shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He has outstanding athleticism, but his play took a step backward last year.

A potential starter opposite Henderson is newly acquired Rashaan Melvin, formerly of the Lions. He played every down in the 13 games he played last year. He is great against the run, but struggles in coverage. Overall, he is clearly a below average corner who is joining a 6th team in seven years.

Let’s not discard Tre Herndon too soon. He played 86% of the snaps last year and picked off three passes last year. He received equally poor PFF grades as Melvin, though.

D.J. Hayden is the favorite to land starting slot corner duties. After five very ordinary seasons in Oakland and Detroit, he has elevated his game a lot since suiting up with the Jaguars. PFF rated him the 11th-best CB in the league last year, his second straight solid season.

Fourth-round rookie Josiah Scott might push Hayden for the slot man job, but he is unlikely to supplant him at the moment. He could become the starter next year if Hayden leaves via free agency.

3.5 Safeties (S)

This is the lone position on defense where no changes were made during the offseason. Finally some stability!

Jarrod Wilson was undrafted coming out of Michigan. His snap count increased big time last year; after playing 30 snaps in 2016, 89 snaps in 2017 and 222 snaps in 2018, he saw the field on over 1,000 snaps last season. He responded very well by grading out as the number 25 safety out of 87 players. A very nice story. He has done a nice job in coverage throughout his career.

The other starting safety is Ronnie Harrison. The 2018 third-round pick out of Alabama received a 61.1 PFF grade as a rookie before receiving a 60.9 mark last year. That put him as the 67th-best safety. There is not much hope he will develop into an upper tier safety in this league.

Harrison missed two games due to injuries; in those contests, Andrew Wingard stepped in to replace him, but he wasn’t very effective. The undrafted prospect out of Wyoming is more of a reserve player.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

The linebacking corps received an upgrade after signing Joe Schobert; he will become the team’s MLB right away. The interior of the line was slightly improved by adding Al Woods and Rodney Gunter, while losing Marcell Dareus who only played six games last year anyway.

The defense suffered a big hit with the departures of three star players: Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and most likely Yannick Ngakoue (although his situation is still up in the air). Drafting K’Lavon Chaisson and C.J. Henderson was smart, but you cannot ask them to fill such big shoes in their rookie season.

At safety, Ronnie Harrison is a perennial below average player, while Jarrod Wilson did a very fine job last year. He’s an unproven guy and I’m worried he might regress significantly this season.

For these reasons, I expect a moderate downgrade for the Jaguars defense in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to win 5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

  • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
  • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
  • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
  • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
  • Count the proportion of seasons where the Jaguars won more or less than 5 games.

Here are the results:

  • Tip: Bet UNDER 5 wins
  • Return On Investment (ROI): +15.2%
  • Rank: 18th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
  • Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -160

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Jags’ 16 regular season games:

  • HOME: -1 vs CHI, -1 vs CLE, +1.5 vs DET, +3 vs HOU, +6.5 vs IND, 0 vs MIA, +6 vs PIT, +3.5 vs TEN.
  • ROAD: +16.5 @ BAL, +3.5 @ CIN, +11.5 @ GB, +9 @ HOU, +10.5 @ IND, +7 @ LAC, +11.5 @ MIN, +11 @ TEN.

      Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

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