Trusted NFL voice says the Jaguars building blocks among the best in the league

• The Jaguars have a young core of talented players, but how do they stack up against the rest of the NFL?
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. / Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA

The NFL is a young men's game. While every club needs savvy veterans who know can make an impact off and on the field, they must also possess a young core of players to build around. In the case of the Jacksonville Jaguars, analyst Aaron Schatz believes their building blocks are among the best in the league.

Schatz, for ESPN, ranked every NFL team's under-25 talent and had Jacksonville at No. 7, bringing up Trevor Lawrence, offensive tackle Anton Harrison, and edge rusher Travon Walker as their blue-chip players. He notes that Lawrence is no longer on his rookie deal but is still their best player. The NFL analyst goes on to say that they've several intriguing places on both sides of the ball.

"One question in compiling this ranking was how much to penalize Jacksonville because its top young asset -- Lawrence -- no longer comes cheap. His new $275 million deal matters, because one of the benefits of youth is those rookie contracts. But Lawrence still has room to grow and develop as a quarterback, and the Jaguars have other young talent beside him.

That starts with the No. 1 overall pick from the 2022 draft, Walker, who will be 23 this season. Right tackle Harrison is only 22 and started every game in his rookie season, ranking fourth at his position in pressure rate allowed. Cornerback Tyson Campbell and safety Andre Cisco lead the youth movement in the secondary. We also give the Jaguars credit for this year's draft picks, including wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (who will start as a rookie) and defensive tackle Maason Smith."

Apart from Lawrence, outside linebacker Josh Allen is arguably the Jags' most important player. However, he's entering his sixth season in the NFL and will be 27 in Week 1. That leaves the likes of Travon Walker, safety Andre Cisco, and maybe Tyson Campbell as their most essential contributors on defense.

The issue with Campbell is that he's coming off an injury-marred season but he was part of the conversation about the top-10 cornerbacks in the league as recently as 2022. He's now entering a contract year, which should incentivize him to show out.

Walker is coming off a 10-sack season but has yet to reach his ceiling. The Jaguars knew it was going to take him a bit of time to hit his stride but should feel encouraged about his development. The former Georgia Bulldog will switch back to playing with his hand on the ground — where he's at his best — under defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. It wouldn't be shocking to see him break out in 2024.

Andre Cisco, for his part, has become a fixture of the Jaguars' secondary. He's registered seven interceptions and 15 passes defensed the past two years. Heading into the 2024 season, he's been dubbed a breakout candidate. Like Campbell, the New York, Queens native is entering a contract year.

One player that should've gotten consideration and probably will if he builds off of his rookie is defensive back Antonio Johnson, who's currently 22. He was projected to go in the first round of last year's draft but somehow slid to the fifth. A hamstring injury slowed the former Texas A&M Aggie down early in the season, but once he was healthy, it didn't take him long to showcase his talent.

The Texans have an even better young core than the Jaguars

The Jaguars should feel great about their collection of young talent ahead of the 2024 season. Only six clubs have a better core. The trouble is that one of them resides in the AFC South, and it's the Houston Texans, the reigning division leader.

As a matter of fact, Houston got the top spot in the ranking. The Detroit Lions were second. The Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons landed at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, while the Chicago Bears ranked fifth. The Arizona Cardinals popped up at No. 6.

Going back to the Texans, their 2023 draft class was arguably the best in the NFL. C.J. Stroud, Tank Dell, and Will Anderson had an immediate impact. Add the presence of cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., the third overall selection two years ago, and Houston is in a position to contend in the foreseeable future.

The silver lining is that the Jaguars have enough pieces in place to compete for the AFC South crown in 2024. It won't be easy but they should feel good about their odds of dethroning the Texans.

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