Dark Horse Starters for the Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 11: Yannick Ngakoue /

The Jaguars released their first depth chart for the 2017 season.  It is certainly not exact and changes to the starting lineup will come.

Someone will fall short of expectations, while others will exceed them.  That is exactly what happened in 2016 with Dante Fowler, Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue.

Coming off season ending injury in 2015, Dante Fowler, Jr. was expected to have a breakout season.  Reports from last year’s preseason workouts were nothing short of stellar for Fowler.  However, the hype was never backed up after starting just one game and recording an underwhelming total of 4 sacks for the season.  Conversely, Yannick Ngakoue rose out of relative obscurity as a third-round draft pick from Maryland in 2016 to lead the Jaguars in sacks as a rookie and become intrenched as a starter.

So who will work themselves from the bench to the starting lineup by week 17?

The strongest candidates are FS Peyton Thompson, G Earl Watford, WR Dede Westbrook.

Peyton Thompson proved to be a reliable contributor on special teams in 2016 after bouncing on and off the Jaguars 53-man roster in 2015.  Starting free safety Tashaun Gipson flashed for the Browns in 2014 with 6 interceptions and 52 combined tackles in only 11 games, but fell well short of that production with one int and 41 combined tackles while playing in all 16 games for the Jags in 2016.  Gipson’s drop in production combined with injuries and Thompson’s obvious improvement may lead to a midseason change at free safety.

More from Jacksonville Jaguars News

Offensive guard Earl Watford begins the season as the backup for both left and right guard positions.  What was once considered

a strength of the Jaguars

heading into 2017 appears to actually be a glaring weakness with week 1 just ahead.  The coaching staff experimented with different variations in the preseason, but no combination appeared to work.  The weakest points are with the guard spots, currently occupied by

Patrick Omameh

and AJ Cann.  Omameh performed poorly in big spots during live preseason action, and Cann has never lived up to expectations after being considered a steal in the 2015 draft.  It is likely that at least one will falter, giving Watford a chance to step up.

Dede Westbrook is far from a sleeper.  Westbrook won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best colligate wide receiver in 2016.  He was the Jaguars best WR during the preseason, albeit when starters have limited reps.  The problem for Westbrook entering the 2017 season is the Jaguars’ depth at wide receiver.  Robinson, Lee, and Hurns have played significant time for three seasons.  Arrelious Benn has been with the team even longer and was voted a 2017 team captain.  Fellow rookie Keelan Cole has shown flashes as well.  However, Dede Westbrook is the most talented of the non-starters, and if his talent can outweigh Allen Hurns‘ experience, we will see Mr. Westbrook in the starting lineup sooner than later.

The Jaguars enter 2017 with limited expectations, a new(ish) coaching staff, and a desperate front office.  If the team fails early, expect new names in the starting lineup after London.