NOTE: This is part one of a series on the Jacksonville Jaguars and their quest to get better from 2017 and beyond.
Once upon a time, the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the most discussed and hottest teams in the National Football League. And that was between the 1996 and 1999 seasons. Back then they had the likes of future hall of famer and running back FRED TAYLOR (below); quarterback MARK BRUNELL; offensive tackle TONY BOSELLI; wide receivers KEENAN MCCARDELL and JIMMY SMITH; defensive end TONY BRACKENS; and of course a head coach in TOM COUGHLIN who ruled those teams with discipline and a my way or the highway sensibility.
But in this decade, the Jaguars have been a laughingstock and a certain win for many teams that had them on their schedule. Since 2010, the Jaguars have not even sniffed a playoff berth. Moreover, they have finished no better than third place in the AFC South in six out of the last seven seasons of this decade. And more importantly, they’ve went a combined 30-82 (.267 winning percentage) since the opening game of the 2010 season.
If that last paragraph wasn’t enough to make Jaguar fans cringe, there’s also the fact that the Jags have went through five head coaches this decade.
Hopefully current head coach DOUG MARRONE, who has extensive experience coaching in both the college and NFL ranks, is the right man to turn around the Jags. Because this is getting ridiculous. No playoff appearances since 2007, the aforementioned futility of this franchise, injuries to so many players that the Jaguars were counting on since 2010, first and second round draft picks who were busts, and so on.
Below is a look at what the Jaguars have on their roster for the 2017 season.
QUARTERBACKS: Quarterback BLAKE BORTLES (368 of 625 for 3,905 yards, and 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2016) has tried his best to will this franchise to respectability, with his arm and with his feet. There have been periods where he’s done too much and it has cost the Jags. And there have been periods where he played within his strengths and weaknesses, and it just hasn’t been enough to make the Jags a perennial contender.
Trust this, NO ONE should lay the Jags futility the past three years in particular (Bortles has been a member of the Jags since 2014) on Bortles. Injuries at receiver, inconsistency at receiver here and there, and a lack of a big-time running back(s) has hurt the Jags and Bortles’ development since his rookie year.
Bortles’ backups, veteran quarterback CHAD HENNE and second-year man BRANDON ALLEN didn’t play at all in 2016. And neither one of them are ready to take the Jags on his back if Bortles goes down.
BOTTOM LINE: If Bortles goes down, has a subpar season, or the receivers don’t step up like they did in 2015, count on another tired offensive season and another losing season in the River City.
RUNNING BACKS: Finally, the Jaguars have a franchise running back. Former LSU star, recent fourth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft and running back LEONARD FOURNETTE, is now the property of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s big (6 feet and 240 pounds), he’s strong, he’s fast (4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine), and he’s just the type of workhorse that the Jags need for offensive balance.
On the other hand, the Jags drafted incumbent running back TJ YELDON back in 2015 to do what they want to get out of Fournette eventually. But Yeldon doesn’t have the body type to put up with 25 or more carries per game during an entire season. Yeldon was supposed to progress to at least 900 yards or more in 2016 (he had 740 yards rushing in his rookie season), but he regressed to just 465 yards and all of one touchdown. Regression like that is not what the Jags need from this position.
Then there’s CHRIS IVORY who didn’t do much better than Yeldon did (439 yards from scrimmage and just 3 scores). Ivory is built to be a 20 carry or more guy for most of a season (not a whole season). But he isn’t that explosive and he will take a backseat to Fournette, if the latter stays healthy and is as productive as he’s been hyped to be since the 2015 college football season.
BOTTOM LINE: Seeing as how the Jags’ running game has needed an injection of excitement and consistency for the past five years (MAURICE JONES-DREW was their last franchise running back and that was in 2012), there’s a chance that Fournette may start from day one of 2017 regular season. Fournette wasn’t taken where he was in the draft just to be just a guy or slightly better than Yeldon and Ivory. Fournette was taken with the fourth overall pick so he can be a workhorse, take pressure off of Bortles, and to bring offensive balance to the Jaguars.
Yeldon and Ivory, they either need to keep the seat warm for Fournette or they need to be the number two and three backs that help take pressure off of him. Because even as gifted as Fournette is, he can’t carry the Jags’ running game all by himself.
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