It’s Bad to Be Bad: How to Fix the Jacksonville Jaguars
So if you’re a fan of Jaguars (the car, not the animal), then you’re probably familiar with its “Good to Be Bad” commercials featuring prominent British actors playing villainous roles and ultimately driving Jaguars at excessive speeds.
Believe it or not, Jaguar was criticized for “featuring and encouraging unsafe driving” and for being “socially irresponsible”. Hold on a sec, don’t all car ads do that? Heck, a Nissan ad from last year showed a car literally jumping on to a train to hitch a ride. I suspect that’s fairly socially irresponsible as well. I suppose at least they have the tiny white words on the bottom that you can barely read stating “Fantasy, do not attempt.” Although personally, I thought they were referring to driving Nissan’s generally, but that’s just me.
Anyway, as much as the Jacksonville Jaguars would like to sign on to the Jaguar car commercial motto of “Good to Be Bad”, unfortunately, in the NFL, it’s really only “Bad to Be Bad.” So let’s take a look at the “Bad to Be Bad” Jaguars and what’s been going wrong in Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had just nine victories in the last three seasons. In 2014, Jacksonville came away with 3 wins, only one of which was in the AFC South. It would be an understatement to say that the Jags are currently a bad football team. Heck, it might be misleading just to call the Jags a football team.
Jacksonville’s offense had the 2nd worst passing yards per game (187.6) and only did slightly better running the ball ranked 21st in rushing yards per game (102.1). The Toby Gerhart experiment failed (due to injuries and general ineffectiveness) after picking him up from Minnesota (where even Minnesota’s third string RB, Matt Asiata, looked better than Gerhart throughout the season). RB Storm Johnson was basically a draft bust, looking slow and plodding in his start against the Titans, totaling just 21 yards on 10 carries and adding 1 reception for -4 yards. Denard “Shoelace” Robinson, the QB turned RB from Michigan, ended up being the MVP (averaging 4.3 yards per carry for 582 rush yards and 5.4 yards per reception for 124 receiving yards — and all with double digit touches in only 8 games and missing the final 3 games with a foot sprain), which is an indication of how sad the rest of the team was.
The QB position was a mess, beginning with Chad Henne and then moving to rookie Blake Bortles, who proceeded to tally a measly 183.1 yards per game and a terrible 11 to 17 TD to INT ratio, tied for second most interceptions in the league. And he managed all those interceptions in just 14 games. Who knows, if he played all 16, perhaps he could have been number 1. Would have been nice for the Jags to be the best at something.
The Jaguar receivers, though, were a nice surprise, as both second round pick Allen Robinson and undrafted rookie Allen Hurns stepped up and looked to be legit receiving options. It’s too bad Robinson’s season was cut short due to a stress fracture in his foot, but assuming he’s healthy in 2015, this is one area that might not be an immediate priority for the Jags.
Jacksonville’s defense was similarly bad, being 22nd overall in opposing passing yards allowed (243.7) and 27th overall in opposing rushing yards allowed. The defense allowed their QB to be sacked a league leading 71 times, 13 more than the next closest team, Washington. Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks was the sole bright spot on the struggling defense, having a career year with 8.5 sacks and 44 tackles before tearing his ACL in the last game of the season. And with Marks now almost certainly sidelined through the 2015 season as he rehabs his knee, the Jaguars will have a lot more work to do.
Even with a highly drafted rookie QB in Bortles, a promising young RB in Robinson, and two interesting young WRs in Robinson and Hurns, ESPN ranked the Jaguars 22nd on the list of top young talent (25 years old or younger). Clearly, there’s significant room for improvement on all fronts. Let’s see what they can do.
Honestly, there’s not a lot to worry about regarding Jacksonville’s free agents. Perhaps it’s worth re-signing DE/DT Tyson Alualu and LB J.T. Thomas, as both are solid contributors that could come cheap, but neither are absolutely necessary. Jordon Todman, a restricted free agent, might be worth bringing back as a kick returner if done on the cheap, but similarly isn’t a must hold.
Cecil Shorts is also a free agent, and honestly, I don’t see a downside if he can be re-signed. Although, in 2014, Shorts only had one TD, he was the most targeted receiver on the team (110 targets) and was second on the team for receiving yards (557 yards). Heck, he even threw for a touchdown. He’s entering his 5th season in the NFL, which qualifies him as a veteran that can perhaps help bring along Robinson and Hurns.
If not Shorts, then the Jags should seek out veteran WR help in the free agency market. With $62 million in cap space, the Jags certainly have money to play with. Unfortunately, many of the top WR free agents, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin, are almost certainly returning to their respective teams (either by deal or franchise tag).
That really on leaves Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith and Michael Crabtree available for potential suitors. I’ve already discussed Cobb and Crabtree at length in my articles concerning How to Fix the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders. Cobb would be a coup for Jacksonville, whereas Crabtree would be an acceptable gamble. But what about Torrey Smith?
Smith was incredibility inconsistent in Baltimore last year, having his lowest season yardage total of his career (767 yards), yet catching the most TDs in a season in his career (11). Not once in 16 games did Smith exceed 100 yards, and he even had two games with 0 yards (although he did miss about a quarter in the week 8 donut due to a potential concussion and played injured in the week 14 donut mostly as a decoy). Even tossing out the two 0’s as outliers, we’re still left with an underwhelming season. But for the 11 TDs, there wouldn’t be anything notable here. However, we can’t ignore the 11 TDs, and Smith has youth on his side as he’s only 26. Will he be the answer in Jacksonville? Probably not on his own. But ancient Steve Smith Sr. got better opposite Torrey Smith in Baltimore, so why can’t Robinson or Hurns?
The Jags would do well to snag one of Cobb, Smith or Crabtree, in that order of priority.
Although the Jags need significant help on the offensive line, having the 3rd pick in the draft puts them in a peculiar situation. Since they’ve committed to Blake Bortles as their QB of the future, there’s no need for either of the top QBs (and if the Bucs pick as I think they should, Mariota should be off the board by then). And as I mentioned above, I think the Jags are better off getting a veteran WR or re-signing Cecil Short to help with their sophomore WR pair than grabbing another young WR in the draft. Which means I think the Jags should pass on Amari Cooper. Fortunately or unfortunately, the next best 5 or 6 players in the draft are all on defense. So either the Jags take someone on defense with their third pick, which they certainly can use, or they trade down and take an offensive lineman later in the draft like OG Brandon Scherff or OT T.J. Clemmings.
I personally think that if Winston or Mariota is still on the board at 3, the Jags would do well to trade their pick away to a QB needy team (similar to what I think the Titans should do) and select Scherff later in the first round. But if they decide to stay at 3, they have 3 great options on defense in OLB Randy Gregory, DE Leonard Williams and DE Shane Ray.
Again, as I mentioned when discussing the Titans, my favorite in this group is Randy Gregory. If the Titans don’t take Gregory at 2, I think the Jags should take him at 3. Feel free to check out my discussion in my article about the Titans if you want to know why.
Assuming the Titans take Gregory, the Jags will have to decide between Leonard Williams and Shane Ray. Although Ray might be the better pass rusher, I think Williams wins out as the first choice at DE. Frankly, he’s huge, fast and is just so dominating off the line. He has an amazing nose for the ball and quickly sheds blocks to get to the QB or RB. He’s still incredibly raw, but with some coaching can be a real anchor to the Jags defense. Once Marks gets healthy, the two together will be absolutely frightening. Again, don’t take my word for it, check out these highlights for Williams last year at USC:
There you go Jacksonville. Perhaps this can be your path to mediocrity. What, no Super Bowl? Now now, let’s remember, one step at a time.