The Jacksonville Jaguars have been about as far from competitive as a team can be in the NFL over the past 3 seasons, accumulating a paltry 9 wins since 2012. General manager David Caldwell began a mass exodus of the roster when he took over in 2013, and the team is just starting to turn the corner in terms of talent.
While the returns haven’t begun to arrive in the wins column, the team is clearly more talented than it was prior to 2013. Since 2011, the Jaguars have only had 3 players make the Pro Bowl – Maurice Jones-Drew (2011), Montell Owens (2011), and Paul Posluszny (2013). Three pro bowlers in 4 years is quite scant, especially when one of those players made it for special teams, and another made it as a deep alternate.
Fortunately, the Jaguars have a bevy of young players ready to breakout and become Pro Bowl caliber guys. In what will be our most optimistic series this offseason, we are going to profile some of the guys ready to “make the leap” so to speak. We keep it going with one of the players who probably has the best chance to make it this year – second year guard Brandon Linder.
Selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Linder was part of a class that signaled a new era in Jacksonville on the offensive side of the ball. Joining quarterback Blake Bortles and receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee as the first 4 guys taken, Linder was slated to be part of the youngest offense in the NFL by a significant margin. Despite playing a low profile position in what ended up being one of the most underwhelming offensive lines in the league, Linder excelled.
Starting 15 games in his rookie year, Linder ended up with the 10th best overall grade among guards according to Pro Football Focus. His +16.6 grade was better than highly touted guards like Mike Iupati, Logan Mankins, and Ben Grubbs. What makes Linder’s performance arguably more impressive than what his fellow rookie guards were able to do is the fact that Linder accomplished all this with chaos around him along the offensive line and at quarterback.
Saddled with a complete trainwreck next to him at right tackle and instability to his left at center, Linder was able to put up solid performances week after week, only allowing 8 QB hurries and 2 QB hits the entire season. With Jermey Parnell serving as a massive upgrade at right tackle and improved play at center with either Stefen Wisniewski or Luke Bowanko, Linder should be able to build on his solid rookie campaign and play at a Pro Bowl level and perhaps find himself in the All Pro conversation.
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