JACKSONVILLE – Time to take a look at the big picture.
That's right, the 2016 NFL Draft is in the rearview and we're a couple of weeks from the start of Phase 3 organized team activities – the on-field, football-practice part of the offseason – so for now it's time to ask and answer a few questions:
How much did the Jaguars improve from last season? How much did the draft help?
Just where do they stand?
Those are timely questions now, because the draft signifies the end of the major talent-procurement phase of the offseason. While there may be toes dipped in free-agency waters when a player is released, the roster as a whole is basically set.
We'll take a look at offense first in this position-by-position, post-2016 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars' roster, and make no mistake: the offense remains a critical story. It improved last season, but further strides must be made in the running game, pass protection, overall efficiency, etc.
And while the Jaguars focused largely upon defense this offseason – and while a large chunk of the offense remains unchanged following a draft that featured six of seven selections on defense – the offense was in no way neglected in the offseason.
That was particularly true on the offensive line and at the running back position, where Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell used free agency rather than the draft to make moves to improve pass protection and the running game.
Just where does the offense stand in the wake of the draft? Here's a position-by-position look:
Backup: Chad Henne.
Others:Brandon Allen, Max Wittek.
Additions: Allen, Wittek.
Outlook:The outlook here is obvious in one sense and not-so-obvious in some others. Bortles obviously is the starter and is a huge reason for the current optimism around the Jaguars. He has shown the potential and early signs of being very, very good. At the same time, he must continue developing and improving if some significant areas if the offense – and the team as a whole – is going to go from looking like something with potential to being something capable of winning consistently. Accuracy. Decision-making. Effectiveness in the short passing game. Blitz awareness. All are areas upon which Bortles will focus in the offseason and all are key areas. Henne remains a solid backup, with the team drafting Allen in the sixth round in a developmental role. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said shortly after the draft the team could keep three quarterbacks on the roster. That typically hasn't happened in his three seasons as head coach.
Starter(s):T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory.
Others:Denard Robinson, Jonas Gray, Corey Grant, Joe Banyard.
Departures: Toby Gerhart, Bernard Pierce.
Outlook:This position didn't change on draft weekend. As Caldwell noted after the draft one of the reasons the team signed Ivory as a free agent was the team wanted to focus on defense during the draft. Ivory's addition along with Yeldon gives the Jaguars two front-line runners, and the two likely will split carries when healthy next season. Ivory likely will get a lot of use in short-yardage situations, but he can play on all downs. This position gets interesting after that. Do the Jaguars use Denard Robinson's speed on special teams and as a change-of-pace back? Do they like Jonas Gray's power as the third-team back? Stay tuned.
Starters:Left tackle/left guard Luke Joeckel, left tackle/left guard Kelvin Beachum, guard/center Brandon Linder, guard/center A.J. Cann, right tackle Jermey Parnell.
Others:Guard/center Mackenzy Bernadeau, guard Tyler Shatley, center/lineman Luke Bowanko, tackle Josh Wells, lineman Patrick Miller, guard Kadeem Edwards, guard Chris Reed, tackle Rashod Hill, tackle Pearce Slater.
Additions: Bernadeau, Beachum.
*Departures: *Guard Zane Beadles, center Stefen Wisniewski, tackle Sam Young.
Outlook:Perhaps the biggest post-draft misconception was that the Jaguars didn't address the offensive line enough. Did they use draft choices on the position? No, but Caldwell's offseason plan was to address offensive line needs and depth in free agency so that the team could focus on getting faster, deeper and younger on defense in the draft. That's why the team signed Beachum and Bernadeau in free agency. Look for Beachum to compete with Joeckel at left tackle, with the winner starting at left tackle and the other possibly starting at guard. It also appears probably that Linder will move to center after playing guard as a rookie and for three games before a season-ending labrum injury this past season. The team likes Cann at guard and also likes Shatley/Bowanko/Bernadeau as depth on the interior of this group.
Starters:Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns.
Others:Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene, Bryan Walters, Neal Sterling, Arrelious Benn, Tony Washington, Rasheed Bailey, Shaq Evans, Rashad Lawrence.
Departures: Damian Copeland, Jamal Robinson.
Outlook:The Jaguars made no acquisitions here in the offseason for a reason: it's a young, talented group with a lot of strengths and potential to improve. Robinson and Hurns both caught more than 1,000 yards worth of passes and double-digit touchdowns last season, and the teams likes how Greene fits as a slot receivers and punt returner. The belief is strong that Greene can improve after missing eight games with a thumb injury last season. This is a big year and big offseason for Lee, who has missed much of his first two NFL offseasons and training camps with injuries. If healthy, he is a dynamic big-play receiver who could dramatically improve the offense if he approaches his potential.
Starters:Julius Thomas, Marcedes Lewis.
Others:Nic Jacobs, Ben Koyack.
Outlook:Like receiver, this area was solid enough that the Jaguars made no huge offseason acquisitions. The major offseason move was re-signing Lewis, who gives the team an experienced, reliable, run-blocking second tight end. A key here will be integrating Thomas into the offense. He missed three preseason games and the first four regular-season games last season, and while he had a productive, encouraging stretch upon his return the belief is he can be more productive this season. An offense with Robinson/Greene/Hurns/Lee/Thomas and Yeldon and Ivory all functioning at a high level is an offense that could fulfill the potential that has many so optimistic about this franchise's future.