Are the Jacksonville Jaguars Built To Win?
By Jesse Overby
Does it matter that the Jaguars have a top defense when they don’t have the offensive weapons to win?
The Jaguars have a touted defense, with Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and others among the best at their positions in the NFL. They are solid at all three levels of the defense – line, linebackers, and defensive backs.
As a group, the Jaguars defense can be measured against any in the NFL and would account for themselves well. In fact, during the 2017 NFL season there was talk at times comparing the Jaguars defense to some of the all-time great defenses. That talk subsided a bit toward the end of the year, but it is still indicative of how well the defense performed that year.
And although statistically they dropped off slightly in 2018, they are still among the NFL’s best.
The offense? Well, that’s a whole other story. The offensive line, other than their ranking of 15th in 2017, has been bottom-half to bottom dwellers for a decade. And make no mistake….it all starts up front. The Jaguars missing on the offensive line selections high in the draft – Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Luke Joeckel, etc. – are part of the reason for the team’s decade-long dive to the depths of the NFL.
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Outside of 2017, the offensive line has not had the talent across the front or played with a level of consistency throughout a season to give the offense an opportunity to be successful. If not for the devastating number of injuries that decimated the offensive line in 2018, we could be having much different discussions right now about who to go after in free agency and the draft. But we can’t put everything on the O-line. To be as bad as the Jaguars have been for as long as they have been bad, the O-line needed help.
Enter the wide receivers. This is an area where the Jaguars have failed tremendously to obtain talent that could help the offense succeed. In the past ten seasons, 2009-2018, the Jaguars have had five receivers in the top 25 of the league: 2009 Mike Sims-Walker was tied for 25th; 2010 Mike Thomas was tied for 23rd; 2015 Allen Robinson was tied for 16th; 2017 Robinson was tied for 24th; 2018 Dede Westbrook was tied for 24th. In 2011 and 2014 the Jaguars didn’t have any receivers in the top fifty.
The wide receivers have been near the top of the NFL in one category – dropped passes. 2012 – 2nd; 2013 – 10th, 2014 – 3rd; 2015 – 3rd; 2016 – 16th, 2017 – 1st; 2018 1st. So, they don’t get open very often and when they do get open they drop the ball more than any other team.
Now let’s take a look at the tight ends. This position is critical for both the pass and run games, being counted on to help the offensive line by blocking for the running backs and as a receiver in the passing game. The reliance on this position and their multi-purpose role on the team cannot be overemphasized.
You can look around the league and quickly see that teams with successful offenses have top tight ends. The Jaguars have not had nor utilized the personnel in this position to the benefit of the offense. The best tight end on the team over the last ten seasons has been Marcedes Lewis, and his numbers aren’t mind-boggling – 9th in receptions for tight ends one year and 16th in another was the best he did.
The running back position has fared somewhat better, with Maurice Jones-Drew as the most proficient Jaguars running back in the last ten seasons. He was 5th in rushing in 2009, 2nd in 2010, and 1st in 2011 before he started dropping off – 17th in 2012 and 29th in 2013. He signed with Oakland and played his last year in 2014. In 2015, T.J. Yeldon led the Jaguars running attack, but finished 20th. 2016 saw Chris Ivory leading the team and finishing 38th in the league. 2017 saw the entrance of Leonard Fournette, who finished 6th in rushing. In 2018 however, with an injured offensive line and missing eight games, he fell to 28th. Even at 28th he was the Jaguars top rusher.
For any team to be successful it has to be successful in all three phases of the game: defense, offense, and special teams. The Jaguars have put together a top defense and their special teams personnel are solid, particularly at kicker and punter.
As I have presented above, they have been unsuccessful to woefully inadequate on the offensive line, tight end, and wide receiver. Without solid offensive line play and weapons at the three offensive skill position (RB, TE, & WR), no team can be successful….regardless of who their quarterback is.
The Jaguars have put an adequate offensive team on the field only once in the last decade, and if they had playmakers at tight end and wide receiver with an average O-line they quite possibly could have been Super Bowl Champions. We’re less than a week away from the start of free agency and all rumors point to the Jaguars getting ready to make some big mistakes.
I’d say let’s take a “wait and see” approach to their decisions, but with over a decade of watching the Jaguars flounder each year that philosophy doesn’t give me much reason to be optimistic.