JACKSONVILLE – The faces are as new as the feeling, and the feeling is undeniably good.
Of the many storylines running through the Jaguars' 2017 season, that may be the most striking – and in a way, the most unusual:
New blood. New faces. A slew of new players.
However you describe them, if players added in the last eight months aren't entirely responsible for the 6-3 record, their impact has been franchise-altering on a stunning level.
Whether it's free agent defensive end Calais Campbell becoming a face of the franchise, or rookie running back Leonard Fournette becoming one NFL's most well-known young stars, Jaguars newcomers aren't just producing, they've become core, foundation players.
That's often the offseason goal and the hope; it's not always attained.
Free agents often do little once signed; Jaguars had their share of such players in recent seasons. The same is true of highly-drafted players. Rarely does an entire offseason plan produce immediate results on the level of the Jaguars' 2017 offseason.
The idea, remember, was that Campbell would add experience and pass rush – and that Bouye and free-agent safety Barry Church would elevate the secondary. Add in Fournette and second-round tackle Cam Robinson, the theory went, and the result would be a physical team that could win by running and playing defense.
The Jaguars are sixth in the NFL in total offense and third in total defense. They lead the NFL in sacks, pass defense and run offense. Talk about coming to fruition.
Call it the Magnificent Seven – plus one. Here's a look at the group:
1.Calais Campbell, defensive end (free agent, Arizona).It's not an easy choice for the most-impactful newcomer, but this is the correct choice. Campbell ranks second in the NFL with 11 sacks, and has become a veteran leader on and off the field. There may be more talented players on the Jaguars. It's doubtful there are any more important.
2.A.J. Bouye, cornerback (free agent, Houston).Bouye's presence opposite second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey is the difference between a good defense and a great one. You figured entering the season Ramsey would be a shut-down, take-the-best-receiver-out-of-the-game corner. It was harder to predict that Bouye would play near Ramsey's level. He has, and that may be the biggest reason the defense has an elite feel.
3.Fournette, running back (No. 4 overall selection, 2017 NFL Draft).Fournette rushed for nearly 100 yards a game in his first six games. He missed the next two with an ankle injury and a discipline issue, but his impact can't be overstated. The Jaguars' identity has changed in eight months. It's now a tough, hard-nosed team that won't back down and relishes a challenge. Fournette personifies that identity.
4.Barry Church, safety (free agent, Dallas).An argument could be made for him being higher on the list. He has been rock-solid, and his interception return for a touchdown was part of the frenzy that beat Pittsburgh. What Campbell is to the defensive front – reliable, veteran presence – Church is to a young secondary.
5.Cam Robinson, left tackle (second-round selection, 2017 NFL Draft).Robinson has the feel of a franchise left tackle. Considering his second-round draft status, he also has the feel of one of the franchise's better draft selection in recent memory.
6.Marcell Dareus, tackle (trade, Buffalo).How good has Dareus been in two games? Good enough that he could move up this list by season's end. The Jaguars were 32nd in the NFL in run defense when he arrived via trade. Two weeks later, they're ranked 25th and have allowed 87 and 29 yards in two games.
7.Josh Lambo, kicker (free agent).Why isn't he higher on this list? Because the first six is a strong list. But Lambo has converted all seven field goals since being signed three games ago. His 30-yard field goal in overtime beat his former team – the Chargers – Sunday. That was after his 34-yarder with :02 remaining in the fourth quarter, and with a new snapper, tied it.
(Plus one). Jaydon Mickens (free agent).The first-year veteran wide receiver returned a punt for a game-clinching touchdown against Cincinnati November 5. His 11-yard reception on his first NFL catch helped set up Lambo's game-tying field goal Sunday. That's big impact in just three career games.
That's the list. While it includes just two rookies – Robinson and Fournette – it should be noted that the team likes defensive end Dawuane Smoot, and that the third-round end has been solid as a part of the defensive line rotation.
A storyline to watch in the coming weeks:
Rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who has yet to play after early-season core-muscle surgery but who likely will be active Sunday. Veteran wide receiver Allen Hurns is out for the season and veteran wide receiver Allen Hurns likely is out at least a week. Westbrook led the NFL in preseason receiving yards, and an impact from the fourth-round rookie would be a lift for the passing offense.
Or is that too much to ask in a season already remarkably defined by newcomers?