Our 2022 NFL Preview heads south to the Sunshine State, where the Jaguars have once again hit the proverbial reset button, though there is a tepid sense of encouragement that they may have FINALLY got it right. After finishing with the NFL’s worst record for the second year in row, (Head Coach) Doug Pederson was brought in to completely change the culture of the long-suffering franchise, with the former Super Bowl Champion looking to establish a clear identity and build something that hasn’t been seen in Jacksonville in over a decade: a winner. With that said, saying that Pederson and his coaching staff have a load of work to do would be a gross understatement, for their first order of business is to repair the damage done by the previous regime. So, what can we expect from the Jags in the first year of what is sure to be an arduous rebuild? Let’s find out…
Changing the Culture
In a league in which the system is built for parity among its thirty-two teams, it’s both remarkable and ridiculous that the Jaguars have been as bad as they’ve been over the past decade. Simply put, there hasn’t been a worse franchise in the NFL over that span, in which they’ve amassed a 42-119 record translating to putrid win percentage of .260. After winning just ONE game in 2020, (Owner) Shahid Khan attempted to make waves with the hiring of Urban Meyer, luring the three-time National Championship Head Coach out of the collegiate ranks to oversee the rebuild, but all he did was create arguably the biggest coaching debacle in the history of the sport. To say that Meyer was a flop is yet another understatement; from the jump, controversy surrounded the skipper, whose unprofessionalism was astounding, as he quickly lost the locker room before being unceremoniously fired after just thirteen games. Needless to say, Khan was left with quite a bit of egg on his face, making it all the more imperative that he get the next hire right, leading to his appointment of the venerable Doug Pederson (pictured). 42-37-1 in five years with the Eagles, the former Quarterback guided his troops to the postseason three times and engineered one of the most improbable Super Bowl runs in NFL history. Granted, his time in Philly ended in flames, but as we’ve seen over the course of last season, many of those issues were not his fault. Simply put, the 54-year-old is everything that his predecessor is not, including professional above all else. And so, Pederson has set about to undo the damage done by Meyer’s brief reign, earning his players’ trust and providing functional leadership for the first time in over a year. However, changing the culture is just phase one of this rebuild, for can he unlock the potential of a long dormant Offense, featuring a number of early draft picks? Well, there is one player in particular that is in dire need of his proverbial Midas touch, and he goes by the name of…
By all accounts, Trevor Lawrence (pictured) was billed as a generational talent at Quarterback long before he was eventually taken no. one overall by the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft. He possessed everything you’d ever want in a QB, including the prototypical size, athleticism, and arm strength, along with the experience and championship pedigree to lead a franchise for a decade plus. And thus, there was FINALLY some buzz around the league’s most slept-on franchise, and just when we all thought that Jacksonville was about to embark on an exciting new era of football in Northern Florida, Urban Meyer happened. Needless to say, it’s damning that Meyer managed to fumble this kid’s development in the manner that he did, as Lawrence was a veritable train wreck for much of the campaign; the Clemson product completed 59.6% of his attempts for an average of 214.2 yards per game on a meager 5.37 net yards per attempt, along with twelve touchdowns and a league-high SEVENTEEN interceptions, parlaying to a miserable 33.5 QBR, ranking twenty-eighth among starting Quarterbacks. Indeed, the Jags hope that his rookie campaign was indeed a wash, for there is some real excitement about what he can become under Pederson’s watchful eye; after all, the former Eagles skipper had a heavy hand in the early development of Carson Wentz, while maximizing the talent of his backup, Nick Foles, en route to claiming victory in Super Bowl XLII. With a more stable environment around him and a supporting cast that has seen some serious investment from (General Manager) Trent Baalke, the feeling is that Lawrence will have the requisite infrastructure around him to facilitate growth. The return of his former Clemson teammate, Travis Etienne, who missed all of his rookie campaign due to a torn ACL, should provide him with a versatile weapon out of the Backfield, while the arrival of free agents (Receivers) Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, along with (Tight End) Evan Engram and (Pro-Bowl Guard) Brandon Scherff provide some sorely needed reinforcements on the offensive side of the football.
Though there haven’t been very many positives to speak of the Jaguars over the past decade, they have managed to put together some stellar defensive units, and it appears that they’re trending in that direction once again. Granted, they were overrun early last season and laid some serious eggs along the way, but they also showed signs of what is to come in a few games where their potential was evident. In early November, they stunned the Bills in a 9-6 victory in which the Defense yielded just 301 total yards and six points against one of the most prolific attacks in the NFL, forcing three turnovers to boot. Then, over the last five games they relegated the opposition below 300 total yards, including (division rival) Indianapolis, whom they bested 26-11 in an affair in which the Colts had everything to play for. By and large, if their own Offense wasn’t such a dumpster fire, then it stands to reason that this group would’ve been far better received than they were in 2021, which means there are expectations for them to show marked improvement this Fall. (New Defensive Coordinator) Mike Caldwell arrives from Tampa looking to install an aggressive scheme in which you never know who is coming after the Quarterback, and he will have plenty of pass-rushing options at his disposal in Jacksonville. (Edge) Josh Allen has amassed 20.5 sacks and seventy-eight pressures since being drafted seventh overall back in 2019, while (Outside Linebacker) K’Lavon Chaisson has the requisite traits to show out in a more aggressive scheme. Furthermore, Baalke and Pederson invested heavily in this side of the football in last Spring’s NFL Draft, selecting (Defensive End) Travon Walker (pictured) first overall, followed by (rangy Linebacker) Devin Lloyd later in the First Round. The aim here is to improve upon this unit’s league-low total of NINE takeaways, which when coupled with TWENTY-NINE turnovers from the Offense, led to the worst turnover differential in the NFL.
Projected Finish: 5-12
After finishing with the worst record in the NFL last season, we’d like to say that there is nowhere to go but up for the Jaguars, but then again, we made the same statement this time last year. However, this should be a much more competitive team under the guidance of the aforementioned Pederson, whose presence alone should lead to some serious growth from Lawrence and the rest of a young Offense. Though it is likely still way too early for Jacksonville to compete for a Wild Card in a stacked AFC, we do expect them to put out a far more respectable product week in and week out, even if it won’t add up to many more wins.