The Jacksonville Jaguars have received praise from most for their moves this offseason, even from the notoriously critical Bill Barnwell of ESPN.
With OTAs in full swing, we’re getting closer to that “dead zone” everyone dreads when nothing football related happens before training camp begins. This usually means we are stuck with plenty of fluff pieces, including assessments of how teams fared in free agency and the draft.
Overall, the returns on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ moves this offseason have been lukewarm. While many like the additions the team has made, most analysts still think the team will be held back by Blake Bortles as the starting quarterback.
Still, in a vacuum, the Jaguars have improved their team considerably this offseason.
Bill Barnwell over at ESPN used that logic in evaluating the Jaguars and surprisingly gave them a ‘B+’ for their moves.
In terms of the good, Barnwell is glad the Jaguars finally invested in top-tier free agents rather than backups or middling starters to put together a formidable defense.
"They brought in top-tier talent on defense. The Jags quietly took a huge leap forward on defense last season, despite their offense handing them the third-worst average starting field position….After paying premiums to sign middling players like Jared Odrick and Dan Skuta in years past, the Jags were able to buy at the top of the market this year. They came away with arguably the best defensive lineman (Calais Campbell) and the most promising cornerback (A.J. Bouye)….Suddenly, the Jags look like they have the potential to field a devastating defense, both now and in the years to come. They’re deep at defensive end, where Yannick Ngakoue might actually be better than former third-overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. They have a trio of rangy linebackers who can hold up in pass coverage. Injuries could expose some depth issues at a couple of spots, but this defense has as much promise and upside as any in football."
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Barnwell actually seems to be pretty high on the Jaguars defensive ends, but that position still needs some help. That being said, he isn’t alone in thinking the Jaguars are very close to having an elite defense.
Barnwell liked the free agent moves, but he took issue with basically every other prominent offseason decision. One that everyone can agree on is the lack of additions along the offensive line.
"The offensive line looks like a problem if Branden Albert isn’t playing. General manager Dave Caldwell essentially traded Julius Thomas to Miami as part of a pair of deals to acquire Albert, who would be an upgrade (when healthy) on the left tackles they’ve fielded in years past. The problem is that the disgruntled Albert wants a new contract…Caldwell used his second-round pick on Alabama tackle Cam Robinson, who has plenty of experience on the left side, but is inconsistent and needs refinement. Given that the Jags get the Texans, Jets and Rams among their first six games, they probably don’t want to thrust Robinson into the lineup against some of the league’s best defensive lines and edge rushers….The interior also looks like a problem, given how A.J. Cann failed to take a step forward at right guard last year…."
Everything here is spot on – the Jaguars certainly didn’t do enough to upgrade the line, especially if Albert fails to come in and start immediately.
Barnwell also wasn’t a fan of the move to invest heavily at running back again:
"They devoted even more resources to running back. The Jags have now invested in a new starting running back for the fourth consecutive offseason, spending more each time…"
Barnwell goes on to outline the horrific Toby Gerhart contract, drafting T.J. Yeldon in the second round, and overpaying Chris Ivory before drafting Leonard Fournette 4th overall this year. Again, he’s absolutely right – the Jaguars have swung big and missed at running back too often under David Caldwell. Fournette has to be extremely productive right away for his selection to be warranted.
Overall, I’m somewhat surprised Barnwell doled out a ‘B+’ given how critical he was of some of the moves. I tend to agree, but a solid ‘B’ is probably the more appropriate grade.