This is a critical year for the NFL‘s Jacksonville Jaguars who seem to have taken up permanent residence in the AFC South’s cellar.
The team’s 3-13 dumpster fire was a major disappointment after the Jags had been a dark horse pick to win the weak division and make the playoffs after a strong 2015 performance by quarterback Blake Bortles.
The third overall draft pick in 2014 appeared to finally be on the way towards being the franchise player that Jacksonville envisioned him as when he posted great numbers including 4,428 passing yards, a whopping 35 touchdowns and an ability to run the ball when necessary.
But Bortles regressed badly in 2016 as did the rest of the team prompting ownership to bring back the ass-kicking former head coach Tom Coughlin to run the football operations.
It isn’t an overstatement to say that Bortles is already on thin ice and unless he regains his 2015 form, the team will likely once again be in the market for a starting quarterback next year in the draft.
In an effort to help Bortles, the Jaguars used the fourth overall pick in the draft to bring in former LSU wrecking ball Leonard Fournette to provide a consistent ground game, something that Jacksonville has lacked since the days of Maurice Jones Drew.
Fournette was a load in college when he was on but when he was off, he was really off. While injuries could have been part of the problem, the big man often looked like a clumsy lummox who had fumble problems. The success of the Jaguars will depend on which Fournette suits up for the big leagues.
Outside of Bortles, no Jaguars player was more disappointing than wide receiver Allen Robinson whose totals plummeted from 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015 to 883 yards and six scores in 2016. He will have to pick it up big time this year to prove that his breakthrough season wasn’t a total fluke.
Fellow receiver Allen Hurns also saw his numbers dip drastically from 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns to 477 and 3 TD’s but at least he had an excuse, he was injured.
The offense is really going to need to pick it up if Jacksonville is to avoid the cellar again this year.
Jacksonville actually has some good talent on the defensive side of the ball and brought in free agent reinforcements in former Arizona Cardinals lineman Calais Campbell, ex-Dallas Cowboy linebacker Barry Church, lineman Stefan Charles from Detroit and cornerback A.J. Bouye from Houston.
These players should augment a pack of youngsters and provide veteran leadership.
Doug Marrone returns as coach and is cut from the Coughlin cloth.
So, what does it all mean?
The Jags benefit from playing in a division filled with flawed teams so any sort of serious improvement could conceivably have them in the thick of things but it all comes down to Blake Bortles.