JACKSONVILLE – A rainy Pro Bowl is done, so what better time to paraphrase Jalen Ramsey?
"New year, new me."
Those were Ramsey's words last week as he prepared for Sunday's 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando, and it indeed is a new year around the Jaguars – with new hope. But if '19 is to be the improved season the All-Pro cornerback and the rest of the Jaguars expect, next year's Pro Bowl must have more of a Jaguars feel than Sunday's version.
Ramsey, a third-year veteran, made the game as a starter for a second consecutive season; he also caught a six-yard touchdown pass with :19 remaining from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
End Calais Campbell made his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance since joining the Jaguars in the 2017 offseason – and his fourth in five seasons.
The two Jaguars representatives was down from six players named the season before: Campbell, Ramsey, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback A.J. Bouye.
That's the negative for the Jaguars. The positive is there are players on the roster very capable of being in next January's Pro Bowl. And if the Jaguars are going to improve and contend, at least a few of those players must fulfill that potential.
Here are five players – aside from Ramsey and Campbell – who figure to be on the roster who the Jaguars need to develop into Pro Bowl-caliber players in 2019:
1.Ngakoue, defensive end. Ngakoue leads this list for a couple of reasons. One is he wasn't far from making the Pro Bowl this past season. The other is he figures to have a good chance to return next season. Ngakoue registered 9.5 sacks in 2018 – and while that didn't match his 12 sacks from his 2017 Pro Bowl season, Ngakoue got consistent pressure throughout 2018 with a team-high 33 pressures. His sack statistics almost certainly were hurt significantly by the Jaguars leading less in 2018 than 2017, and the eye test told you Ngakoue was playing at or near the same level in '18 as the previous season. He has the look of a perennial double-digit sacks player. He also talked and late in the season like a player who will return in 2019 motivated to return his 2017 level – and to the Pro Bowl.
2.Bouye, cornerback. After a Pro Bowl/second-team Associated Press All-Pro season in 2017 in which he intercepted six passes and defensed 18, Bouye started 13 games in 2018 – intercepting one pass and defensing eight. Bouye was a front-line corner in 2018, but he wasn't at the level at which he played in 2017. The Jaguars' defense should be strong again in 2019 – in part because the cornerback trio of Ramsey, Bouye and nickel D.J. Hayden is expected to return. Bouye returning to his Pro Bowl level – or at least getting closer to it than this past season – is key to that expectation.
3.Andrew Norwell/Brandon Linder, guard/center. We'll list this pair together, because the duo feels like the same story. The Jaguars entered 2018 believing the pair would form the core of a strong interior line. That strength never really developed, in part because Norwell in his first season with the Jaguars after signing as an unrestricted free agent was rarely fully healthy. A line that was just OK early in the season was mostly ineffective as the season continued, with Linder missing the last seven games with a knee injury and Norwell missing the last five with an ankle injury. A lot of the struggles of the Jaguars' offensive line this season was because of injuries to Norwell, Linder and left tackle Cam Robinson. A lot of the offensive hope for '19 will depend on the trio fulfilling expectations.
4.Myles Jack, linebacker. Jack was very good during much of 2018. And he adjusted well to a full-time middle linebacker role after the 2018 offseason retirement of longtime starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. But Jack's goal entering the season was to make far more impactful, game-changing plays – and to approach the level he reached in the previous postseason when he made a game-changing play in all three of the Jaguars' postseason games. That didn't happen. If Jack stays in the middle for a second consecutive season, a year of experience at the position could translate into more game-changing plays – and that could result in the Pro Bowl appearance many observers projected he would make this past season.
5.Leonard Fournette, running back. OK, it's difficult based on this past season to imagine Fournette at a Pro Bowl level. He played just eight games in 2018, missing seven with injuries; when he did play, he only occasionally approached the level he showed at times in his rookie season. He also had well-publicized off-field issues, including a one-game suspension for his role in a multi-player altercation against the Buffalo Bills. But remember: Fournette was the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft and he was the No. 58 player on NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2018. He also rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie – and there have been multiple games in Fournette's two seasons when his physicality and speed helped make the Jaguars effective on offense. Fournette at his best makes the Jaguars significantly better offensively. The Jaguars need him at his best far more consistently in 2019.