This part of the Jacksonville Jaguars analysis will cover what needs to happen with their receiver core, and their offensive line.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Back in 2015, this unit was one of the most productive receiving corps in the National Football League. That year the Jags boasted two 1,000 yard receivers in ALLEN ROBINSON (below; he had 1,400 yards receiving in 2016) and ALLEN HURNS (1,031 yards). So naturally, Jags fans, the media in the River City, and the national media thought that in 2016 those two would pick up where they left off. Wrong!!!! Robinson was available for every game in the 2016 season, while Hurns (35 catches for 477 yards and 3 scores in 2016) had hamstring trouble from weeks 13 through 17, which made him inactive for games and practices during those five weeks.
Robinson’s (73 catches for 883 yards and 6 scores) excuse for not picking up where he left off from the 2015 season was: either he wasn’t targeted enough; wasn’t in the offensive game plan for given weeks; the Jags were trying to spread the ball around; and the fact that Robinson’s 2015 season made him a target in 2016, for double and/or single lockdown coverage.
Then there’s MARQISE LEE (below; 63 catches for 851 yards and 3 scores), who may have more talent than either Robinson or Hurns. Lee’s problem since he got drafted back in 2014, is that he can’t stay healthy or the Jags don’t know what to do with him. Plus, he’s also a dynamic return specialist, a talent he was well known for at the University of Southern California when he played there from 2011 to 2013. So, that return specialist business may take time away from his development as a receiver.
The Jags are super crowded at receiver and there’s hope that JUSTIN BLACKMON can take care of his off the field problems with alcohol and get back on the field. But that’s a BIG if. He hasn’t played a down for the Jags since October 27, 2013.
The Jags drafted receiver DEDE WESTBROOK in the fourth round of this year’s draft. He is one of the best wide receivers to ever show his face on the University of Oklahoma (OU) campus, and there’s hope that he can inject the excitement he showed at OU into the Jags receiving corps this year or down the line.
At tight end, the Jaguars have recent free agent signee MYCHAL RIVERA, MARCEDES LEWIS, and BEN KOYACK among others. Rivera was signed to a two year $3.25 million contract in the 2017 free agency season. They signed him to be the receiving threat to replace JULIUS THOMAS (traded to the Miami Dolphins back in March) who was supposed to be doing from 2016 to the present, what they signed Rivera for.
The book on Lewis is that he isn’t the receiving threat that he used to be from 2008 to 2012, and so now he is used as an extra blocking tight end in running situations.
Then there’s Koyack, who was an undrafted free agent signee in 2016 from Notre Dame. He didn’t do anything special last year as he latched onto 19 passes for 161 yards and 1 score. But he did in 2016 and will (from 2017 and on) provide an extra option for Bortles, just in case his primary receivers are locked up in coverage or are hurt.
BOTTOM LINE: Robinson and Lee really need big 2017 seasons, because both of them are unrestricted free agents and of course the Jags offense is counting on it. Robinson, Hurns, Lee, Rivera, Westbrook, Koyack, and their other receivers——and who ever gets the fourth tight end spot——need to step up in 2017 and help Bortles finally take that step to the next level as a passer.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The plan is for new free agent signee BRANDEN ALBERT to start at left offensive tackle. He signed a 2-year, $18.5 million contract with the Jags earlier this spring. Hopefully Albert can stay healthy and perform, because he hasn’t served a full season since the 2011 season when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Backing him up will be second round pick CAM ROBINSON, who was one of the better offensive linemen in the nation at Alabama last year. Hopefully Robinson is ready to go just in case Albert doesn’t last the season.
Starting right offensive tackle JERMEY PARNELL doesn’t make headlines with his play, and the only folks that know about him is his position coach, his offensive line mates, and a few of his teammates. But he’s a hard worker and is a solid player.
Center BRANDON LINDER is in his contract year and the Jags need for him to be on the field to help anchor this line. He may be at this point their best (not their most talented) offensive lineman. Offensive guards AJ CANN and TYLER SHATLEY are young, but are both scrappy and no-nonsense players who will get better the more they age. They (especially Shatley) will face competition from a number of other guards including JEREMIAH POUTASI, who by now was supposed to be either in the starting lineup or challenging for a starting job at left guard by now.
BOTTOM LINE: BLAKE BORTLES since his rookie year, has been sacked 156 times and that figure doesn’t include the amount of times he’s been knocked down or touched when the ball has left his right arm. The reason why they signed Albert and drafted Robinson is because team management is sick and tired of Bortles ending up on his back. Bortles was sacked 71 times in his rookie year, 51 times in 2015, and 34 times last year. This sack parade for opponents has got to stop.
Albert, Robinson (maybe), Parnell, Cann, Linder, and whomever starts at left guard this year, need to make it their business to keep Bortles healthy and upright most of the time he steps back to pass. Because if the Jags offensive line takes Bortles athleticism or his health for granted and don’t blast open holes for the running game, this will be another long season in Jacksonville.
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