“The Amateur Ward:” AFC South Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars
It has been a while since Jacksonville fans have had something to cheer about–2007, to be exact. But this young group of Jags is built for success and this success could come as soon as this season. They play in a division that no longer is dominated by the Indianapolis Colts and is seemingly up for grabs. Not everyone is high on them. But I for one am because Gus Bradley is a smart, crafty coach who knows how to attract and develop talent, and build juggernaut defenses. The Jaguars made a splash in free agency and had a phenomenal draft headed by Jalen Ramsey (1st) and Myles Jack (2nd). Before I ramble on too much, let’s look at the 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars.
When fantasy owners draft a quarterback for their team, they look at three particular measures: pass yards, touchdowns, and other other intangibles, such as the ability to avoid pressure and make plays. Blake Bortles was a top 5 fantasy quarterback last season, which was a pleasant surprise for those owners who took a chance on him late in drafts. However this season he will likely cost an early middle round pick because his value is high and could get higher as the Jaguars continue to improve. Beware though: as good as his numbers from last season may indicate, he could be due for a slight regression. Here are his stats compared to other QBs through Week 13 last season:
|Passing NEP per play||0.08||23rd|
These numbers are from numberFire which analyzes QBs with at least 200 dropbacks. They show that while his touchdowns (27) were impressive through Week 13, his Net Expected Points per pass attempt was low at 39.84. This metric takes what each player at each position did, and gives them the difference between how that player scored (in this instance Bortles) versus the average player at that position. It is a very arbitrary number, but it does does tell us how successful/unsuccessful a player is at helping his team scoring in every situation. His 45.4% success rate means that he was successful on that percentage of plays he pioneered, which ideally should be above 50%. Bortles did finish the season with 35 passing touchdowns which any fantasy owner will take. But looking at these numbers, as well as 18 interceptions and eight fumbles for the season, it is clear that he needs to make improvements in his reads and technique at quarterback. with another season under his belt and better chemistry with his receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, there is reason for optimism.
Robinson is not an emerging star. He is a stud. He may not have the best pure straight line speed, but he improved his route running ability immensely in 2015 and is gifted with a 42 inch vertical jump. In 2015, he averaged an insane 17.5 yards per reception, tied for the league lead with 14 scores, and finished sixth in yards with 1400. Among all receivers with at least 50 receptions last season, he finished tied for second with Sammy Watkins (second only to James Jones of the Packers ( 17.8)) and was the only receiver with 14 scores not to have a fumble all last season. That’s impressive and it is only the beginning of things to come with him. Corners and safeties flat out could not stop him last season, and he will continue to torch both this season. He should eclipse the 1600 yard plateau and could lead the league in touchdowns this season with improved play from Blake Bortles and more time in the league. He is going to be a top three receiver this season, so consider yourself fortunate if you can get your hands on him. I would take him after Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, who are interchangeable as the top receiver. Oh, I forgot to mention he had a league best 31 receptions for 20+ yards last season.
Allen Hurns was overshadowed by Robinson, but he is an electric WR2 for the Jaguars. While Robinson may be the star of the team, Hurns could be the most clutch. His spectacular catches, improved route running made the opposition look like fools. Particularly, his play on third down was what defined his season as he improved his conversion rate by 27 percent from 43 percent in 2014 to 70 percent in 2015. He had a damn fine season in 2015, finishing with 10 scores, 1031 yards and a nice 16.1 yards per reception. 2016 will see him continue to improve as the jags become more synced on offense and the run game gets going. His steady reception rate of 82 percent the past two seasons is elite, and should not slow down. One could argue for him as a borderline WR1 in fantasy this season.
Marqise Lee, aka ‘the lost receiver’ on the Jaguars, has the most to prove of any receiver on the Jags this season. He has suffered through a slew of ankle, knee and other injuries since 2013. He is no longer a focal point in this high-paced offense and will have to fight for every reception against the other two giants on this emerging juggernaut offense. He is a talented receiver who can stretch the field out of the pocket, make plays over the top of defenders and control defenders with his route running ability. But he has to stay on the field to make his mark on this offense and to hold off Rashad Greene. If he stays on the field, defenses are in trouble as they will not be able to contain him. He understands man and zone coverage and knows how to beat them, creating space and plucking the ball at its high point. He is the favorite to win the WR3 gig, but still is in competition with Greene. He’s a late round target, but not much more at this point.
Runningback for the Jaguars is going to be an interesting situation to watch as they have brought in Chris Ivory (five years 32 million) to backup T.J. Yeldon, after the team had a bad run game last season. When Yeldon was on the field for 12 games, the team averaged 107.8 rush yards per game, versus a mere 63 yards/game in the four he missed. Ivory brings a smash mouth, hard to drag down runner who finished third in the league last season in yards after contact at 544 yards. This signing upgrades the running game and will keep defenses honest as Ivory is also a capable receiver out of the backfield and always a threat to break a run off. He brings toughness and attitude to the Jaguars, something they missed last season. Yeldon should be the starter, and is the more talented back, but he also has injury questions. When healthy, Yeldon is a playmaker and a physical back that can break tackles and block. he has excellent hands and understands his role. Despite missing four games last season, he ranked eighth in total snaps among running backs, and could easily eclipse that number as well as his output of 740 rush yards and two scores from 2015. Yeldon is good bet to eclipse 1000 yards and 6-8 scores on the season and Ivory will also be good this season as he is a consistent runner who can wear defenses down, then just bust holes. It is worth cuffing Ivory to Yeldon, and both will put up very respectable fantasy numbers.
Expectations for Julius Thomas last season were for him to fill a similar role as he did on the Broncos. But he didn’t live up to those expectations due to a broken bone in his hand that caused him to miss the first four games of the season. In the 12 games he played he had 46 receptions for 455 yards and five scores, and leads all tight ends in touchdowns since 2013 with 29. Jacksonville needs him to be healthy this season because he is a matchup nightmare, has great speed for a tight end, and almost never drops passes. The problem with him is he has never played a full season since entering the league in 2015. But during his time on the field he has averaged an impressive 11.2 yards per reception and is a top five tight end when healthy. He is the top tight end on the Jaguars and will be a good, reliable receiver for Bortles and the high octane offense, and at the very least should register double digit scores in his second season with Jacksonville. Marcedes Lewis (back on a three year deal) is the main blocking TE for the team, but not worth a look in fantasy, even if Thomas misses significant time this season.
Defensively, Gus Bradley wants the Jaguars to be Seattle 2.0, and it looks as if he is close to obtaining that. The team made some nice moves in free agency and in the draft, and looks to make noise in 2016. The biggest signing was Malik Jackson from Denver for six years and 90 million bucks. He will play a similar role on the Jags as he did on the Broncos–a three technique pass rusher. He was an integral part of the Broncos ability to win the Super Bowl and will be a dynamic playmaker on the Jaguars alongside Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith, an emerging star in the league at weakside linebacker. What Jackson brings to the Jacksonville is a high motor, veteran leadership, and stud at the three technique, which will free up the other playmakers to produce. Jackson led the Broncos with 11 tackles for loss last season and will be given more free rein in Jacksonville to rush the passer and set the edge. He was what was missing from Jacksonville last season: an end opponents respect and fear. This signing will enable Dante Fowler Jr. to play the role of LEO in Jacksonville, which has been what the Jags have needed. Fowler missed all of his 2015 rookie campaign with a torn ACL. Now that he is healthy, he is slated to start opposite Jackson in a position a bit wider than a prototypical defensive end, giving him a more direct route to the passer. He also will be asked to drop back in coverage at times this season, giving the Jaguars a fearful pass rushing duo that could challenge for one of the top duos within the next two seasons.
Fowler is able to chase runners all over the field and has a very quick first step. He beats blockers easily and is rangy and aggressive in his play, with plus ability to play two and three point stances. An effective pass rush from Jackson/Fowler will free up Telvin Smith to rack up the tackles and continue has great play in coverage. Smith is a linebacker that can do it all, but is very underrated in coverage and was one of the top coverage linebackers in his 2014 draft class. He is fast, explosive and never quits his pursuit. He finished with 13 stuffs last season and was the arguably the best defensive player the team had. If Myles Jack is healthy, he will add another swiss army knife to the defense as he can cover tight ends and slot receivers, and very capable as an edge rusher in sub packages. The key with his rookie season will be his health as he is coming off a knee injury that cost him the last few games of his career at UCLA. The Jaguars will likely play it conservatively with him in the early going, but Jack is set to dominate on a vastly improved defensive unit from 2015. He has the coverage skills similar to Luke Kuechly and plays a lot like a healthy Navorro Bowman. Middle linebacker, manned by Paul Posluszny will continue to produce a heavy tackle clip and help stop the run. He is not the machine he used to be, but he still hits hard as nails and knows how to make plays and create plays for others.
Jaguar fans should be excited about the secondary as the team finally has the free safety that will enable strong safety Johnathan Cyprien to play closer to the line, provide run support and be the hybrid safety/linebacker that he was drafted to be. The combination of Sergio Brown and Josh Evans kept Cyprien from his natural position because the two free safeties had coverage problems, leading Cyprien to play more in coverage, where he did not profile best when he came into the league. Tashaun Gipson can man centerfield, is an interception machine and allows the rest of the secondary to perform their duties. Free safety is the key position in Gus Bradley’s defense because the cover safety frees the strong safety to help eye runningbacks, make plays and only drop in coverage when needed. It is not farfetched that Cyprien could emerge as a top 5 safety this season and will be undervalued on draft day. Get your hands on him while you can. Those looking for a cheap source of picks shold look at Gipson and Jalen Ramsey who could emerge as a shutdown corner rather rapidly, despite coming off a torn knee meniscus and surgery.
Ramsey is an aggressive corner, who could also play safety, who challenges for the ball, and wants to rip the ball from receivers, or just put them on the turf. He reads routes quickly, diagnoses and then reacts. He also has shown flashes of shutting down some routes completely and wants you to throw his way. He will start opposite Davon House, who also has good cover skills and had a career high four picks and 23 passes defensed last season. Aaron Colvin will open as the favorite to man the slot position for the Jaguars, and he should be just fine there. He posted four sacks last season, and while he may never be a shutdown corner or corner to pick off many passes, he shadows slot receivers well and is very physical. The Jaguars have high hopes for him, but he will open the season with a four game suspension, opening the door for free agent Prince Amukamara to potentially resurrect his career in Jacksonville. He has battled injuries over the past two seasons, playing just thirteen games due to a pectoral injury (2015) and biceps tear in 2014, but is a stout in coverage when healthy. He comes to the Jags on a one year deal and will open the first four games the Jags in the slot, but also see some time outside when the team decides to play Ramsey against more explosive slot receivers. If Princeplays well during the first four games he could push Colvin for play time and wrestle the job away if Colvin comes back and plays poorly. Amukamara has superior cover and ball skills to Colvin, but Colvin plays more physically and could play closer to the line. This is an exciting unit heading into 2016, and time will tell what all these moves mean for the defense and the team’s hopes for their first playoff berth since 2007.
One name to keep an eye on heading into 2016 is Yannick Ngakoue, who should also see some time in the LEO position and is a versatile rusher who can move laterally and is very fluid in his movements when coming inside to attack. What he lacks is consistent technique and an effective point of attack at snap. If he can improve these areas, don’t be surprised to see him on the field in sub packages as he is very underrated off the edge.
That’s a wrap for the AFC South, next week we start the NFC South. Thanks for reading these articles and being part of the community. Without our loyal followers, we would not be where we are today. Now, let’s get some discussions on here, boys!
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