The 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars are not the kind of product you're accustomed to coming out of northeastern Florida each year. Sure, they may have finished with the fifth-worst record in the NFL last year, but they appear to be on the up-and-up. Just a quick trip around the NFL media and you’ll see a bunch of reporters jumping on the Jaguars’ bandwagon.
It’s easy to understand why: with a boatload of cap space, the Jaguars went out and made some huge free agency signings, then followed it up with a highly-praised draft. That doesn’t even touch on the improving players already on the roster, including quarterback Blake Bortles and receiver Allen Robinson.
With the AFC South perceived as being one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, the Jaguars have as real a chance to win it as anyone else. With all of this marked improvement, should the Detroit Lions be penciling this one as a "W"? Big Cat Country helped us answer that question:
2015 record: 5-11
Matchup with Lions: Week 11 in Detroit
Line: Lions by 3.5
Last meeting: Lions 31, Jaguars 14 (2012)
Notable free agent additions:
FS Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory, DL Malik Jackson, P Brad Nortman, OL Mackenzy Bernadeau, CB Prince Amukamara, OL Kelvin Beachum and QB Chad Henne.
Notable free agent departures:
G Zane Beadles, DE Chris Clemons (lol), P Bryan Anger, DE Andre Branch (lol again), C Stefen Wisniewski (2015), and RB Toby Gerhart (lol once more).
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack will be contributors from Day 1. Neither could be starters as Prince Amukamara and Davon House could very well be the starting cornerbacks and the Jaguars are retooling their linebacking corps, but they’ll both see significant snaps on the defensive side of the ball. Third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue will likely be the backup at LEO and see a good amount of snaps as a designated pass rusher. Fourth-round pick Sheldon Day will likely beat out Michael Bennett and be a rotational player along the interior of the defensive line. Sixth-round pick Tyrone Holmes might make the final 53-man roster, but he’s a backup for now. Same goes for Brandon Allen whose best case scenario is the No. 3 quarterback and a healthy scratch on game days. Seventh-round pass rusher Jonathan Woodard had a season-ending Achilles injury in May, but he was a jar on the shelf who would have likely been a practice squad candidate anyway.
Biggest offseason addition:
Tashaun Gipson. He’s been described by coaches and players as the "general" on defense and his reinforcement of our secondary will help a struggling Jaguars pass rush. Even Malik Jackson, who signed one of the richest contracts in free agency this year, won’t be as much of a contributing factor to our team as Gipson.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
How does Dante Fowler look? Whether we like it or not, the burden of the Jaguars pass rush -- or at least a significant portion of it -- rests on his shoulders. And with Fowler effectively a rookie after a season-ending injury last May, that’s a lot to ask of him, even if he was the No. 3 overall pick in 2015. As Fowler goes, so does our pass rush.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
It’s a toss up between how the offensive line shakes out and how good of a running back tandem T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory are. Kelvin Beachum is pushing Luke Joeckel out of the starting left tackle spot and the coaching staff is trying Joeckel out at guard -- a move that I don’t think will pay any dividends by the time the regular season starts up. I think newly signed Mackenzy Bernadeau takes over the left guard spot, Beachum wraps up the left tackle spot, and Joeckel is on the outside looking in by August.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Jalen Ramsey wasn’t a participant in minicamp and although he has said he’s 100 percent for weeks now, he hasn’t really practiced with the team yet. Myles Jack has practiced, but it’ll be interesting to see how his knee holds up in training camp. Neither is a significant concern however and I expect both to be ready to go. Other than that, there aren’t any notable injuries. Backup offensive lineman Luke Bowanko is on the PUP list.