2015 NFL Offseason: Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Year: 3-13)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Bernard Pierce, WR Bryan Walters, TE Julius Thomas, OT Jermey Parnell, OT Austin Pasztor, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick, OLB Dan Skuta, CB Davon House, S Sergio Brown.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Dante Fowler, RB T.J. Yeldon, G A.J. Cann, S James Sample, WR Rashad Greene, DT Michael Bennett. Jaguars Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Jordan Todman, C Jacques McClendon, DT Red Bryant, OLB Geno Hayes, ILB J.T. Thomas, CB Alan Ball, S Sherrod Martin.

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Offense:
Jacksonville told the media that its initial plan was to have Blake Bortles take a redshirt season during his rookie campaign. For multiple reasons – Chad Henne’s ineptitude, the fans calling for the new signal-caller – Bortles made his initial start in Week 4. Bortles had some quality moments, but struggled at times and seemed to regress toward the end of the season. In his final six games, Bortles didn’t have a single performance in which he maintained a YPA of greater than 5.7, and there was only one contest featuring a completion percentage of his higher than 56.8.

Bortles disappointed overall, but there’s a good chance he’ll make huge improvements in 2015. There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, Jacksonville made a terrific hire in bringing in offensive coordinator Greg Olson. The former Raider play-caller is a quarterback guru who was the only one who ever got Josh Freeman to play well. Olson has gotten the most out of every single signal-caller he’s ever coached, save for Blaine Gabbert, who was simply a lost cause. Bortles has great raw talent, and unlike Gabbert, he’s not afraid to get tackled.

Another reason for Bortles’ projected improvement is what the front office did to improve Jacksonville’s offensive line. General manager David Caldwell made a few acquisitions that will improve Bortles’ blocking, which was abysmal in 2014. Caldwell began by signing Jermey Parnell to play the right tackle spot. Parnell didn’t see much action in Dallas, but played well when given the chance. Jacksonville then added center Stefen Wisniewski, who remained a free agent for a while because of injury concerns. If Wisniewski stays healthy in 2015, the Jaguars will have a top-15 center in the middle of their offensive line. If not, Wisniewski will still be an upgrade over what the team had at the position.

The Jaguars obtained another interior lineman when they chose guard A.J. Cann in the third round. Cann will provide depth behind the mediocre Zane Beadles and second-year Brandon Linder, who thrived as a rookie. Meanwhile, left tackle Luke Joeckel needs to improve. Joeckel is a former No. 2 overall pick, but he surrendered eight sacks in 2014. With all of the upgrades Caldwell made up front, perhaps Jacksonville will be able to give Joeckel some help in poor matchups for him. There’s some cause for optimism here, as Joeckel has added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason.

Even if Joeckle doesn’t improve, perhaps he won’t be so overwhelmed if the Jaguars are in shorter-yardage situations. That’ll be possible if they run the ball well, which they plan to do with second-round rookie T.J. Yeldon. Several teams were considering Yeldon at the end of the first frame, so Jacksonville got good value with the Alabama rookie atop Day 2. Yeldon is a major upgrade over plodder Toby Gerhart, and unlike Denard Robinson, he’s capable of handling a full workload. The mere threat of him in the backfield will make Bortles’ life so much easier.

Bortles will also benefit from throwing to his new prime target, Julius Thomas. The former Bronco tight end is a bit overrated because all of his production came with Peyton Manning, but he’s still an athletic freak and a big upgrade over Marcedes Lewis, at least in terms of being a pass-catcher. Bortles’ other targets include three second-year wideouts, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. All three flashed as rookies, so it’s probable that at least one will be able to take the next step this upcoming season. The favorite to do that is Robinson, who is having a fantastic offseason. There’s belief that he is capable of becoming a special player.

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense:
There was a lot of justifiable optimism coming out of Jacksonville following the draft. Unfortunately for the team, disaster struck when third-overall pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL in OTAs. Fowler was seen as a perfect fit as a LEO in Gus Bradley’s defense, so his absence will weaken a pass rush that needed to be excellent to rattle Andrew Luck. Still, even without Fowler, Jacksonville’s defense has a chance to be decent enough to keep the team competitive in most games.

The Jaguar stop unit surrendered 21.7 points per game beginning in Week 5 last season. It was led by defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who logged nine sacks. Marks, however, tore his ACL in a meaningless season finale and may not be ready for the opener. Marks will be able to play at some point, though it’s unclear how effective he’ll be. Jacksonville did well to sign Jared Odrick to help pick up the slack. Odrick had a terrific 2014 campaign for Miami and should be able to fit in well for Bradley.

There are a couple of holes up front. Red Bryant is gone, so Tyson Alualu may have to start, which is bad news because he’s a terrible player. Chris Clemons, meanwhile, could occupy the LEO spot that Fowler was supposed to take over. Clemons notched eight sacks in 2014, but struggled for the most part. He turns 34 in October, so he’ll continue to decline. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s released at final cuts.

Several changes were made to the secondary to perhaps offset any issues with the pass rush. Sergio Brown was signed over from Indianapolis, and he figures to start at safety until fourth-round rookie James Sample is ready. A strong special-teamer, Brown played well when stepping in as a starting safety when LaRon Landry was out of the lineup. He’ll line up across from 2013 second-rounder Jonathan Cyprien, who had a strong finish to his 2014 campaign.

Davon House, meanwhile, was added to provide more depth at cornerback. House figures to be the nickel, while Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray line up outside. McCray was solid last year, while Gratz was pretty inconsistent. Aaron Colvin, a 2014 fourth-rounder, might be able to push for playing time.

The linebacking corps also figures to be improved. That was going to be the case by default because Paul Posluszny was returning from a torn chest that caused him to miss nine games. Posluszny will reestablish his place in the middle, while Dan Skuta and Telvin Smith will start on the outside. Smith, chosen in the fifth round last year, had a strong rookie campaign, performing well as a three-down player in the final six games of the season. Skuta, signed over from San Francisco, is a bit of an odd fit. He’s not bad in run support though, so he could work as a two-down defender.

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule and Intangibles:
Jacksonville’s hot and humid climate contributed to its outstanding 83-53 home record from 1995 to 2011. However, they’ve been just 5-19 as hosts in the past three seasons because they’ve been so awful.

Josh Scobee was near-perfect in the three seasons prior to 2014. However, he was just 20-of-26 last season, though he did hit 3-of-5 from beyond 50.

Gene Smith solidified his standing as one of the worst general managers in NFL history by drafting a punter in the third round. Bryan Anger finished a mere 16th in net punting and wasn’t even very good at placing attempts inside the 20.

Jacksonville was neither great nor terrible on special teams. It outgained the opposition by half a yard on kickoffs, but was beaten out by 1.8 yards on punt returns.

The Jaguars have four tough games to kick off the season; they have to battle the Panthers, Dolphins, Patriots and Colts in consecutive weeks. It gets much easier after that.

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Rookies:
Go here for the Jaguars Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Jacksonville Jaguars Analysis: The Jaguars have been one of the worst teams in the NFL for quite a while now, but that’s beginning to change. Despite the injury to Dante Fowler, things are looking much brighter in Jacksonville. The franchise won’t make a return trip to the playoffs just yet, but it’ll definitely be competitive in most of its games.

Projection: 6-10 (TBA in AFC South)

NFL Draft Team Grade: A Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: Blake Bortles was the pick last year. The Jaguars now have to make sure he has all the tools he needs to develop. They have to obtain more upgrades on the offensive line as well as a better running back. Bolstering the defense (LEO, secondary) has to be done as well.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I’ve often criticized David Caldwell in the past, but he deserves credit for what looks like an outstanding draft class. He addressed numerous needs with top available players, and as a consequence, the Jaguars will almost certainly be way more competitive this upcoming season.

A few key selections were used on defense. Dante Fowler was taken No. 3 overall, and it was the right choice. Many thought the Jaguars would take Leonard Williams, the perceived top player in the draft, but as I’ve been writing for months, teams believed Williams to be overrated as far as the media was concerned. Fowler was Jacksonville’s top prospect, and he’ll bolster the pass rush out of Gus Bradley’s key LEO position. Later on, James Sample was a bargain in the fourth, and he’ll have a chance to secure a starting job early in his career. Michael Bennett was also a nice choice to upgrade the defensive front. Bennett, a third-round prospect, slipped to the sixth frame.

The Jaguars did well to upgrade Bortles’ supporting cast. T.J. Yeldon is going to actually make defenses worry about the run, unlike the plodding Toby Gerhart. A.J. Cann was one of the better guards in the class, and he’ll add to the protection that Caldwell acquired this offseason. Rashad Greene, meanwhile, was a steal atop Round 5; he could’ve easily gone on Day 2.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

3. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida: B+ Grade
There was a huge misconception amongst the media that Leonard Williams was the No. 1 player in this draft. Teams we spoke to otherwise, and several franchises had Dante Fowler as the top prospect. This includes the Jaguars, and Charlie Campbell deserves credit for first reporting that Jacksonville was going to select him. The Jaguars have needed a pass-rushing LEO for quite some time now. They rightfully passed on Dion Jordan and perhaps wrongfully eschewed Khalil Mack, but I think they’re getting it right with Fowler. He’ll provide a big boost for their defense, which needs help to battle Andrew Luck (and also Marcus Mariota).

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

36. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: A Grade
Great job by Charlie Campbell calling this one. Teams were considering T.J. Yeldon at the end of the first round, so the Jaguars had to be thrilled that he made it to them at No. 36. Jacksonville needed to find a running back to upgrade predicted bust Toby Gerhart, and Yeldon was the best player available at the position.

67. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina: B+ Grade
A.J. Cann could’ve gone in the second half of the previous round, so there is some value here. I’m all for any pick the Jaguars would’ve made on the offensive line. Blake Bortles had no chance last year behind a putrid offensive line, and Cann should definitely help with the blocking.

104. James Sample, S, Louisville: B+ Grade
The talk all along was that James Sample would go ahead of fellow Louisville safety Gerrod Holliman. That came to fruition, and Jacksonville is getting a slight bargain, as Sample had a chance to be chosen in the third frame. The Jaguars had to add to their secondary to give them some sort of chance against Andrew Luck.

139. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: A Grade
What took so long? Rashad Greene was projected to go in the third round, so him dropping this far is a shocker. With Justin Blackmon falling out of favor with the front office, Jacksonville had to find another wideout, and Greene is a steal.

180. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State: A+ Grade
This is one of the best third-day picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Michael Bennett could have easily gone in the second or third round, but thanks to some minor injury concerns, Jacksonville is getting a steal at No. 180 overall. Bennett is definitely going to help the Jaguars apply more pressure on the quarterback.

220. Neal Sterling, WR/TE, Monmouth: C Grade
Neal Sterling was a good player at Monmouth, but I’m not sure where he fits in the NFL. He’s too slow to be a receiver and too small to be a tight end.

229. Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame: A Grade
Tight end isn’t an immediate need, but it’s hard to believe that Marcedes Lewis is going to be on the roster much longer. Ben Koyack, whom I had projected in the fourth round, could eventually emerge as the No. 2 tight end behind Julius Thomas. Koyack is a solid blocker, so he’ll complement Thomas well.

Season Summary:
Different year, same results. As in 2013, the Jaguars weren’t competitive at all at the beginning of the season and then played well late. This relatively strong finish didn’t help them in the early stages of 2014. However, the difference will be that Blake Bortles will be entering his second year. The Jaguars need to build around him.

Offseason Moves:
  • Dolphins sign C Jacques McClendon
  • Jaguars sign C Stefen Wisniewski
  • Panthers sign RB Jordan Todman
  • Jaguars claim RB Bernard Pierce
  • Bears sign CB Alan Ball
  • Texans sign WR Cecil Shorts
  • Jaguars sign WR Bryan Walters
  • Jaguars cut DT Red Bryant
  • Giants sign ILB J.T. Thomas
  • Jaguars sign S Sergio Brown
  • Jaguars sign OT Austin Pasztor
  • Jaguars sign CB Davon House
  • Jaguars sign OLB Dan Skuta
  • Jaguars sign TE Julius Thomas
  • Jaguars sign DT Jared Odrick
  • Jaguars sign OT Jermey Parnell

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Tackle: Luke Joeckel seems outmatched at left tackle. He would probably be better off on the right side, so Jacksonville needs to find a new blind-side protector. No. 3 is probably too early for any of the tackles, but a Day 2 choice would suffice. Signed Jermey Parnell

    2. Center: The Jaguars haven’t properly replaced Brad Meester yet. Luke Bowanko was given the chance this past season, yet he failed miserably. A talented center would be a major boost for this dreadful offense. Signed Stefen Wisniewski

    3. Defensive End: Finding a pass-rushing defensive end is a must. Chris Clemons was inconsistent in his first year in Jacksonville, and considering that he turns 34 in October, the team will need someone else to start there soon. Randy Gregory is a very realistic option at No. 3 overall this April, though there are tons of pass-rushing options available in free agency. Signed Jared Odrick

    4. Safety: It doesn’t appear as though 2013 sixth-round pick Josh Evans is working out very well across from John Cyprien at the safety position. A second-day selection can be used to upgrade this area. Signed Sergio Brown

    5. Cornerback: Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin played well at the cornerback position to close out the year, but the Jaguars need more help at the position, especially with Alan Ball set to hit the market. Signed Davon House

    6. Linebackers: A weakside linebacker is needed to replace impending free agent Geno Hayes, while some depth will have to be found overall so that the team is prepared the next time Paul Posluszny gets hurt. Signed Dan Skuta

    7. Running Back: Toby Gerhart was a predictable disappointment. Denard Robinson looked good for a while, but then it became evident that he couldn’t handle the workload. The Jaguars need to find someone who can. Claimed Bernard Pierce

    8. Tight End: Marcedes Lewis never lived up to the $35 million contract he signed several years ago. He could be cut this offseason. Either way, Jacksonville needs a new tight end. There will be options during the second day of the draft. Signed Julius Thomas

    9. Wide Receiver: The Jaguars don’t appear to have a No. 1 receiver, though they’ll definitely give Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee a chance. This is a low-priority need based on everything else they need to address.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Julius Thomas, TE, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Julius Thomas does not function well as a blocker, but he’s one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. He has caught 24 touchdowns in the past two years, which isn’t a surprise considering who his quarterback has been. An ankle injury slowed Thomas down at the end of the 2014 campaign.

    2. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Raiders. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jaguars (1 year)

      Stefen Wisniewski has been a key cog in Oakland’s line front for four years now. One of the top, young centers in the NFL, he’ll be just 26 in March.

    3. Jared Odrick, DE/DT, Dolphins. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Jared Odrick had a terrific 2014 campaign, as he got to the quarterback frequently and also was sound against the run until a late-season injury limited him a bit. Odrick, who won’t be 28 until December, can fit into any scheme, which will help him on the open market.

    4. Jermey Parnell, OT, Cowboys. Age: 29.
      Signed with Jaguars (5 years, $32 million)

      The Cowboys didn’t have a drop-off in blocking when Doug Free got hurt late in the year. That’s because Jermey Parnell played well when asked to start. Jerry Jones expressed confidence in Parnell in the past, telling the media that the former Ole Miss product is ready to “take the next step.”

    5. Sergio Brown, S, Colts. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars (3 years)

      A strong special-teamer, Sergio Brown played well when stepping in as a starting safety when LaRon Landry was out of the lineup.

    6. Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens. Age: 24. — Signed with Jaguars
    7. Davon House, CB, Packers. Age: 26. — Signed with Jaguars
    8. Dan Skuta, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    9. Bryan Walters (RFA), WR, Seahawks. Age: 27. — Signed with Jaguars

    Jacksonville Jaguars Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Red Bryant, DE/DT, Jaguars. Age: 31.
      So much for that 4-year, $19 million deal Red Bryant signed last offseason. Whatever pass-rushing ability Bryant once possessed is now gone, but he’s still an elite run-stuffer, and should continue to be one for the next 2-3 seasons.

    2. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars. Age: 27.
      Signed with Texans

      Cecil Shorts, the King of Garbage Time Receiving Yardage, would be rated higher on this list, but he just can’t stay healthy. If he were more reliable, he’d be a decent No. 2 option.

    3. Alan Ball, CB, Jaguars. Age: 30.
      Signed with Panthers (1 year, $2 million)

      Alan Ball played well in 2013 before struggling a bit this past season. He missed the second half of the year with a torn bicep.

    4. Geno Hayes, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 28.
      Geno Hayes is a two-down linebacker who specializes in coverage. He has previously struggled against the run, but was solid in that regard this season.

    5. Will Ta’ufo’ou (RFA), FB, Jaguars. Age: 29.
      Will Ta’ufo’ou is a decent blocker. Perhaps he’d be better if he had a third apostrophe in his name.

    6. Austin Pasztor (RFA), OT, Jaguars. Age: 24. — Re-signed with Jaguars (1 year)
    7. J.T. Thomas, ILB, Jaguars. Age: 27. — Signed with Giants
    8. Jordan Todman (RFA), RB, Jaguars. Age: 25. — Signed with Panthers
    9. Sherrod Martin, S, Jaguars. Age: 31.
    10. Jacques McClendon, C, Jaguars. Age: 27. — Signed with Dolphins
    11. Tommie Campbell, CB, Jaguars. Age: 27.
    12. Fendi Onobun, TE, Jaguars. Age: 28.
    13. Matt Daniels (RFA), S, Jaguars. Age: 25.


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