Jaguars are well-equipped to become legitimate contenders in 2024

• The Jaguars are getting ready to reclaim their place as an NFL contender next season.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) spikes the ball after scoring a two point
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) spikes the ball after scoring a two point / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA

The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the NFL's major disappointments in 2023. Expected to capture the AFC South and make the playoffs after doing so the year prior, they came up short. The silver lining is that the Jags made significant changes to ensure they bounce back next season. In fact, they have the pieces to become a legitimate contender.

Ryan Fowler of Bleacher Report put together a list of teams that could go from pretenders to contenders in 2024. He included Jacksonville, noting that they have enough talent on both sides of the make a run at the division.

"The Jaguars have replaced the departed Calvin Ridley with Gabe Davis, and the team has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, whether it's Travis Etienne and Christian Kirk on offense or Allen and Foyesade Oluokun on defense."

That said, Fowler thinks the Jaguars will need Trevor Lawrence to stay healthy to legitimately challenge the Houston Texans for the AFC South crown.

"In what's something of a theme for the teams at the front end of these rankings, the Jaguars need a healthy Lawrence playing relatively mistake-free football. Get that, and they can challenge the Texans in the AFC South."

There's some truth to Fowler's comments regarding Lawrence. If they want to make a deep playoff push, they'll need Lawrence to stay injury-free, or as close as he can be. Then again, that's true for most teams, as there's usually a steep dropoff from the starting quarterback to the top backup.

Lawrence was hampered by injuries in 2023, especially in the second half of the season. Even though he only sat out one game, his performance was notably hindered. It's true that he sometimes took unnecessary shots but the main reason he got hurt so much was the offensive line's inability to block for him.

Another consequence of not getting optimal protection is that Lawrence frequently saw himself having to rush his throws, often with less-than-ideal results. The silver lining is that the former Clemson Tiger says he's feeling 100 percent. Moreover, the Jaguars have taken enough steps to fix the offensive trenches.

Besides re-signing left guard Ezra Cleveland, the team's brass signed veteran center Mitch Morse in free agency and restructured right guard Brandon Scherff's contract. Morse will bring stability at center and bringing back Scherff will allow the Jags to look for a developmental prospect in the draft to groom as his heir apparent. On top of that, there's a chance the Jaguars will take an offensive tackle in Rounds 1 or 2.

The Jaguars have done enough moves to keep up in the AFC South race

For the sake of argument, let's say the offensive line is no longer an issue. How about the rest of the roster? Mike Caldwell was dismissed after 2023 and the Jaguars hired Ryan Nielsen to oversee their defense.

Nielsen puts a great emphasis on fundamentals and technique, so the things that affected the defense (missed tackles, miscommunication, blown assignments) last year should no longer be an issue. On the other hand, the Jaguars got insurance in case Lawrence has to miss time.

Before free agency, the front office traded for Mac Jones. Although he's coming off a pair of underwhelming years, he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and has shown he's a capable starter. If Lawrence does have to miss time, he can keep the offense afloat.

Granted, Lawrence gives the Jaguars their best chance to win but the team's brass has done enough moves in the offseason that he doesn't have to carry them on their shoulders like he did last year. Sure, he's a franchise quarterback but asking him to win games without help is not a recipe for sustained success.

The bottom line is that the AFC South will be tough this year. Teams like the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans have made several moves that will allow them to compete. That said, the Jacksonville Jaguars have also been operating with a sense of urgency this offseason and should feel good about their odds.

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