The AFC South is all set to be one of the more interesting divisions in the NFL this season. It was not that long ago that the division was the biggest joke, at least in the AFC. However, now it is loaded with talent. You have three really good quarterbacks and one of the best defenses in the entire NFL. So how is this division likely to turn out in 2018? Monday I took a look at the Indianapolis Colts, Tuesday it was the Houston Texans and Wednesday it was the Tennessee Titans. Now it is the turn of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This group has an eerily similar look about it enter the 2018 season. Any thought the Jaguars had about replacing Bortles this year were likely thrown away when his fifth year contract was fully guaranteed due to an offseason injury. However, any thought of that were soon erased when they signed Bortles to an extension, which should keep him with the team through to the end of 2020. Come 2020 they do have a way out which will only cost them $5 million against their cap. It feels like Bortles had one of his better years in 2017, and he was still below league average in the percentage index for touchdowns, interceptions and completions. That is the problem with Bortles, even when he is good he is not impressive. In fact the reason he looked good last year is because the Jaguars used him almost exclusively as a game manager and let the run game win them games. His attempts per game were the lowest in his career. That is what I expect to be the story again this year, let Bortles throw only when they need to and let the run game handle the rest.
Leonard Fournette will once again lead this backfield, after a 1040 yard, none touchdown season in 2017. Fournette averaged 20.6 attempts per game in 2017 and I see no reason that decreases massively this season. T.J. Yeldon will once again provide the backup service to Fournette but I expect him to average five to 10 attempts per game at most.
Simialr to last year the Jaguars have lost their best receiver early. Marquise Lee was injured in the third preseason game and will miss the whole year. That leaves a less than thrilling group of receivers for Bortles to work with. Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook will provide the relatively young veteran presence with rookie D.J. Chark competing for playing time. If this team is to have success at least one of those will need to step up and they made need Chark to play well beyond his years. However, we saw last year that this offense can function without star receivers so I expect them to at least be competent.
This is the position that took the biggest step forward this offseason. Marcedes Lewis was essentially done as a pass catcher, apart from that one magical game at Wembley. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a tight end with a ton of talent who has had off the field issues. He had some impressive moments for the Jets last season and I think the Jaguars look to get him involved often. Behind him Niles Paul offers some experience to replace what they lost with the departure of Lewis.
This group was generally pretty middle of the road last year overall. Run blocking they were fairly successful and with Leonard Fournette in the backfield that is what you want them to be good at. They added first team All-Pro Guard Andrew Norwell in the offseason and Cam Robinson should improve in his second year in the league. If those two pan out then this could be a top-10 offensive line this season.
This is the money making unit on this team. The Jaguars have taken the New York Giant SuperBowl winning blueprint of building through a good pass rush. However, they have maybe taken it a step further by having an elite group of linebackers and defensive backs behind them. The issue for this group is that it will be virtually impossible for them to be better than they were last year.
What a group. When Dante Fowler is back from his suspension and is paired with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue there are not many better groups of edge rushers in the league. When you then combine it with Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson on the interior it is down right scary. Rookie Taven Bryan is going to get every chance to make plays in a part-time role this season. If he hits then this group could destroy every offensive line it meets in 2018.
The retirement of Paul Pozluzny damages the depth of this team but it perhaps makes the starting three even more scary than before. Rookie Leon Jacobs has been impressive in preseason and will get a chance to start. Anytime you line up next to Myles Jack and Telvin Smith you are the weak line but he does not look a bad weak link to have. As I say depth is the issue with the Jaguars only carrying one more outside linebacker and one extra middle linebacker. With Jack’s previous injury history, including an injury in the playoffs last year, that could be a sticking point for this defense.
This is yet another incredible group of talented defensive players. The starting four of A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson is hard to find fault with. The Achilles heel could be the loss of Aaron Colvin as the slot corner. As I wrote about a few weeks back they will need D.J. Hayden to step up in a big way to cover that hole. If he does then I struggle to see anything stopping this unit.
The Final Word
The sticking point for this team will once again be the offense. However, we saw that they have devised an effective way to grind teams down with Fournette and a sprinkling of Yeldon and the passing game. Anytime you have a defense capable of just taking over you have a chance to win your division. The issue is that when you do not ahve a strong offense it can be tough to really press home your advantage. Therefore, I do not see them running away with the division, but I think they have enough. If they do make the playoffs, then their defense gives them a real shot to make another playoff run and, if things break their way perhaps go a step further in 2018.
Projected Finish: 1st (10-6)
Photo credit: Jaguars Wire