The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the verge of greatness, something uncommon to hear about a team that went 1-15 on route to a #1 overall draft pick. However, the Jags are in a unique situation and have the capability to turn around their franchise in very little time just as the 2018 49ers went on to a Super Bowl in just the next year after a 4-12 campaign.
First and foremost, all this lives and dies by the man the Jags decided to bring in as their new head coach. If Urban Meyer isn’t the man, similar to the Browns and Freddie Kitchens falling out, then their rebuild could turn into a long-term slump. However, if Jacksonville found their head coach of the future, they can create something amazing and Urban Meyer already got signed into a good situation.
With the #1 overall pick, it is assumed that the Jaguars will most likely take Trevor Lawrence. The Jags could definitely use some of the wins that he accumulated at the college level, going 34-2 across his entire college career. In addition, the Jaguars also possess the Rams first-round pick (from their trade of All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey) and the Vikings second-round pick (from their trade of Yannick Ngakoue). With 11 total draft picks as of now, the Jaguars have ample opportunity to make trades or sit content knowing they will be bringing in a heavy load of young talent.
The Jaguars have no lack of young talent blossoming up in their organization, having the youngest average age of their players at 24.9 years old last season. James Robinson rushed for 1000 yards out the gates after going undrafted and Laviska Shenault Jr. proved to be more than just a gimmick player at the professional level. While CJ Henderson and K’lavon Chaisson haven’t come into their own just yet, it is only a matter of time until we see them making a difference and new management for the team should benefit them. DJ Chark is one of the best players on the Jaguars. He ran a 4.34 40 time at 6’4 and is an athletic beast who was let loose in 2019 before he suffered from injuries last season.
Gardner Minshew remains the biggest question mark. If the Jags do in fact intend to take Lawrence 1st overall, then it will be interesting to see if they stick with Minshew as a reliable backup or see what trade value he has. Gardner could very easily be off to a team surging for some youth at QB for a mid-round pick, the Patriots come to mind immediately. Attempting to package him in a deal to bolster their offensive line would also be a good idea for a weak team in the trenches.
Luckily for Jacksonville, they have the most cap space in the NFL which opens up the possibility of seeing some big splashes in free agency. Additionally, in a year where many teams have to meet lowered cap restrictions and can’t afford to pay free agents, the contracts they offer should be cheaper than normal. Lots of aging offensive linemen are set to hit free agency and while many will most likely be re-signed, some like Alex Mack or JR Sweezy should fall through the cracks.
In addition, another batch of veterans are set to hit free agency with big names like Patrick Peterson and Shaquil Barrett that could prove to be strong leaders for the young team. Yet the biggest advantage for the Jags has nothing to do with their draft picks, cap space, their youth, or their new coaching staff. Their biggest advantage is the AFC South as a whole.
The Titans and Colts are both playoff teams this year and the Texans have the team to get there, if they would stop getting rid of good players. Surprisingly, this works only to the Jaguars advantage. This isn’t a division where one team can sweep or will go for 13 or 14 wins, this is a division that the Jags could rise up in a short period of time. No team, except for the 2012 Texans, has won more than 11 games in the last 11 seasons in the AFC South. It would not be impossible that in such a tumultuous division, Jacksonville could climb to the top quickly just as they did in the 2017 season.
Overall, the future is bright for the Jaguars and I think they may be seeing their next playoff game again in the coming years. With a strong foundation, new management, and all the draft picks and cap room they could ever need, the Jags can turn around their franchise fast. Only time will tell if the pieces come together or if the Jaguars waste another year in the bottom half of the league.
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan