JACKSONVILLE – Not everything is lost, and all is not bad.
No, the first half of the Jaguars' 2016 season did not approach what players, coaches or fans expected. But within the disappointment there is some good.
You just have to dig through some frustration to find it.
At the season's midway point, there are players who have shone through the struggles. They don't overshadow 2-6, nor are they bigger than the storyline of quarterback Blake Bortles, but they perhaps are reshaping future storylines – and in some cases, providing short- and long-term hope.
Here are the six most significant developments for the Jaguars through eight games:
1.Marqise Lee.Is Lee the Jaguars' offensive Most Valuable Player for the first half of the season? That may be a reach, but it's not reaching far. Lee in his third season has shed his reputation as an oft-injured player and he is showing why the Jaguars selected him early in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He has shown deep speed and quickness and also has shown an ability to run after the catch he hadn't had a chance to show in his first two seasons. "He runs angry and he runs fast, which is awesome," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said of Lee Thursday. The question to follow here for the rest of the season: can Lee continue his eight-game improvement and develop into a go-to, reliable wide receiver – and perhaps a core player? He's not there yet, but he's showing signs.
2.Telvin Smith.Remember the preseason? Although he had been a playmaking, exciting young linebacker, it was vogue then to wonder if Smith would be replaced at weak-side linebacker by rookie Myles Jack. That never came all that close to happening, but it was out there – and coaches indeed wanted Smith to clean up the mental mistakes that had hurt him in his first two NFL seasons. Mission accomplished. If middle linebacker Paul Posluszny hasn't been the best player on the Jaguars' defense through eight weeks then it has been Smith or rookie corner Jalen Ramsey. And while there was preseason speculation about whether Smith was a "core" player, that has quieted, too.
3.Posluszny.OK, it's tricky having Posluszny on a list that involves the Jaguars' future. He is, after all, in his 10th NFL season. But while many assumed before the season that Posluszny would tutor Jack for a year before ceding his starting middle linebacker position, Posluszny has played at a remarkably high level – perhaps his highest level since joining the Jaguars in 2011. He's clearly one of the defense's best three players – and one of the best four or five players on the team – and he doesn't appear close to declining. A player who fits that description isn't easy to discard.
4.Ramsey.How good has Ramsey been this season? Good enough that it's easy to forget not all talented rookies – even one as mega-talented as Ramsey – contribute immediately. Of the Jaguars' much-hyped young trio of Leo Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Myles Jack and Ramsey, two have had obvious growing pains. Fowler is still learning the intricacies of NFL pass rushing, and Jack is sharing a lot of time with veteran Dan Skuta at the Otto position. Ramsey started at cornerback immediately and already is shadowing elite receivers. His game-ending pass breakup defending Alshon Jeffery in Chicago was the highlight play of the season. If there is a Jaguars player who clearly has emerged in the first half of this season as a bona-fide, can't-miss star, it's Ramsey. He's looking that good.
5.Mailk Jackson, defensive tackle.Jackson's inclusion on this list may surprise some – but only those who worry about statistics. Jackson is a relative rarity in the world of NFL free agency in that he quickly has lived up to expectations on the field. Jackson has just one sack, but sacks aren't a great measure of interior line play. Jackson for the most part this season has been a disruptive force inside. When the Jaguars' defense has played well this season – which has been more often than not – Jackson's disruption on the interior has been a reason. It's easy to see him playing to a high enough level in the coming seasons to make him a long-term core player. That's doesn't always happen with high-priced free agents.
6.Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end.Ngakoue isn't the Jaguars' midseason Rookie of the Year, but that's only because Ramsey has played at a strikingly high level. Ngakoue has rushed the passer more consistently than any other Jaguars defensive lineman and his four-sacks-in-four-games stretch between Week 2 and Week 5 was as productive a stretch as a Jaguars defensive player has had this season. Ngakoue entered the NFL with more polished pass-rushing moves than is normal for an NFL rookie. If he continues to build on that foundation, the feeling within the Jaguars is he can be a very good NFL pass rusher for a long time.