The Jaguars should have made the 2015 NFL playoffs (just ask any Jaguars fan!). Disappointingly, despite ranking 14th overall in points and Blake Bortles having a breakout season, Jacksonville fell to 5-11-0.
Their record alone does not complete the entire picture. Three of these 11 losses were decided by less than 3 points, and five others were decided by a TD or less. If you consider that is a difference of 44 points on offense, or 44 less points scored by their opponents, you realize that the Jaguars really are not a bad football team. Considering this, the Jaguars could have easily finished with more than 10 wins, enough to make the post-season, if the point swing would have gone differently in some games.
As a brief reminder, the Jaguars started out as a consistent playoff team when they entered the league in 1995. From 1996 (one year after their founding) to 1999, the Jaguars consistently made the playoffs, making the AFC tile game twice within that stretch. However since then, the Jaguars have only made the postseason twice, not qualifying in 8 consecutive years. The Jaguars are due. The only remaining questions is: what pieces do they need?
Consider this – in 2015 their passing game was excellent, but their running game ranked at the bottom tier of the NFL (27th overall). Also, their defense fared very poorly. They allowed the second most points in franchise history (448). However, they scored their most points on offense (376) since 2007 (411), when they last made the playoffs (espn.com). That 44 point swing mentioned above is very clearly coming into focus.
The Jaguars 2015 draft pick, Dante Fowler, will be returning next year. Clearly, the Jaguars need more defensive talent, who can pair up with Fowler to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It is not lost on this writer that the Jags were shredded for 51 points against Tom Brady and the Patriots, the royalesque football franchise in the AFC. To stand a chance against these big teams in the postseason next year, the Jags have to create a pass rush, and improve their turnover ratio.
Most projections have the Jaguars grabbing Jalen Ramsey, S/CB out of Florida State. This would be the best possible player they could grab at the No. 5 spot, unless Joey Bosa from Ohio State drops down, which is highly unlikely. If Jalen Ramsey is unavailable, somehow, Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida) would also be a safe bet.
A very bold move would be to trade down and acquire more 2nd round picks. There are plenty of defensive players available later in the first round, such as Reggie Ragland (LB, Alabama) and Darron Lee (OLB, Ohio State). In the second round, the Jaguars are slated for pick 36 – which they could use to grab some very good OLBs still available.
Of course, the biggest and boldest move would be to trade down to get Ezekiel Elliot, currently projected at 21-23 in several mock drafts (but will probably go higher), to boost their poor rushing attack, though the fact that they drafted T.J. Yeldon so high in the draft last year makes this unlikely. It is good to note that there are always teams willing to trade up to grab a potential franchise QB, and the Jaguars can take advantage. In other words, how does the best running back in the draft, combined with two high second round defensive picks to team up with Dante Fowler sound?
Overall, the Jaguars are definitely trending upwards and anything less than a wild-card game next year would be troubling (and coach-firing territory). If the Jaguars continue their offensive upwards trend, and grab some key defensive rookies, they will be the team to beat in the AFC South. It isn’t a stretch for someone to predict a 10-5 finish in 2016, division winner of the AFC South.