Head Coach: Gus Bradley
2014 Record: 3-13
Odds to win Division: +2450
Odds to win Conference: +9500
Odds to win Super Bowl: +40000
Season Wins: Over 5 (-135); Under 5 (+115
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The Jacksonville Jaguars blew it up and made massive changes to its roster, but do not expect more than a modest improvement on last season’s three wins.
Jacksonville Jaguars’ fans are getting tired of losing, which is somewhat unfortunate since there’s still a lot more of it in the team’s near future. Last year the Jags won just three games, which has become common territory for a team that averaged just that many now for the last three NFL seasons. The goal for Jax would ostensibly be to hit .500 this season, but NFL oddsmakers at 5dimes do not even see that as likely, setting the O/U on Jaguars’ wins at just ‘5.’
Quarterback Blake Bortles provides some semblance of hope however, and he certainly has his fans as a former UCF Knight. The offensive line is being fortified to take full advantage of his talents, but it is still a little way from materializing into much. There are holes all over Jacksonville’s roster and third-year coach Gus Bradley is already feeling something of a hot seat.
The roster has continued to turnover and there are 11 new starters. There’s few delusional enough to believe this team will sniff the playoffs this season, but progression has to take place. Owner Shad Khan has put time and money into his team, and he wants to see at least some dividends this season.
Bortles had his fair share of struggles last year, but the blame ended up falling on Jedd Fisch’s lap, as he was dismissed as OC. Jaguars’ QB coach Greg Olson steps into the position and he will install the West Coast offense and do away with the FB role (favoring two TEs or three WRs). The Jags will seek to blend some zone blocking and gap schemes, unlike last year which was mostly zones. The team has failed to score 16 points per game in the last four seasons, and changes were imperative. The result cannot be much worse.
Bortles, a No. 3 overall pick, is effective as a runner and certainly has an arm. He’s accurate, and few doubt that he will eventually be a solid quarterback. But that has not transpired yet, and he finished with just a 69.5 QB rating while averaging just 6.12 yards per attempt (second-worst in NFL). Bortles was able to cut down on some of his INTs over the final six contests (just three in 197 attempts) and that is a good sign for Jax.
TE Julius Thomas was signed from Denver and Bortles should be able to make the most of his talents. He’s currently playing with a massive cast on his hand, though, and finding that is hardly an aid to catching footballs. It is on his dominant hand, too. He opted not to have surgery and the Jaguars are hoping he is able to go opening day.
Meanwhile, Bortles has worked on his mechanics and footwork in attempts to improve his 11-to-17 TD/INT ratio, but he has to make quicker decisions to avoid the sacks that have come his way.
Chad Henne backs up Bortles, and the Jags will try to avoid turning to him, but if Bortles really struggles and the losses mount, it is not inconceivable that Jacksonville turns to the veteran. Bortles has a lot of inexperience around him, so the Jaguars are going to try to come together and grow as a young team.
The Jaguars have also not received much from its backfield. Not since 2011 and Maurice Jones-Drew has Jacksonville had a competent back, and the hope is that second-round pick T.J. Yeldon of Alabama is able to earn that starting role and produce. Jacksonville also has Michigan’s do-it-all QB Denard Robinson in the mix, and though he has not been a RB for his career, he’s ultra quick and certainly has potential for big plays.
Toby Gerhart will be a third-down and short yardage option, as well, and the team does not wan to place all its eggs in any one back’s basket, so to speak. Second-year RB Storm Johnson (also of UCF) has major potential but is hardly even guaranteed a roster spot at this point for the team that had the fifth-feast carries in the NFL. Yeldon is the primary attraction in the backfield, but it is hard to say he is much better than average, and none of the depth behind him is proven. It’s a theme for the Jaguars, we are seeing.
Bernard Pierce has been making a strong push to be the featured back, and Gus Bradley said the team likely will roster five running backs. That is mostly because none of them are standouts and the team is searching for options, to be honest and realistic about it.
The WR position was filled out with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns last year. Robinson was one of the top rookie WRs prior to fracturing his right foot, which sidelined him for six games. Hurns led the team in yardage (677) and TDs (6). Julius Thomas at TE is the featured receiver in some senses, and the Jags showed that by committing $24 M guaranteed to him. Marcedes Lewis will factor in two-TE sets.
The OL has been overhauled including hiring Doug Marrone to revamp the unit. At RT the Jags spent $32 M on Jeremy Parnell, and ex-Raider Stefen Wisniewski will be at C and LG. A.J. Cann also could see time at LG if he can take time away from vet Zane Beadles. Marrone is the right guy to coach this line and maximize its potential, but if not for him it would be a pretty bleak prospect. He should be able to make it competent and passable, but few would call Jax’s OL “good,” necessarily.
The Jags improved defensively last season with new coordinator Bob Babich, and it added four potential starters in free agency while also spending No. 3 draft pick on Dante Fowler Jr., though he was lost for the season with an ACL injury he suffered in a meaningless rookie minicamp practice. The team will employ a 4-3 and has enough speed and talent to be pretty decent.
The Jags are going to apply more pressure, try to force more turnovers and improve a defense that has ranked in the bottom 25 percent of the NFL units both of the last two years.
The defense is best on the DL where it has some strong veteran leadership, but it may seek to turn to some of its younger options since the team is hardly contending. Michael Bennett is expected to be a big steal as a sixth round pick and the Jags are hoping he can help them be a better team at stopping the run. The defense may not improve to being a top unit, but any improvements it does make will likely be on the heels of its DL, given that the LB crop and secondary are mediocre at best.
The Jags, predictably, are also about average at best in its special teams. It is hoping the units can improve field position this season, because that has been a weak point for it over the last few years. Denard Robinson could be an elite return specialist if he is not over-saddled with carries in the offense (which he likely will not be). Josh Scobee had a crappy year hitting just 20 of 26 FG while also getting three of them swatted away, never a good sign.
Bryan Anger fell off badly last season, which angered fans (sorry, another one that was too easy). There just is not much good to be said about the special teams of Jax, and the only real prospect to turn things around is Robinson on the returns.
The Jags just are not a good football team, though ownership is trying to build towards being one. There is some good young talent on the roster, not the least of which is Bortles, who most feel will still eventually be a good NFL QB. The Jaguars spent the money in free agency, but it almost had to with so many holes in the roster and so few solutions other than young, inexperienced and questionable talents.
The Jaguars are 14-50 over the last four seasons and while there is enough talent to start to turn things around, 5dimes is not pessimistic whatsoever in projecting the O/U at five wins. It is a safe mark, and any bets on the ‘over’ are likely relying on Bortles making a quantum leap behind an OL that is not really very good. In other words, it is not likely many bettors are expecting this team to exceed expectations.
Prediction: 5 wins