Through 2017 the Jacksonville Jaguars had a hell of a turnaround. From not having a winning season in ten years, to being minutes away from a their first Superbowl appearance. Since then they’ve faltered, winning only 11 out of 32 games and have had an exodus of stars.
How did it get so good for the Jags? And how did it quickly get so bad? Ninety-Nine Yards takes a look into the Rise and Fall of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jags rise from below mediocre to AFC Champions elect was hell of a turnaround. From a team that finished 3-13 in 2016 to complete their 9th straight play-off free season, to being a few minutes away from their first ever trip to a Superbowl. A good draft heading into the 2017 season adding star running back Leonard Fornett and starting Tackle Cam Robinson. The Jags brought in key free defensive free agents AJ Bouye, Calalis Campbell and Barry Church to add to their young, star studded defence which already featured Jaylen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack.
The combination of youth and experience led to the Jags defence leading the league in completion % and passer rating against (56.8% and 68.5 respectively). They finished second with sacks (55), interceptions (21) and points allowed per game (16.8).
The Jags smash mouth, run first, offence lead the league with 2262 rushing yards. The offence finished 5th in points with 417, an average of over 26 a game. The Jags finished 10-6, winning the AFC South for the first time; having last won the old AFC Central back in 1999.
In the playoffs they’d beat the 6th seed Bills 10-3 before travelling to Pittsburg and beat the Steelers 45-42. Then came the AFC Championship game at (you guessed it) the Patriots. Picture the scene; It’s January 21st 2018 and with 9 minutes to go in the game the Jags have a 10-20 lead at Gillette Stadium. Two late, Brady to Amendola, touchdowns send the heartbroken Jags back to Florida with their tails between their legs. Despite the loss the Jags had a lot to be happy about and were tipped for another run at the Superbowl.
Fast forward two years and the Jags have gone from being 9 minutes away from being crowned AFC Champions, to going 11-21 since. From being first in the AFC South to two consecutive last place finishes. They’ve discarded QB Blake Bortles along with his replacement Nick Foles, the former costing them $15m of cap space last year and the latter nearly $19m in 2020. They’ve waved goodbye to most of the core from their record setting defence with AJ Bouye, Calalis Campbell and Jalen Ramsey all now plying their trade elsewhere.
How did the Jags fall so far, so quickly? Was it bad recruitment, results on the field or fall out off it? In truth, all mix of all of all three.
The Jags started 2018 full of hope. A 3-1 start, including a 31-20 win against last years foes the Patriots put them in a good position to succeed. But a 0-7 mid-season flop through which their once feared defence gave up an average of 33 points a game. A 2-3 finish left the Jags bottom of the AFC South, miles away behind their pre-season expectations. Their offence went from smash mouth to damp squib: from first in the league rushing to nineteenth with 1723 yards, over 500 fewer than the previous campaign.
Blake Bortles was benched and eventually cut following numerous poor performances. The Jags defensive output fell too; although a respectable 5th in both total yards (4983) and points against (316) through 2018 they fell behind elsewhere; from leading the league in sacks (55) to eighth worse (37) and turnovers decreasing from 33 to only 17.
Heading into 2019 the Jags signed former superbowl MVP Nick Foles to a 4 year $88m contract as a replacement for Bortles at QB. However it was their 6th round pick Gardner Minshew who would play the majority of games behind centre. Foles would only manage four appearances due to injury, going 0-4 in those games throwing for only 736 yards, 3 TDs and 2 interceptions. A fortnight ago the Jags traded Foles for a fourth round (140th overall pick) to the Chicago Bears.
Foles wasn’t the only free agent signed in 2019 to fail to make it to the 2020 season. NONE of the Jags’ 2019 free agent additions are any with the team anymore.
The season itself was a slight improvement on the previous; the Jags started 4-4 and finished 6-10, one win up in 2018 but yet again bottom of the AFC South. Minshew’s play, alongside his trademark moustache, was a positive in another dull season for the Jags. The Rookie went 285 on 470 attempt totalling 3271 yards with 21 touchdowns versus only 6 interceptions.
The Jags defense continued to slide, allowing the ninth most yards against (6007) and twelfth most points (397) through 2019. A fall from grace from their previous no.1 status.
Their lack of success on defence inevitably caused tension, this boiled over to a sideline fight between star cornerback Jaylen Ramsey and head coach Doug Marone. A few weeks later Ramsey was traded to the Rams, he wasn’t the only departure. The “Mayor of Sacksonville”, Jags record holder for sacks (both per game and season) Calalis Campbell was traded to the Ravens to clear cap space. Franchise tagged defensive end Yannic Ngakoue is doing his best on Twitter to get a move elsewhere.
The Jaguars team heading into 2020 is going to be drastically different from the one that was minutes away from getting to the Superbowl back in 2018.
It’s not all doom and gloom; the Jags have 12 picks in the upcoming draft, including two first rounders, which they’ll be hoping will reinvigorate their team. Plenty of hope will also and will be in the growth of their mustached’ star quarterback who’ll need to keep progressing if they want to return to the playoffs anytime soon.