JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Chicago Bears at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday.
1.Don't assume 1-15. While the euphoria among Jaguars fans Sunday when the Jaguars moved into the No. 1 "seed" for the 2021 NFL Draft was understandable, a word of caution: This "race" isn't over yet. Yes, the New York Jets' victory over the Los Angeles Rams Sunday means the Jaguars likely will select No. 1 overall next April if they lose two more games. That means a chance to select Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence – widely considered the best quarterback prospect in nearly a decade. But if the Jets' victory showed anything, it's that players and coaches on struggling teams do not "tank." They do not try to lose. They do not care about the next year's draft. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone made clear this week that winning remains the priority. And despite a franchise-record 13-game losing streak, the Jaguars winning Sunday would not be an upset of historical proportions – and wouldn't even be as unexpected as the Jets beating the playoff-bound Rams in Los Angeles last week. Yes, the Bears should win Sunday. But it's no guarantee. Whether fans/observers like that or not.
2.Don't be mad at the coaches and players for trying to win. The fan base's mood this week has been understandable; while it's decidedly strange to see many Jaguars fans wanting losses in the final two games, the chance at a generational player at what long has been a weak position makes perfect sense. But fans angry at Marrone for saying the focus this week will be on winning don't get how the NFL works. Coaches must focus on winning. Period. And players have zero interest in losing on purpose simply to draft a specific player – even one with as much potential as Lawrence. So, if the Jaguars indeed win Sunday, be angry if you want. Fans have every right to want what they want and wanting Lawrence is understandable. But don't be mad at the coaches and players. Losing on purpose is simply not something they do.
3.Don't confuse results with effort in December. The Jaguars have lost their last two games by 21 and 26 points, respectively, prompting some observers to question effort. But the one-sided recent results point more to attrition and stamina than a lack of effort. The Jaguars, after six consecutive one-sided losses leading into a Week 8 bye, played perhaps their best five games of the season after the bye. They played three contending teams – Green Bay, Cleveland and Minnesota – toe-to-toe during that stretch, playing better defensively during those games than early in the season. But the Jaguars in recent weeks have broken down more quickly and consistently, with run-oriented Tennessee and Baltimore pulling away the last two weeks with methodical, grinding first halves. The Jaguars looked out of fight in those games, a sign that an undermanned defensive front – indeed, an undermanned defense – had worn down with little left to give after a season of injuries and attrition.
1.A no-win situation. Marrone wants to give his coaches and players a Christmas gift he knows they want … a victory. But winning Sunday for the Jaguars most likely means giving up the chance to draft the quarterback this franchise so desperately needs. So, what's the coach to do? He's likely to be booed off the field if the Jaguars win, in the process losing the chance to draft Lawrence. The integrity of the game demands that the coach prepares his players to win, but the long-term health of the franchise is better served by a loss. Marrone understands the dilemma – but to him, this is also a no-brainer. He's working as hard to prepare his team to beat the Bears as he did for Week 1 when they beat the Indianapolis Colts.
2.Pro Bowl players. I don't care much about the Pro Bowl, but players do. They appreciate being acknowledged for their hard work, especially in a season like this one for linebacker Myles Jack and rookie James Robinson – who didn't make the Pro Bowl despite being deserving. Jack had a monster season; though you didn't see it in terms of sacks, interceptions and touchdowns you saw it every snap he was on the field. He made big tackles, difficult tackles and important tackles – and did it week after week after week. He was one of the best four linebackers in the AFC, but you don't get honors when your defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL. We've talked all season about Robinson's unlikely rise from undrafted rookie to feature back. He produced week in and week out and did it with every defense he faced focused on taking him away. He should be a Pro Bowl player, completing the first chapter of his story in style. His numbers were better than Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who took the third spot after Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns. But when you're 1-13, nothing seems to go your way. Both should be in the conversation again in 2021.
3.Promising young players. A number of young Jaguars players flashed potential this season, but it never seems to resonate at 1-13. So, here's my list of guys that I believe you can build around in the future. Wide receivers DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson, offensive linemen Jawaan Taylor and Ben Bartch, Robinson on offense and defensive linemen Josh Allen, DaVon Hamilton, and K'Lavon Chaisson, linebackers Myles Jack and Joe Schobert and defensive backs CJ Henderson, Daniel Thomas and Sidney Jones IV. That's 14 guys, not counting punter Logan Cooke and kicker Josh Lambo. Plus, there are guys we don't know enough about such as tight end Josh Oliver, linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, cornerback Josiah Scott, tight end Tyler Davis, cornerback/kick returner Chris Claybrooks and defensive tackle Doug Costin. The cupboard isn't as bare as the record might make it seem. Eleven draft picks, most at the top of every round, plus a healthy salary cap should give a new general manager a lot to work with in his first season on the job.