The Jacksonville Jaguars opened up their wallets in free agency to try and fix the defense, but is it going to be enough? The national media is starting to think so.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are essentially done with free agency, finishing up their “big” signings earlier in the week when they locked up offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum to come in and compete with Luke Joeckel. Despite potentially being a backup, Beachum is arguably the most impactful offensive player the team signed in free agency because he could end up significantly improving the pass protection if he does get inserted into the starting lineup. The Jaguars didn’t do much else on offense (no shade at Chris Ivory), instead rightly focusing on the defense – a unit so crippling in 2015 that second year quarterback Blake Bortles routinely had to force the ball downfield early in the second half to try and chip away at a huge lead.
After free agency, you’d be hard pressed not to think the Jaguars will be a more formidable defense in 2016. The Jaguars upgraded 3 spots in the starting lineup with Malik Jackson (defensive tackle), Tashaun Gipson (free safety), and Prince Amukamara (cornerback), while also invoking some “addition by subtraction” with the departures of Chris Clemons and Andre Branch. Factor in the return of 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. and the Jaguars are going to have 4 potential playmakers on defense they didn’t have before.
In all, the Jaguars are a better team now and the draft is still on the horizon. I’ve been bullish on the Jaguars over the last 2 years and have paid the price, but this finally appears to be the year the roster is actually stocked with enough talent to compete.
The national media is starting to agree.
In some of the latest post-free agency power rankings around the web, the Jaguars have made a pretty noticeable rise. Elliot Harrison over at NFL.com has the Jaguars at number 18:
"Surprised? Don’t be. The Jaguars showed signs of turning the losing culture around last season via an explosive offense. Now Gus Bradley has tools to work with on defense, given the arrivals of Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, among others. Offensively, Jacksonville added Chris Ivory, one of the true thumpers in pro football. He’ll nicely complement T.J. Yeldon in providing a ground game for young QB Blake Bortles, who certainly doesn’t need to have everything on his shoulders in Year 3. Speaking of, Jags fans were quite upset I chose Teddy Bridgewater over Bortles on my All-Under-25 Team. If I had to do it again, I might go with the latter. It was hard to get over the devastating turnovers. So many of Bortles’ picks really cost his team (and undermined his productivity). Meanwhile, Bridgewater was not asked to drop back as much; rather, he had to convert third downs and let the run game and defense do much of the work. These two young field generals are just tasked with different assignments."
And USA Today slotted the Jaguars in at 17:
"17. Jacksonville JaguarsThis is what Jacksonville’s big move looks like. After the franchise ponied up to address the defense, a leap forward is expected in Year 4 of Gus Bradley."
At the end of the 2015 season, I really didn’t think the Jaguars were better than 3 or 4 teams, let alone half the teams in the league. The roster looks improved on paper, but the defense still has to actually show they can get to the quarterback on a relatively consistent basis before I buy into the new look.
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The Jaguars are going to be better in 2016, but how much better is the question we all have as we trudge towards the summer.