JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts to wrap up the on-field portion of the Jaguars’ 2018 offseason.
1. The Jaguars are good – very good. Now, they must prove it again. As we look ahead to training camp, there’s no doubt the Jaguars have the talent to improve on last season. That’s a big part of NFL success, but the difficult part comes next: staying healthy, getting breaks, doing what’s necessary to fulfill potential. Those are the NFL’s great unknowns – and they’re why Head Coach Doug Marrone talked through the offseason of not knowing much about this team until padded work begins in training camp. Jaguars fans need to look no further than last season to know perception of a team means little. No one thought this was a division-title team this time last year. That team withstood a difficult training camp and persevered its way to the franchise’s best season in nearly two decades. This team could do the same – but as promising as the last month has been, the real work toward that won’t start until late July.
2. Jalen Ramsey likely wasn’t thrilled early this week – and he has the right to feel that way. Ramsey, the Jaguars’ All-Pro cornerback, on Monday was revealed at No. 17 on the NFL Network’s 100 Top Players of 2018. Now, there’s nothing wrong with No. 17. In a 32-team league, No. 17 puts you ahead of at least 1,650 players. And just as was the case when players such as defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback A.J. Bouye were less than giddy with their Top 100 spots, there’s every chance Ramsey will use this to place another motivating chip on his still-young shoulders. So in the big picture, there’s little negative to Ramsey being named in the Top 20 players in the NFL. Still, if Ramsey’s point is that it’s tough to find 16 NFL players clearly better than him … well, he’s probably right. The thought here is just as Ramsey’s selections to the Pro Bowl and the Associated Press All-Pro team last year likely will be the first of many such honors, this inclusion in the Top 100 also likely will be the first of many. And it probably won’t be his career-high ranking, either.
3. This is mostly a gut feeling at this point, but the Jaguars’ wide receivers could emerge as the team’s surprise position next season. That may seem unlikely for a group that lost wide receiver Allen Robinson as an unrestricted free agent in March, but a couple of additions and a major development could make this an improved unit. One addition, Donte Moncrief, showed strong in the offseason and appears likely to be a productive downfield threat if he avoids the injuries that limited him in four seasons in Indianapolis. Another addition, rookie second-round selection D.J. Chark, has the look of a player who will contribute in spots immediately – and who could be a major contributor by season’s end. But the major storyline in this group next season could be second-year veteran Keelan Cole, who led the Jaguars in receiving yards last season as an undrafted rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan. He has the look of a player who could emerge as breakout player next season. Add returning veterans Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook, not to mention he possibility of fourth-year veteran Rashad Greene Sr. fulfilling the potential he showed early in his career, and the unit’s versatility and depth could make this a surprise strength in 2018.
1. The Jaguars’ roster is absolutely loaded. There are top performers wherever you look and promising young talent to fill gaps left by Robinson, linebacker Paul Posluszny and cornerback Aaron Colvin. I watched a group of defensive starters horsing around on the side during a minicamp practice last week and was struck by just how much talent they have on that side of the ball alone. Linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith and corners Ramsey, Bouye and D.J. Hayden were playing a game trying to throw the ball to one guy in their circle and make it so difficult he would drop it … no one did. They’re great athletes who also happen to be great football players. Glancing to the other sideline I marveled at running back Leonard Fournette’s svelte form, Chark’s long arms and huge hands, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ effortless movement and left tackle Cam Robinson’s more muscled up body. Looking at the Jaguars it’s clear why so many national-media types believe this is the league’s most talented roster. That doesn’t mean they’ll end up with a Lombardi Trophy but after years of knowing the Jaguars’ roster was inferior to most of their opponents, it’s nice to see them in a superior posture as the summer break begins.
2. Quarterback Blake Bortles looks ready to have an outstanding season. I know that’s hard for many people to understand, but I would be stunned if he doesn’t. His performance throughout the offseason was consistently strong; the key word there was “consistently.” Since he arrived in 2014 that word has eluded Bortles. His time on task in offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system combined with Fournette running hard behind an improved offensive line has him in a place where he can thrive. Bortles is a play-action quarterback; with Fournette, he has the chance to really sell that. He isn’t a rocket-armed, deep-ball passer but with Seferian-Jenkins on the field he can play the underneath game and open things up further down the field and help create more open receivers. Skeptics will shake their head and laugh; that’s what skeptical, cynical people do. I’m not one of those. Watch and see when training camp starts if a more mature, more focused and more confident Bortles with opportunity given from Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Marrone doesn’t translate into his best season yet.
3 .Myles Jack is going to have a monster season. The third-year linebacker didn’t even take part every day during the offseason program, but when he was on the field – even off to the side – you saw a guy who can be special. If you watched the playoffs closely last season, you already saw flashes of that brilliance. During the 2016 NFL Draft, there were analysts who thought Ramsey and Jack were its best two players. Two years later, everyone knows Ramsey has fulfilled that promise; after this season the same people should see the same is true about Jack. What does it tell you about the Jaguars roster that they have a player of Jack’s ability who has yet to scratch the surface of his potential? That the Jaguars are loaded. When Jack starts turning heads like ends Calais Campbell and Ngakoue, linebacker Telvin Smith and Bouye, Ramsey and tackles Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus, they won’t think it’s fair to line up against this defense.