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When David Caldwell took the GM job in Jacksonville, he went out and set up a multi-year plan to becoming a playoff team. Firing Mike Mularkey after one season as head coach and hiring Gus Bradley, Caldwell’s main focus was to build the foundation of this franchise with draft picks and youth rather than diving into the free agency.
In Gus Bradley’s first year, Caldwell had eight of his eleven starters on offense as rookies, and it is not like there was any upside with this team whatsoever. MJD was hitting his decline, Justin Blackmon could not stay out of trouble, Gabbert could not even complete 55% of his passes, and the team had one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Now, the franchise looks to have some major upside. He made solid draft selections with Luke Joeckel, Allen Robinson, Telvin Smith, Jonathan Cyprien, Brandon Lindor, T.J. Yeldon, and snagged Allen Hurns as an undrafted rookie, and last season, they made a name for themselves, winning 5 games and staying in the hunt for the playoffs up until the final weeks.
After last year’s season, the rebuilding plan seems to be working. The Jaguars foundation is definitely strong, having four of their five best assets under the age of 25. Robinson and Hurns just combined for the best season for two Jaguars receivers ever. Bortles is showing promise to possibly be a top 10 quarterback in the next few years.
However, there is still plenty to clean up. Even with the success of the offense, the offensive line struggled last year, giving up 51 sacks, 6th most in the NFL last year and hurt the efficiency of the offense.
It does not help that they were one of the most pass-heavy teams last year which happens to teams that are always losing. The main need going into the offseason was improving the defense and the acquisitions of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara.
Those three players are not going to flip around this franchise, but there is still the draft to improve the secondary which allowed almost 300 yards a game and 31st in points allowed.
On the other hand, Gipson gives them a solid safety to pair with Cyprien to stop the pass while Amukamara, when healthy, is a dominant corner in this league.
Hopefully, Caldwell drafts a pass rusher or another corner early in the draft. Vernon Hargreaves, Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, or DeForest Buckner all make a lot of sense.
You mustn’t forget Dante Fowler coming back from injury. Caldwell says he has been recovering well and should be ready for OTA’s.
No one can ignore the potential in the Jaguars’ offense next year. If they can build a running game, this offense will be hard to stop. That is why Ivory was brought in – to take some of the workload off of Yeldon. Ivory has a stellar year last season, and as long as expectations aren’t too high, he can repeat that success.
Allen Robinson is a huge receiver with a quick first step that absolutely burns corners. If he isn’t jammed at the line or the corner plays off on him, he is winning the battle. He is similar to Martavis Bryant, but he has better hands and runs routes much better.
Allen Hurns is a reliable #2 and his route running skills makes him so lethal even without the speed of Robinson. He becomes the short throw and 3rd down reliable target. Plus, Julius Thomas as a redzone threat, there should not be many red zone trips that do not result in touchdowns.
Even with all these weapons, it comes down to Blake Bortles and the play calling. Remember, when there was this same talk about the Chicago Bears after their 8-8 finish with the 2nd best overall offense and one of the worst defenses? Well, they went 5-11, coach Marc Trestmann and GM Phil Emery got fired, and star Brandon Marshall was traded. It was all a result of bad play calling and poor execution from Jay Cutler.
With the Jaguars, they are more promising than that team mainly because they made better moves in the offseason to improve their defense rather than the Bears did. The Bears signed a 3-4 DE to a 4-3 system (Lamar Houston), signed a declining Jared Allen to a ridiculous contract, and found no help for the old-injury prone linebacking core.
David Caldwell addressed the needs and made his team younger knowing the personal he had and built from the ground up. The splash in the free agency this year just adds to foundation especially since all three players are under the age of 27.
It makes sense to sign veterans for leadership, but they cannot be depended on for the future and for success for the years to come.
The only thing that is scary is the pass-run ratio which was similar to the underachieving Bears. Chicago were the most pass heavy team in the league, and if the Jaguars head down that path they will falter.
This year it is going to come down to guys staying healthy and execution. The AFC South is not going to be strong next year, something all of its members have gotten accustomed to.
Defensively they are going to have to be stout, but they can dominate on the offensive end. This is Bradley’s shot to make this consistent loser franchise into something great. In the next 2 years, they could easily be playoff teams and divisional winners. But it is all going to come down to Bradley executing and making Caldwell’s plan an actual success.