Does the success of the Jacksonville Jaguars begin with its offensive line play?
For years we’ve heard NFL head coaches, as well as offensive and defensive coordinators, say it starts up front, meaning the offensive and defensive lines. We’ve also heard analysts and draft experts say you have to get the big guys early. The Jacksonville Jaguars may be in line to grab a lineman or two in the NFL Draft.
That’s because there are not that many guys that are big, and there are even less that are that size that also have the strength and athleticism to be NFL lineman.
The average height and weight of an American male are 5-foot-9 1/2 and 195 1/2 pounds. The average height and weight of an NFL lineman are 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds. That’s over six inches taller and almost 120 pounds heavier.
These are big, strong men, who are also very athletic. At the NFL combine, college lineman can bench press 225 pounds over 30 times, have a standing broad jump over nine feet, a vertical leap over two feet, and run the 40-yard dash in just over five seconds. And under an NFL team’s strength and conditioning coaches, they get bigger and stronger.
If the Jaguars are going to return to their winning ways from 2017, they must improve the play of the offensive line. The coaching staff, led by Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman himself, will pay close attention to who is available in the Draft.
The offensive line on NFL teams is possibly the most cohesive unit on the team, and they are known to be a peculiar group. For those reasons, among others, stability on the offensive line is crucial.
So injuries to the offensive line can have a profound impact on the team’s success, particularly if those injuries take them out of the lineup for an extended period of time, and they are compounded if more than one starter is out at the same time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars got off to a great start in the 2018 season before the injury bug hit them hard. That’s an understatement. When comparing injury bugs, last year’s bug was record sized and brought some relatives.
And the unit that was hit hardest was the offensive line.
A top offensive line can neutralize a top defensive line. As proof, look at the Jaguars-Titans games the past two seasons. The Jaguars have had one of the best defensive lines, with Pro Bowl caliber players stuffing the run and harassing the quarterbacks routinely.
But the Jaguars are 0-4 against the Titans the last two years. Why? The Titans have had top ten offensive lines in the NFL
The Jaguars made a poor draft decision in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft when they drafted a defensive lineman, Taven Bryan, instead of an offensive lineman or one of the highly rated tight ends. And they made another bad decision by throwing away a draft pick in the sixth round on a quarterback (Tanner Lee).
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Another wide receiver or tight end in round six was the direction they needed to go. They may not have been starters, but they would have had a much better chance than Lee of making the 53-man roster.
This year’s draft is relatively deep on the offensive line, with Florida OT Jawaan Taylor, Alabama OT Jonah Williams, Washington State OT, Oklahoma OT Cody Ford, North Carolina State OL Garrett Bradbury, Kansas State RT Dalton Risner, Wisconsin OL Michael Deiter, Notre Dame G Alex Bars, Texas A&M C Erik McCoy, Boston College G Chris Lindstrom, Mississippi State OL Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi OL, Javon Patterson, and others getting talk as first or second-round draft picks.
The offensive line is clearly a top need and should be considered with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. It’s possible they take a tight end, and that would be just fine with the talent available at the position being less in this year’s draft.
However, O-line needs to be a priority and a choice should be made with the second round pick, and I would be tempted to go O-line with one of the third-round picks also.
Also, hit very hard with injuries were the tight ends, with the Jaguars top two players at the position missing the majority of the season. And with the position being an extension of the offensive line, the additional injuries compounding the other offensive injuries made it nearly impossible for the Jaguars to have any success.
There are three tight ends in this year’s draft that are rated as a first-round talent: T. J. Hockenson and Noah Fant of Iowa, and Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama. All three performed well during the NFL combine held in Indianapolis, with Hockenson improving his draft stock more than anyone at any position.
There’s a bit of a drop off to the next tier of tight ends, so the Jaguars might make tight end their first pick. With the offensive line talent being much deeper than tight ends, the Jaguars can reasonably expect some talented prospects will be available when they pick in the second round.
This all depends on which teams choose which players prior to the Jaguars picking in each round, but there is plenty of depth with offensive linemen to be confident that there will be quality players available in round two. That confidence lessens when looking at the tight end position, and the Jaguars may be forced to make their move for a tight end with their first-round pick.
If that’s the case, I would expect to see them choose Hockenson.
The Jaguars front office likes to stick with the big schools, and they’ll have plenty to choose from in this year’s draft with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference all providing numerous offensive lineman to choose from. And it’s crucial that they hit on their offensive line and tight end selections. Fortunately, the depth in this year’s draft improves their odds of success.
How important is the offensive line as a unit? Here’s a look at the last five years of NFL playoffs, with the teams and their offensive line rankings (rankings obtained from ProFootballFocus.com):
2014 – 2015: ARI – 24, BAL – 3, CAR – 22, CIN – 7, DAL – 1, DEN – 10, DET – 14, IND – 17 GB – 4, NE – 23, PIT – 8, SEA – 19
2015 – 2016: ARI – 17, CAR – 2, CIN – 8, DEN – 20, GB – 7, HOU – 18, KC – 22. MIN – 14 NE – 25, PIT – 10, SEA – 30, WAS – 11
2016 – 2017: ATL – 6, DAL – 2, DET – 19, GB – 5, HOU – 18, KC – 14, MIA – 30, NYG – 20, NE – 10, OAK – 4, PIT – 3, SEA – 32
2017 – 2018: ATL – 2, BUF – 7, CAR – 10, JAX – 15, KC – 16, LAR – 6, MIN – 22, NE – 3, NO – 9, OAK – 8, PHI – 1, PIT – 12
2018 – 2019: BAL – 10, CHI – 11, DAL – 14, HOU – 23, IND – 3, KC – 16, LAC – 30, LAR – 6. NE – 4. NO – 8, PHI – 5, SEA – 18
Super Bowl Teams and Offensive Line Rankings – 2014 – 2015: NE-23/SEA – 19, 2015 – 2016: CAR-2/DEN-20, 2016 – 2017″ ATL-6/NE-10, 2017 – 2018: NE-3/PHI-1, 2018 – 2019: LAR-6/NE-4
In the last five years less than half the NFL playoff teams had offensive lines ranked in the bottom half of the league in the regular season: 2018 – three teams, 2017 – one team, 2016 – five teams, 2015 – six teams, and 2014 – five teams. And the numbers go down after the wild card games. That comes out to 16.6 percent of playoff teams with bottom-half offensive lines, and shows how crucial that unit is to a team’s success.
Over 83 percent of the playoff teams the last five years had offensive lines that ranked in the top half of the league during the regular season. Makes you wonder why the Jaguars want to run the ball and count on an elite-level defense….the odds are against them.