Football is a results-oriented game, but for a handful of teams in the thick of a rebuild, keeping eyes up toward the horizon remains paramount. Usually with fresh faces aplenty in both the front office and in between the hashes, revamping a roster is often looked upon as a multi-year project. The onus on head coaches to not just keep the ship afloat, but bolster it back up without an extended grace period is one of the toughest jobs in sports. In this mini-series, we’ll dive deep into the architecture of a few teams currently in the midst of working their way back to relevancy and the potential timeline to success for each franchise. This edition is about the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A franchise with just one playoff appearance since 2007, Jacksonville has long been looked upon as a place where careers “go to die.” The little brothers of their fellow Florida franchises in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, the Jaguars have been kicked under the rug, disregarded, and shrugged off for quite some time. While the success of Mark Brunell at the onset of the Jaguars’ franchise seems like a lifetime ago in the late 1990s, a flag of optimism has been raised looking toward this fall and the seasons to follow under Doug Pederson and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.
While Jacksonville still finds itself paddling upstream following the firing of the troublesome Urban Meyer, the holes in their oars have begun to close. Following a 3-14 campaign last fall headlined by the circus of ongoing off-field drama and, coincidentally, limited on-field success, the hiring of Pederson to pair with Lawrence has provided a reason for excitement for a Jacksonville roster with tons of youth-infused talent on either side of the ball.
Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke has received more than his fair share of backlash in the last few campaigns, but he’s done nothing but holster that criticism while adding an enticing amount of fresh legs around Lawrence via the draft and free agency. He spent on the perimeter in Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram, and backed up the Brinks truck for Brandon Scherff—all additions that will surely hold major weight to the overall progression of Lawrence this fall. Add in the additions via the draft—specifically within the defensive front seven—and the amount of talent on paper Jacksonville has is worth noting.
While earning the top draft slot for the second year in a row often showcases a lack of improvement, the addition of Travon Walker within a fast, aggressive, and physical front four could see the Jaguars flourish sooner rather than later in the trenches. A true do-it-all talent that has experience playing up and down the defensive line, it won’t take long for the former Georgia standout to establish himself as one of the young alpha defenders in all of football. And pairing him with Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chiasson, and Dawuane Smoot—one of the more underrated defensive tackles in football—should allow him to work into a healthy amount of one-on-one reps.
A predator of the football, Lloyd’s film at Utah was a form of art. A downhill thumper with the range to cover tight ends and ball-carriers, he’s yet to scratch the surface on the type of defender he can truly become as a ball of clay alongside similarly-athletic defenders. Lloyd is an instinctual prospect whose processing ability ranked among the top linebackers available this spring. Reading an NFL offense is a whole different ball game, but in due time, I expect Lloyd to become an anchor within a Jaguars defense in need of such with the departure of Myles Jack.
Then there’s Muma. If you like a throwback brand of football, Muma is your guy. A small-school talent out of Wyoming, he thrived as the lone NFL talent that the Cowboys produced this fall and often took it upon himself to do everything—and more—for the Wyoming defense. A versatile, modern-day defender, if he earns the snaps I believe he will, I thoroughly expect him to challenge Oluokun for the lead in tackles among all Jacksonville defenders this fall and potentially challenge Lloyd for green-dot duties moving into future campaigns.
However, you can have as much raw talent as you want, but as we’ve seen many times before, talent can quickly go to waste if you don’t know how to coach it. With Pederson in charge, it should remain only a matter of time before his young horses are let out of the stable. Pederson is a proven leader, a proven winner, and a proven mentor. While Meyer used his tenure as a quick way to bolster his wallet and invite chaos into a franchise, Pederson will provide a shoulder to lean on and a voice to rally around for Lawrence—a beautiful change of pace from the “all eyes on me” brigade led by Meyer. Pederson and Lawrence could be the match made in heaven that owner Shad Khan initially hoped Meyer would be.
A known quarterback whisperer of sorts whose relationship with Carson Wentz resulted in boatloads of success for the former No. 2 overall pick, Pederson in Jacksonville could accelerate a rebuild five years after an AFC title game appearance in 2017. Although the Jaguars’ organizational structure has come under fire even before the hiring of Meyer (and will continue to until the Jaguars begin to consistently win football games), Pederson is the type of individual to lead a 53-man roster, placing his teams in the best position to win week in and week out.
For Lawrence, year one was a bit of an anomaly with little assistance from his head coach on how to lead a group of men and perform on the field. Meyer was an individual of little substance and a mute voice in a locker room desperate for someone to rally around. While Lawrence was probably right in not heeding much of Meyer’s “coaching,” it’s placed Lawrence in a tricky spot as he approaches his sophomore season where he will be tasked with learning his second offense in as many years. However, he’ll have help in the form of his new aforementioned boundary targets as well as running back Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson, who has all the necessary talent to progress into one of the elite three-down threats in football.
Etienne’s skill set in a revamped Jacksonville offense after missing the entirety of his rookie season should help lift the weight off of Lawrence’s shoulders to play hero ball. A blend of size and strength, the former Clemson running back was truly a prospect in his own class coming out of school last year. With James Robinson expected to be sidelined until December, it’s full steam ahead for Etienne, who offered unique traits unlike any other in his class as an offensive chess piece with the get-up-and-go to explode through the roof of a defense.
Although there remains both a ton of behind-the-scenes work and Sunday success to be had, it’s hard to ignore the snug fit of Pederson in Jacksonville. A leader whose gaudy ring on his finger tells you all you need to know about his ideals and a quarterback once labeled as “generational” by some, Pederson and Lawrence could progress into a quarterback-head coach tandem to be reckoned with sooner rather than later. A look at the near future in Jacksonville for a team with pieces on both sides of the ball should, for now, offer a glimmer of hope for an organization in a desperate search for the light at the end of the tunnel.