JACKSONVILLE – The strengthening of the offense may not be over yet.
While the Jaguars addressed offensive line, receiver, quarterback and tight end to varying degrees during 2018 free agency, plenty of areas make sense offensively for the Jaguars in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That could make April 26-28 fascinating for this franchise.
Guard, tackle, tight end, running back, receiver …
All have undergone change for the Jaguars since the loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game, and all are potentially major ‘18 draft storylines.
All figure prominently in this pre-draft position-by-position look at the Jaguars’ offense:
Projected starter: Blake Bortles.
Projected reserves/others: Cody Kessler.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars in late February re-signed Bortles to an extension through 2020, allowing backup Chad Henne to sign with Kansas City as an unrestricted free agent in March. They acquired Kessler from the Cleveland Browns for a conditional 2019 seventh-round draft selection.
About the position: This has been an area of offseason intrigue because for several weeks Bortles was the only quarterback on the roster. The trade for Kessler changed that, but the Jaguars still could bring in veteran or rookie competition for Kessler, with Bortles being the clear starter.
Handicapping the draft: The Jaguars are unlikely to select a quarterback early because of the commitment to Bortles. A quarterback later in the draft or as an undrafted collegiate free agent is a real possibility with the idea of creating competition behind Bortles at the position.
Running back (6)
Projected starter: Leonard Fournette.
Projected reserves/others: T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, Tim Cook, Brandon Wilds, Tommy Bohanon (fullback).
Offseason to date: The Jaguars released veteran running back Chris Ivory and re-signed Grant – a restricted free agent – to a one-year deal.
About the position: This is a strong position, with Fournette – the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft – the team’s clear No. 1 back after a 1,000-yard, nine-touchdown rookie season. Yeldon is a valuable third-down player because of his pass blocking and receiving out of the backfield, and Grant’s speed makes him a valuable change-of-pace back and special teams weapon.
Handicapping the draft: This appears to be a need area with the question being just how much of a need. Fournette figures to get the bulk of the carries when he’s 100 percent and healthy. But he missed three games last season, playing through an ankle injury throughout much of the second half of the season. Drafting a back who can carry the load as a full-time back in Fournette’s absence could be an option. It remains to be seen how much of a draft-day priority the Jaguars will put on this area.
Wide receivers (10)
Projected starters: Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief.
Projected reserves/others: Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Jaydon Mickens, Rashad Greene Sr., Shane Wynn, Lamar Atkins, Tevaun Smith, Jaelen Strong.
Offseason to date: This position could look dramatically different next season. Allen Robinson, a 2015 Pro Bowl selection who missed all but one series in 2017 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, signed as an unrestricted free agent with Chicago and Allen Hurns – a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015 – signed with Dallas after being released shortly after the mid-March start of the 2018 NFL League Year. The Jaguars signed Moncrief from the Indianapolis Colts as an unrestricted free agent on a one-year deal and re-signed Lee.
About the position: This position is full of players who can and have contributed – but it lacks a true star. Lee and Moncrief seem likely to start in two-receiver sets, with Cole possibly playing outside and Lee moving inside in three-receiver sets. Cole showed big-time speed and big-play ability last season, and Lee showed toughness and effectiveness in third downs. Moncrief showed flashes of big-play ability in four seasons with Indianapolis, but must stay healthy to fulfill his potential. Westbrook, who caught 27 passes for 339 yards in seven games last season, also could factor into the rotation.
Handicapping the draft: This position could be addressed early. While Cole, Lee and Westbrook are under contract for the foreseeable future, Moncrief’s one-year contract makes it possible he won’t be in Jacksonville in 2019. And while Cole, Lee and Westbrook all were productive last season, none showed clear signs of being a go-to receiver. If a player with that sort of potential were available at No. 29 overall later this month, it would be a possibility.
Tight ends (5)
Projected starters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Projected reserves/others: Niles Paul, James O’Shaughnessy, David Grinnage, Ben Koyack.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars signed Seferian-Jenkins and Paul as unrestricted free agents to add a receiving element and depth to a position that lacked a front-line “move tight-end” presence last season. They released longtime tight end Marcedes Lewis less than a week after free agency began and re-signed Koyack as an exclusive-rights free agent.
About the position: The Jaguars made an effort to change the dynamic of this position, releasing Lewis and signing Seferian-Jenkins. While Lewis long was one of the NFL’s better run-blocking tight ends, he was entering his 13th season and the Jaguars wanted to upgrade speed and play-making ability at the position. Seferian-Jenkins is expected provide more downfield production and separation, and the Jaguars believe he also is a capable enough blocker.
Handicapping the draft: Even having added Seferian-Jenkins, this position makes sense early in the draft – particularly with the release of Lewis. The Jaguars’ run-oriented scheme means running the balanced, two-tight end formation makes sense, and tight ends such as Hayden Hurst of South Carolina, Mike Gesicki of Penn State, Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State and Mark Andrews of Oklahoma could be available late in Round 1.
Offensive line (11)
Projected starters: Tackle Cam Robinson, guard A.J. Cann, center Brandon Linder, guard Andrew Norwell, tackle Jermey Parnell.
Projected reserves/others: Tackle Josh Wells, guard/center Tyler Shatley, guard Chris Reed, William Poehls, Josh Walker, Brandon Thomas.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars’ boldest offseason move of the offseason was signing Norwell, widely considered the best offensive lineman in free agency. They also allowed starting guard Patrick Omameh to sign with the New York Giants as an unrestricted free agent and re-signed Poehls as an exclusive rights free agent.
About the position: The line overall improved dramatically in 2017, allowing the Jaguars to lead the NFL in rushing and allowing a franchise-record low 24 sacks. Robinson showed the potential that made him a 2017 second-round selection – and the Jaguars like Robinson, Norwell and Linder as a long-term approach on that side of the line. The right side is less certain, with rookie competition for Cann at guard still possible. Parnell played well when healthy last season, but is 32 and has struggled at times with injury issues.
Handicapping the draft: Even with the addition of Norwell in free agency, a lineman appears very possible early. The Jaguars are in strong position in the sense they don’t need to draft an offensive lineman, but a guard to compete with Cann or a right tackle to eventually replace Parnell makes sense. The Jaguars line got stronger with the addition of Norwell, but would it be so surprising to see this power-oriented, run-oriented team continue to try to strengthen a strength?