Can The Jacksonville Jaguars Go From Worst To First In 2017?

Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone cheers during the third quarter of an NFL Football game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone cheers during the third quarter of an NFL Football game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

After finishing last in the AFC South in 2016, do the Jacksonville Jaguars have what it takes to go from worst to first in 2017?

It seems like every NFL season sees at least one team that rises from the ashes of their respective division and climbs to the top to take the crown. We saw it in 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in the midst of change after a vastly underwhelming 2016 campaign. The team finished in the cellar of the AFC South after stumbling to a 3-13 record. A new head coach and an almost entirely new staff is now in place in Jacksonville.

So with this new era now in motion, can the Jaguars make the leap from bottom feeder to division winner in 2017? There’s reasons to believe it can happen.

The New Staff

The hiring of Doug Marrone wasn’t a big splash and was met with some criticism, but he does bring an attitude and discipline that was missing with Gus Bradley. The big splash was bringing back Tom Coughlin as EVP of Football Operations. His return has sparked belief that Jacksonville can be transformed into a winner. Coughlin has assembled a lot of coaches that have worked on his previous staffs, and even a former player with the hiring of Keenan McCardell. Retaining Nathaniel Hackett and Todd Wash as offensive and defensive coordinators isn’t much to get excited about, but the building of this new staff otherwise has breathed new hope that winning can be achieved.

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Weak Division

The AFC South is regarded as one of, if not the weakest division in the NFL. The Houston Texans have taken the crown the last two seasons, but still can’t find stability at the quarterback position. The Tennessee Titans flirted with the crown last season before coming up short, and the Indianapolis Colts still have Andrew Luck, but these two teams accounted for two of Jacksonville’s three wins last season. Competing within their division shouldn’t be a difficult challenge for the Jaguars next season.

Manageable Schedule

2017 sets up nicely for the Jaguars when it comes to the schedule. Obviously the NFL isn’t always predictable, as there are always teams who exceed expectations and those who fail to reach them. But as it stands right now, the schedule next season sets up as one of the easiest in the league, and looks very maneuverable for Jacksonville.

Young Talent

Despite a lack of wins, the team is not short on young stars. Jalen Ramsey has turned himself into a shutdown corner, and is quickly becoming a superstar in the league for years to come. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is proving to be a gem of a third-round draft pick, and should continue to increase his productivity. On the offensive side of the ball, Allen Robinson is still the team’s number one receiver and still a big play threat, despite an under-performing 2016 campaign.

There are obviously still reasons to be skeptical that Jacksonville can make the jump.

The most notable question mark is still the uncertainty of Blake Bortles. Bortles took a huge step back in his progression as a viable quarterback, and doubt lingers if he indeed can still be “the guy.” The team has reinforced their support of Bortles multiple times already this offseason, and have hired Scott Milanovich, former head coach of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts as quarterbacks coach, to try his hand at helping Bortles get back on the right track. Bortles must regain his confidence, and vastly improve his play, if the team is going to compete next season.

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Another major improvement needed next season is a running game that was lackluster in 2016. It starts upfront with the offensive line. Coughlin has put major emphasis on the importance of the lines on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars offensive line needs some stability and reinforcement. The team then must decide if they believe in the guys they already have in the backfield, or if they will look to free agency and the draft to bring guys in.

What Jacksonville does overall in free agency and the draft will also be a key measurement of this team’s chances of a quick turnaround. It will be Coughlin’s first chances to put his stamp on the team from a personnel standpoint.

If Blake Bortles can find his groove, and the running game can provide reliable production, the Jaguars have the tools in place to go from worst to first in the AFC South in 2017.