As a rough 2014 NFL regular season comes to a close this Sunday against the Houston Texans, it’s time for the Jacksonville Jaguars and it’s fans to start looking forward. The team is clearly in need of some upgrades on both sides of the ball and the Jaguars will likely be exceedingly active in free agency in addition to finding some guys in the draft.
Analysts have highlighted the Jaguars league-leading 66 sacks and pointed at the offensive line as the weakest part of the roster. While Brandon Linder has been outstanding as a rookie at right guard, former 2nd overall pick Luke Joeckel has yet to live up to the billing and rookie center Luke Bowanko has been roughed up a bit against upper-echelon players. Right tackle has been a mess for most of the season with the Jaguars now playing Sam Young, and veteran left guard Zane Beadles has been decent, but not as good as the contract he signed would lead you to believe.
So a lot of sacks, that means the offensive line sucks, right? Well that’s what Gil Brandt at NFL.com thinks, and he lists offensive tackle as their biggest need:
"3. Jacksonville Jaguars2014 record: 3-12 (.513)Top three needs: OT, CB, RBAnalysis: The Jaguars need a lot of help, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Their defensive line has played pretty well and they took care of quarterback and wide receiver needs in the last draft. But deficiencies lie in almost every other area.Top-rated seniors at positional needs: OT: Brandon Scherff (Iowa), Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M), La’el Collins (LSU); CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Byron Jones (UConn); RB: Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Jalston Fowler (Alabama), Karlos Williams (Florida State)"
While it’s fair to criticize the offensive line, you have to analyze it in context. Luke Joeckel just finished playing his first full season in the NFL, and he did so after recovering from a broken ankle. He was overwhelmed early this season, but he’s played significantly better after the bye week. He’s improved his technique over the course of the season, and he absolutely deserves the benefit of the doubt in 2015 with another offseason to work on his craft. The same goes for Luke Bowanko, who has more than outperformed his expectations as a 6th round pick. He’s had trouble with power defenders on the interior, which is to be expected with a rookie lineman, but he should be able to bulk up in the team’s strength and conditioning program this offseason. Right tackle is an area that can certainly be upgraded, but spending a top 3 pick on another offensive tackle seems like a poor use of draft capital.
The real shocker in Brandt’s analysis is not including defensive end in his top needs. The Jaguars are relying on an aging edge rusher (Chris Clemons) and a defensive tackle (Sen’Derrick Marks) to help manufacture a pass rush. They do not have a reliable pass rusher on the outside, and it’s a huge need moving forward. It also coincides with a lot of the draft talent at the top of the board.
It’s a long ways away, but I’d be shocked if the Jaguars selected an offensive lineman in the top 10 of the 2015 NFL Draft.