After an unimpressive 3-13 campaign in 2014, the Jacksonville Jaguars have now lost at least 12 games in each of the last three seasons. While the GM/head coach combo of David Caldwell and Gus Bradley have seemingly done a nice job of stocking the organization with young talent, the results have been more of the same.
With the third pick in last year’s draft, the Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles, the man who they hope can lead the organization to success in the future. Unfortunately, Bortles’ rookie season was less than stellar. In 14 games during his rookie season, the 23-year-old completed only 58.9% of his passes on 475 attempts for 2,908 yards. Bortles tossed only 11 touchdown passes and threw 17 interceptions, which were the second most in the NFL.
While Bortles’ early career struggles are certainly not ideal, but he still has massive upside as an NFL signal caller. With a leaky offensive line and a very inexperienced core of receivers, Bortles was not exactly pushed into a perfect situation in 2014. The Jaguars hope he gained some valuable game experience, and improves greatly next season.
If Bortles and the Jaguars are going to finally take that next step in 2015, they simply need to build a stable core around their young quarterback. The team has some intriguing young talent, an up-and-coming head coach and a young quarterback to build around; they just need fill out the rest of their roster.
The 2015 NFL Draft will be an important one for the Jaguars, and here are their biggest needs that must be filled.
5. Running Back
Last off-season, the Jaguars signed costless agent Toby Gerhart to be their featured running back. Gerhart’s first season in Jacksonville did not exactly go according to plan as he only ran for 326 yards and two touchdowns on 101 carries. Also, seventh-round rookie Storm Johnson looked okay with very limited work (86 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts).
The Jaguars were able to find a spark in the running game in former University of Michigan quarterback turned NFL running back Denard Robinson. The 5-foot-11, 199 pound Robinson rushed for 582 yards and four touchdowns on 135 attempts (4.3 YPC average) in his second season in the league. While Robinson enjoyed some success on the ground this season, he missed the last three games of the year with a foot injury, further questioning concerns about being able to carry a full NFL load.
Robinson is an important piece for the Jaguars going forward, but he simply needs someone to help carry the load. There are many solid running back options in this draft, so the Jaguars may not have to spend a valuable draft pick to address the position. Landing a big and powerful back who could team up with Robinson in the run game makes a lot of sense for the Jaguars.
Possible Targets: Todd Gurley-Georgia, Tevin Coleman-Indiana, Mike Davis-South Carolina, T.J. Yeldon-Alabama, David Cobb-Minnesota, Javorius Allen-USC, Karlos Williams-Florida State, Matt Jones-Florida, David Johnson-Northern Iowa, Terrance Magee-LSU and Michael Dyer-Louisville.
4. Tight End
The tight end position has become more and more productive throughout the years. Gone are the days where team line up glorified tackles as tight end to maul defenses in the running game. Every NFL team is searching for the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham who stretches the middle of the field in the passing game.
Mercedes Lewis has been a productive player at tight end for the Jaguars for many years, but he is clearly on the down-slide of his career. Clay Harbor showed some upside this season with 26 receptions for 289 yards and a touchdown, but he is far from an elite option at the position.
The Jaguars could certainly stand to add a reliable receiving tight end in this draft, if for nothing else, to give Bortles a nice security option in the passing game.
Possible Targets: Clive Walford-Miami (Florida), Ben Koyack-Notre Dame, Tyler Kroft-Rutgers, Nick O’Leary-Florida State, Wes Saxton-South Alabama, MyCole Pruitt-Southern Illinois, E.J. Bibbs- Iowa State, Jeff Heuerman-Ohio State, Nick Boyle-Delaware, Blake Bell-Oklahoma and Rory Anderson-South Carolina.
3. Pass Rushing Defensive End
Arguably the biggest strength on the Jaguars’ roster is the defensive front. Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks had an incredible season and is the center of the Jaguars’ defense. Other players like Tyson Alualu, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood and Andre Branch are key pieces who play an important role for the Jaguars up front.
All of that being said, the one thing that the Jaguars lack up front, is a legitimate outside pass rusher who can consistently get to the quarterback. Fortunately for the organization, this draft class is loaded with potentially impactful outside pass rushers. Some of which would be better served in more of a 3-4 defense, but there are a lot of guys who can simply get to the quarterback. The Jaguars would be wise to grab one of these players, possibly very early in the draft.
Possible Targets: Randy Gregory-Nebraska, Leonard Williams-USC, Shawn Oakman-Baylor, Shane Ray-Missouri, Dante Fowler Jr.-Florida, Hau’oli Kikaha-Washington, Vic Beasley- Clemson, Alvin Dupree-Kentucky, Shilique Calhoun-Michigan State, Lorenzo Mauldin-Louisville, Danielle Hunter-LSU, Markus Golden-Missouri, Nate Orchard-Utah, Eli Harold-Virginia and Za’Darius Smith-Kentucky.
In Telvin Smith, the Jaguars have a young and talented linebacker with massive upside. Aside from him, the team lacks playmakers at the position. Paul Posluszny is a decent middle linebacker who is a strong defensive leader, but he offers little upside and production. Geno Hayes is a nice stop gap solution, but he lacks true playmaking skills at the position.
Bradley is a hard-nosed defensive coach who expects a lot out of his linebackers. It is unlikely that the Jaguars would be able to immediately replace both Posluszny and Hayes in this draft, but using this opportunity to stock the cupboard with talented linebackers who could grow in to their replacements would be wise.
Possible Targets: Shaq Thompson-Washington, Benardrick McKinney-Mississippi State, Eric Kendricks-UCLA, Chi Chi Ariguzo-Northwestern, Trey DePriest-Alabama, Ramik Wilson-Georgia, Denzel Perryman-Miami (Florida), Jake Ryan-Michigan, Cassanova McKinzy-Auburn, Frank Shannon-Oklahoma, Terrance Smith-Florida State, Stephone Anthony-Clemson and Tony Washington-Oregon.
1. Offensive Tackle
The lack of protection was a huge reason for Bortles’ struggles during his rookie season. The young gunslinger was under pressure all season long. If he is going to take a step forward in 2015, the Jaguars simply must find a way to protect their quarterback.
Left tackle and former second overall pick Luke Joeckel struggled this season, but he showed some flashes and it is simply too early to give up on him. Brandon Linder and Zane Beadles are two talented young guys who will give the Jaguars stability on the interior of their offensive line in time.
Right tackle is the position with the glaring hole. Jacksonville must find a way to solidify the position this off-season, or expect more of the same going forward. Finding someone to take charge control of right tackle, or a left tackle who would move Joeckel to the other side is an absolute must for the Jaguars.
Possible Targets: Brandon Scherff-Iowa, La’el Collins-LSU, Andrus Peat-Stanford, Cedric Ogbuehi-Texas A&M, Ereck Flowers-Miami (Florida), Ronnie Stanley-Notre Dame, T.J. Clemmings-Pittsburgh, Corey Robinson-South Carolina, Ty Sambrailo-Colorado State, Cameron Erving-Florida State, Spencer Drango-Baylor, Rob Havenstein-Wisconsin, Daryl Williams-Oklahoma, Jamon Brown-Louisville, Tyrus Thompson-Oklahoma, Trenton Brown-Florida and Jake Brown-Oregon.