Fixing Jacksonville

Posted: March 2, 2014 in Football, New entries

Jacksonville has a problem. They’re a horrid team. And they have been for several years. With the draft in May and free agency in a few weeks, Jacksonville can become a relevant contender in the playoff race in an AFC South ruled by a young and maddeningly inconsistent Indianapolis Colts.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And turning Jacksonville into a Super Bowl winning powerhouse likely can’t be done in one offseason without a lot of luck. But they can develop into a physical, balanced team with some savvy draft picks and underrated free agent signings.

Let’s take a look at some of Jacksonville’s biggest needs on the depth chart:

  1. Franchise Passer – (Do I really need to explain?)

  1. Starting Running back – (Maurice Jones Drew’s been so reliable for so long. Even if he somehow remains a Jaguar for 2014, he’s finally slowed down.)

  1. Interior offensive lineman  – (Jacksonville’s O-line ranked 31st out of 32 in run blocking and 24th in pass protection. Tackles Joeckel and Pasztor look primed to step in and start at left and right tackle respectively. Guard was a weak spot and center Brad Meester retired leaving a hole at the position.)

  1. Outside linebacker – (Jacksonville tied with Chicago for fewest sacks in the NFL with 31 over the season. Obviously a glaring need for the team.)

  1. Defensive End – (Jason Babin’s been the only bright spot on a struggling defense. Injecting some youth and fire into this position will make a world of difference in making the team competitive again.)

The Draft – Jacksonville has ten selections in the 2014 draft. One in each round, an additional selection in the fourth from Baltimore and two additional selections in the fifth, one from Baltimore and one from Detroit.

There are two schools of thought for Jacksonville

A. Take a premium QB (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel)

B. Take Jadeveon Clowney (If not available, Khalil Mack)

Traditional wisdom says to take the Quarterback. This is what many GM’s would do sitting at the bottom.

If the ownership in Jacksonville wants to build defense first, then selecting Clowney or Mack makes sense as they both look like incredible quarterback hunters for the next ten years. Patchwork quarterbacking (free agency) can be done until next season where Jacksonville can make a move on a passer like Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley. While intriguing, and certainly a respectable drafting strategy, drafting a passer is the most effective way to improve now. And it’s easier to be better next year if you don’t have to improve as much from this year.

Here’s a realistic draft for Jacksonville focusing on QB:

First round – Blake Bortles, UCF QB

Second round – Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona RB

Third round – Tyler Larsen, Utah State C

Fourth round – DeMarcus Lawrence, Boise State OLB

2nd fourth round – Aaron Lynch, USF DE

Free agent signing – Jon Asamoah or Richie Incognito G

Free agent signing – Kenny Britt or Hakeem Nicks WR

With a healthy Luke Joeckel at left tackle, and Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis already in place on offense as viable receiving options, Bortles is already set up to have a reasonably structured offense to run. A receiver like Britt or Nicks (if reasonably priced) will give Bortles some experience to open up the offense. The addition of a center like Larsen and an experienced guard in free agency should give the o-line enough stability to protect Bortles and make running the ball a manageable feat.

The addition of Lawrence and Lynch on defense should boost the pass rush as both were effective and physical defenders in school.

A defensively prioritized draft would look more like this:

First round – Jadeveon Clowney, SC DE

Second round – Carlos Hyde, OSU RB

Third round – Carl Bradford, ASU OLB

Fourth round – Brandon Thomas, Clemson OG

2nd fourth round – Bruce Ellington, SC WR

Free agent signing – Brian De La Puenta or Fernando Velasco C

Free agent signing – Josh McCown, or Matt Cassel QB

A running game and stingy defense go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Clowney should draw plenty of double teams at Jacksonville allowing others to get to the QB when he’s blocked up. Carlos Hyde is a power runner who can run up the middle or outside if needed to soak up more time on the clock. Carl Bradford is an underrated pass rusher on a very good ASU defense who will help Jacksonville establish an identity on defense of physicality and getting after the quarterback. McCown or Cassel should perform adequately as a game manager for one season handing the ball off to Hyde or throwing to Marcedes Lewis for nine-yard gains.

Brandon Thomas played Tackle at Clemson and showed impressive athleticism and strength in the combine. Positioning him next to veteran Brian De La Puenta would help the offensive line become a strength instead of a weakness.

Bruce Ellington’s an underrated talent with home-run speed and great hands to make up for his diminutive stature out of South Carolina.

Jacksonville Coach Gus Bradley doesn’t need the most talented players to get over the hump. He needs the right players. Creating an atmosphere of winning and a “team-first” mentality will be essential with this new draft class. If Jacksonville can find a way to establish an identity on defense or build around a franchise passer they can be the next big thing in the AFC. The only question that remains is how does he want to build his legacy?

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