JACKSONVILLE – The lifting could be heavy.
It’s difficult to envision much else for the Jaguars’ offense in the 2019 offseason, with the team having slid from a Top 10 offense in 2017 to one of the league’s worst in the second half of a disappointing 2018 season.
The Jaguars enter the 2019 offseason with questions at every offensive position, particularly quarterback, offensive line and tight end but also wide receiver and running back.
The first major question the team must address is quarterback, with many observers expecting the team to move on from starter Blake Bortles after five seasons. The team also must determine its direction under coordinator John DeFilippo, who was hired January 21.
Here’s an early offseason position-by-position look at the Jaguars’ offense:
2018 starters: Blake Bortles (12), Cody Kessler (4).
Others currently on roster: Tanner Lee, Alex McGough.
Projected Jaguars free agents: None.
About the position: Quarterback digressed for the Jaguars in 2018 with the rest of the offense, with Bortles starting the first 11 games, Kessler starting the next four games and Bortles starting the regular-season finale. Bortles threw 13 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and Kessler threw two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Offseason lookahead: While none of the Jaguars’ three quarterbacks are free agents, this position could change dramatically in the offseason. Bortles signed a three-year contract extension last offseason, but many observers believe the team likely will go a different direction at the position moving forward. Kessler could be retained, but almost certainly not as a starter. Early offseason speculation has focused on the Jaguars either pursing a veteran such as Nick Foles of Philadelphia or Joe Flacco of Baltimore as a multi-year option or using the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft on the position. Draft-eligible quarterbacks mentioned as Top 10 possibilities include Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, Drew Lock of Missouri and Daniel Jones of Duke. This will be the major area of focus for Jaguars observers until the team determines direction.
Possible first-round quarterbacks: Haskins; Kyler Murray, Oklahoma, Lock; Jones; Will Grier, West Virginia.
Projected free agents: Nick Foles, Philadelphia; Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay; Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland; Josh McCown, New York Jets.
Running back (8)
2018 starters: Leonard Fournette (8), T.J. Yeldon (5), Carlos Hyde (2) Corey Grant (1).
Others currently on roster: Dave Williams, Thomas Rawls, Dimitri Flowers, Tommy Bohanon (fullback).
Projected Jaguars free agents: Yeldon, Grant.
About the position: A projected position of strength for the Jaguars entering the season, the position instead digressed in a flurry of injuries, inconsistency and unproductivity. Fournette, who rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2017, missed seven games with injuries and one because of a league suspension and finished the season with 439 yards and five touchdowns. Jaguars backs as a group rushed for just over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns, with the team sliding from the No. 1-ranked rushing offense at 141.4 yards per game in 2017 to 19th at 107.7 yards per game in 2018.
Offseason lookahead: The offseason’s major questions here involve Fournette, whose unavailability hurt the offense in a major way in 2018. The team voided the first-round guarantees in his 2017 rookie contract, prompting observers to speculate he could be released or traded in the offseason. More likely is that the Jaguars will retain him with the hope he can mature and live up to his status as the No. 4 overall selection in the ’17 draft. Expect at least a partial overhaul here, with Yeldon and Grant scheduled to become free agents and with Hyde’s future uncertain despite being acquired in a midseason 2018 trade with Cleveland.
Possible first-round running backs: Damien Harris, Alabama; Josh Jacobs, Alabama; David Montgomery, Iowa State.
Projected free agents: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh; Adrian Peterson, Washington; Marshawn Lynch, Oakland; Mark Ingram, New Orleans; Tevin Coleman, Atlanta; C.J. Anderson, Los Angeles Rams; Bilal Powell, New York Jets; LaGarrette Blount, Detroit; Doug Martin, Oakland; Frank Gore, Miami; Latavius Murray, Minnesota; Spencer Ware, Kansas City; Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay.
Wide receivers (9)
2018 starters: Donte Moncrief (14), Keelan Cole (11), Dede Westbrook (9), Rashad Greene Sr. (1).
Others currently on roster: Marqise Lee, DJ Chark Jr., Jaydon Mickens, Andre Levrone, C.J. Board.
Projected Jaguars free agents: Moncrief, Greene, Mickens (exclusive rights free agent).
About the position: This position took a major hit in the preseason with Marqise Lee sustaining a season-ending knee injury. That left Moncrief as the lone experienced veteran, and the result was a group that overall never made up for Lee’s absence. Moncrief, who signed a one-year, prove-it unrestricted-free-agent contract the previous offseason, caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns and Westbrook emerged by season’s end as the Jaguars’ only consistent receiving threat with a team-high 66 receptions for 717 yards and five touchdowns. Jaguars receivers as a group caught just nine touchdown passes with three combined 100-yard games – all in the first month of the season.
Offseason lookahead: This will be an intriguing position during the offseason, with the Jaguars needing to determine the desired direction here. Moncrief almost certainly will not return. Will the Jaguars determine that the return of Lee along with the development of Cole and Westbrook will be enough at the position? Will they hope that Cole can rebound from a second season in which he caught just 38 passes for 491 yards and a touchdown after finishing his 2017 rookie season with 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns? Or will they address the position in free agency or early in the draft? The approach of allowing their current receivers to develop could be more of a possibility than many observers believe.
Possible first-round wide receivers: A.J. Brown, Mississippi; D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi, K’Neal Henry, Arizona State; Deebo Samuel, South Carolina; Marquise Brown, Oklahoma; Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State; Hakeem Butler, Iowa State; JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford.
Projected free agents: Golden Tate, Philadelphia; Adam Humphries, Tampa Bay; John Brown, Baltimore; Dez Bryant, New Orleans; Dontrelle Inman, Indianapolis; Cole Beasley, Dallas; Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers; David Funchess, Carolina; Chris Hogan, New England; Randall Cobb, Green Bay; Tavon Austin, Dallas; Ryan Grant, Indianapolis; Jermaine Kearse, New York Jets; Jamison Crowder, Washington; Kelvin Benjamin, Kansas City.
Tight ends (5)
2018 starters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (5), James O’Shaughnessy (9), Niles Paul (1), David Grinnage (2), Blake Bell (4).
Others currently on roster: Ben Koyack, Pharoah McKever.
Projected Jaguars free agents: Bell, O’Shaughnessy.
About the position: This was one of several Jaguars offensive positions waylaid by injuries in 2018. Seferian-Jenkins, after signing as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, caught just 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before missing the final 11 games following core-muscle surgery. That left the Jaguars without a prototypical blocking/receiving tight end, with O’Shaughnessy leading Jaguars tight ends with 24 receptions for 214 yards. Paul, also signed as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, caught 10 passes for 98 yards before a season-ending knee injury in a Week 6 loss to Dallas.
Offseason lookahead: This is a position that could completely change in the offseason, with Seferian-Jenkins possibly being released and O’Shaughnessy and Bell scheduled to become free agents. The Jaguars long have sought a prototypical blocking/receiving tight end and may need to commit significant draft equity to the position.
Possible first-round tight ends: Noah Fant, Iowa; Irv Smith Jr., Alabama; T.J. Hockenson, Iowa.
Projected free agents: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati; Jared Cook, Oakland; Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers; Luke Willson, Detroit; Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay; Demetrius Harris, Kansas City; Lance Kendricks, Green Bay; Benjamin Watson, New Orleans; Neal Sterling, New York Jets; C.J. Uzomah, Cincinnati; Nick Boyle, Baltimore; Jesse James, Pittsburgh; Jeff Heuerman, Denver; Ricky Seals-Jones; Levine Toilolo, Detroit; Geoff Swaim, Dallas.
Offensive line (15)
2018 starters: Left tackle Cam Robinson (2), left tackle/right tackle Josh Wells (6), left tackle Josh Walker (3), left tackle Ereck Flowers (7), left guard Andrew Norwell (11), left guard Patrick Omameh (5), center Brandon Linder (9), center Tyler Shatley (7), right guard A.J. Cann (15), right guard Chris Reed (1), right tackle Jermey Parnell (13), right tackle Corey Robinson (1).
Others currently on roster: Brandon Thomas, KC McDermott, right tackle Will Richardson Jr.
Projected Jaguars free agents: Reed (restricted), Wells, Flowers, C. Robinson, Cann, Omameh, Walker.
About the position: It is evidence of the degree to which injuries defined the Jaguars’ season that the above list of Jaguars starting offensive linemen totaled 12. That included four different starting left tackles and three starting right tackles, with only one Week 1 starter – right guard A.J. Cann – still on the active roster in Week 17. This group struggled mightily in 2018, with the Jaguars finishing 19th in the NFL in rushing and tied for 30th in the NFL with 53 sacks allowed; injuries were a major reason for the struggles.
Offseason lookahead: This area will be addressed in the coming months, but it will be more of an adjustment than an overhaul. Cam Robinson, Norwell and Linder seem likely to start somewhere on the offensive line. That probably will be at left tackle, left guard and center, respectively, but that could change depending on free agency and the draft. The Jaguars could be in a position to have to replace Cann in free agency or the draft, with a major question the future of Parnell. Will the Jaguars retain the 32-year-old veteran or seek to replace him? With multiple other needs, bringing him back makes more sense than many observers believe.
Possible first-round offensive linemen: Jonah Williams, tackle, Alabama; Greg Little, tackle, Mississippi; Cody Ford, tackle, Oklahoma; Jawaan Taylor, tackle, Florida; David Edwards, tackle, Wisconsin; Elgton Jenkins, center, Mississippi State.
Projected free agents: Daryl Williams, tackle, Carolina; Rodger Saffold, guard, Los Angeles Rams; Mark Glowinski, guard, Indianapolis; Ramon Foster, guard, Pittsburgh; Matt Paradis, center, Denver; Mitch Morse, center, Kansas City; Trent Brown, tackle, New England; Ja’Wuan James, tackle, Miami; Donovan Smith, tackle, Tampa Bay; Bobby Massie, right tackle, Chicago; Ryan Kalil, center, Carolina; Andy Levitre, guard, Atlanta; Jared Veldheer, tackle, Denver; Brett Jones, center, Minnesota; James Carpenter, guard, New York Jets; Ty Nsekhe, left tackle, Washington; Nick Easton, center, Minnesota.