The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we head to the AFC South to provide a Jacksonville Jaguars 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team that is hoping its defense can catch up to a developing powerhouse on offense.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2016 Preview
Head coach: Gus Bradley (fourth season)
Key arrivals: DT Malik Jackson, LT Kelvin Beachum, FS Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory,
Key departures: OG Zane Beadles, TE Clay Harbor, DE Andre Branch, P Bryan Anger, C Stephen Wisniewski, DE Chris Clemons
1. Does Jacksonville finally have a defense?
On paper, it sure seems like the Jags have the pieces in place to finally feature a defense that can shut teams down.
There are so many new additions to be excited about, including rookies Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey, free agents Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, not to mention pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who may as well be a rookie after missing 2015 with an ACL.
While it may not happen right away, Jack, in particular, has a chance to become a league superstar. He laid some serious wood on New York Jets running back Bilal Powell in Week 1 of the preseason, knocking him back a few yards (watch here). A guy who reads and reacts quicker than every other defender on the field, he’s a splash play waiting to happen.
Gipson and Ramsey should solidify the back end, and there is game-changing talent at all three levels.
2. Can Blake Bortles take another big step?
In only his second NFL season last year, Bortles looked in many ways like a future league superstar.
Passing for 4,428 yards with 35 touchdowns, he showed off exceptional big-play chemistry with fellow second-year wideouts Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
Unfortunately, Bortles also completed just 58.6 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions. Those numbers aren’t going to get it done going forward as the Jaguars attempt to rise out of the AFC South basement and into the playoff picture.
In an attempt to improve his game, Bortles teamed up with notable quarterback guru Tom House this offseason. Hopefully the mechanics and habits he had instilled during his workouts and meetings will carry over into games.
He’s clearly the face of the franchise. Now it’s time for Bortles to become a true star.
3. Will Chris Ivory make the offense unstoppable?
Assuming Bortles becomes a more efficient passer and doesn’t turn the ball over as much, Jacksonville’s offense will develop into a powerhouse. But if Chris Ivory can step in as the lead running back and recreate his 2015 campaign, this offense will become unstoppable.
Ivory put together his finest season as a pro last year as a member of the Jets. He combined for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns and averaged 4.65 yards per touch, catching and running the ball.
Even more impressive, he showed home-run abilities that are rare.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 8, 2016
Combined with second-year stud in the making TJ Yeldon, Ivory should give the Jaguars a consistent rushing attack that will keep opposing defenses off guard in a major way.
Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end
Dante Fowler's potential? Huge according to his teammate. pic.twitter.com/FQ1ZoIJa4X
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 15, 2016
New Jaguars defensive end Malik Jackson, who played with Von Miller in Denver, likens Dante Fowler Jr. to his old teammate.
Coming out of Florida last year, the pass rusher had scouts drooling over his combination of size (6-foot-3, 261 pounds), speed (4.6-second 40-yard dash), quickness and raw power. Simply put, he’s one of those rare physical specimens that don’t come along every day.
Unfortunately, Fowler’s entire rookie campaign went down in smoke after he tore his ACL during rookie minicamp.
After more than a year to recover and get strong for the upcoming season, he’s done nothing but impress his teammates and coaches.
One last takeaway from the #Jaguars: They believe former No. 3 pick Dante Fowler is going to be a star. He's been embarrassing OLs all camp.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 4, 2016
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Jags upgraded on both sides of the ball this year.
Defensively, they should be a joy to watch, though expectations should be tempered somewhat due to all the new faces and young players being thrown into the fire.
Offensively, Jacksonville should absolutely flourish. Bortles, Hurd and Robinson — not to mention tight end Julius Thomas — are all young and have shown amazing rapport as a unit.
This is a team on the come, and it would seem only injuries will derail significant improvement record-wise in 2016.
REASON TO DOUBT
It’s hard to find reasons to be pessimistic about Jacksonville’s chances of improving.
That said, the AFC South is brutally tough. All four teams could potentially make the playoffs (not all at once), so the divisional games will be absolutely critical to win.
Furthermore, until we see Bortles improving his accuracy and ball security, we’re not ready to put the “elite” crown on him just yet.
Still, after the team won just eight games the past two seasons, we’re expecting them to win more than that in 2016.
Prediction: 9-7, tied for second place in AFC South