In anticipation of the NFL season starting in less than two months, Head & Heart Sports will feature each division for the next eight weeks and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC South, continuing with the Jacksonville Jaguars today.
Recap of 2015: The Jacksonville Jaguars (or the Yags as I like to call them) finished 5-11 for the 2015 season. The season as a whole can be seen as an improvement from the previous season when they finished 3-13. It was also the most wins in a season for the franchise since 2011. They were also responsible for ending the Colts 16 game win streak against AFC South opponents as well.The Jags started off slowly, going 2-6 in their first eight games, but were able to stay in playoff contention after back to back wins against the Ravens and Titans. They weren’t officially eliminated until Week 16, which is something worth pointing out for a team like Jacksonville, who is typically eliminated by Week 8 or 9. This team is still young and has started building their foundation to become a competitive football team in this league. Their offense features a solid young core of Blake Bortles, TJ Yeldon, Allen Hurns, and, most importantly, Pro-Bowler Allen Robinson.
Significant Additions: OT Kelvin Beachum, DL Malik Jackson, RB Chris Ivory, S Tashaun Gipson, CB Prince Amukamara
Significant Subtractions: G Zane Beadles, DE Chris Clemons, RB Toby Gerhart (Can a team that finishes 5-11 really have many “significant” subtractions?)
Potential Impact Rookies: CB Jalen Ramsey, OLB Myles Jack, DE Yannick Ngakoue (#heaterp), DE Dante Fowler, Jr. (2015 1st Round Draft Pick who missed all of 2015 season with ACL injury)
Team Strengths: This teams biggest strength is its receiving corps. Led by Pro-Bowler Allen Robinson, along with Allen Hurns, Rashad Greene, and Julius Thomas, this group ranked as the 10th best group in the league. They averaged 12.5 yards per catch and caught 35 touchdown passes. The only teams to catch more TD passes than the Jaguars were the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Allen Robinson was 6th in the league with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and Allen Hurns became the only receiver in NFL history to score a touchdown in seven straight games.
Team Weaknesses: The secondary and pass rush. This group could not find their groove all season and come up with the big stop or sack when they needed it. They allowed 30+ points in half of their games last season and gave up 268.2 yards per game through the air. They allowed the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Tannehill, and EJ Manuel throw for 290+ yards with multiple touchdown passes. The pass rush was only able to generate 36 sacks which ranked 20th overall in the league. Their nine interceptions also only ranked 29th in the league. The front office knew that had an issue in the secondary and pass rush and addressed those needs immediately through free agency and the draft. Ramsey, Gipson, and Amukamara are all solid additions to the secondary and will look to provide shut-down defense. Jackson, Fowler, Jack, and Ngakoue all can get after the quarterback and will look to impose fear on opposing quarterbacks as they look out across the line.
Fantasy Players to Watch: The Allen Bros. Allen Robinson is a WR1 and Hurns is a formidable WR2. They both achieved 1,000+ yards and 10+ TDs last year and I expect both to achieve these type of stats again this year. This team is more than likely going to be playing from behind in the majority of their games creating pass heavy situations. Blake Bortles is also a sneaky situational play. He has 4 games against the Titans and Colts and other opponents on the schedule like the Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders who had some of the worst pass defenses last season. Their backfield is a tough play with the addition of Chris Ivory this year. TJ Yeldon will look to continue to catch passes out of the backfield but I see Ivory getting the short yardage carries and red-zone touches. I will also leave you with this piece of advice when you have to decide between playing someone from any other team or a Yag; #AGY (Always Go Yag).
2016 Outlook: 2016 looks to be a more hopeful year for the Jags. Bortles, Robinson, and Hurns all have another year under their belts and have started coming into their own offensively. The ground game has improved with the addition of Ivory and the offensive line has gotten better with the addition of Beachum. The defense has also drastically improved. The secondary is full of new faces and will more than likely take some time to gel together, but they have a shut-down corner in Ramsey and ball-hawking Tashaun Gipson (only Richard Sherman has more INTs since 2012). The pass rush will also be crucial to how this team performs on defense and the additions of Jackson and Jack will surely provide that pass rush that Jacksonville is looking for. I think this team may be another two to three years away from getting over the hump and into the playoffs, but I look for them to build upon last season and continue progressing forward.
Record Prediction: When looking at the Jags schedule this season, there are a lot of question marks. The AFC South is consistently one of the worst divisions each year. The Titans will be cellar dwellers again. The Colts and Texans both have the potential to be either playoff teams or they could also both be 6-10 teams. There are also teams like the Ravens and Chargers who had some injury problems last year and both underperformed. The Jaguars have been donned “my guys” and I have been believing in them ever since they hired Gus Bradley. I am so tempted to say this is their year for the fourth year in a row, but I see this team finishing the season 6-10 and ending up with another top 10 draft pick at next year’s draft.
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