Jaguars still not contenders despite off-season changes

Youth, offseason limitations working against Jags

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone directs his players against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone directs his players against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What did the Jaguars accomplish in the draft? Not enough to be a contender. At least not this year.

Let's take a closer look at the best-case/worst-case scenarios.

Best case:

CJ Henderson becomes a Pro Bowl cornerback, K'Lavon Chaisson develops into a 10 sack per year player, Laviska Shinault takes the league by storm as a versatile offensive weapon, Davon Hamilton is a fixture in the middle of the defensive line for years to come, Ben Bartch lands a huge smoothie endorsement deal and becomes the starting left tackle by 2021, Josiah Scott becomes the starting nickel corner, Shaq Quarterman becomes the most popular local Jaguar since Rashean Mathis, Daniel Thomas adds depth in the secondary, Collin Johnson is Gardner Minshew's favorite red zone target, Jake Luton is a reliable backup who shows he can start in a pinch, Tyler Davis is a fixture in the tight end room for years and Chris Claybrooks becomes the best return man on the Jaguars since Rashad Greene. If all of that happens, not only will this be the best draft in Jaguars' history, but the Jaguars will be contenders for years to come. Especially if the offensive line improves and the Jaguars' free agency moves on defense held them shore up the run defense.

Worst case:

Henderson doesn't match up well with the physicality of the NFL, Chaisson can't stay healthy and his size makes him a target in the running game, Shunault is a step slow, Hamilton doesn't hold up in the middle, Bartch can't make the adjustment from Division III to the NFL, Scott is too small to be a factor, Quarterman is a step slow, Thomas can't get on the field, Johnson can't create any separation, Luton never shows enough to warrant making the roster, Davis isn't athletic enough to make the cut and Claybrooks languishes on the practice squad. Well, then that would make it the worst draft in Jaguars' history.

The truth will likely live somewhere between those two scenarios. Some guys will live up to expectations--or even exceed them--while others will flame out. But there is virtually no scenario where this draft class makes the Jaguars contenders this year. That's just where this team is right now.

That being said, there were some things that I like about this draft. First, I think CJ Henderson is going to start right away. I don’t expect him to play at Jalen Ramsey’s level as a rookie, but he’ll start. Chaisson can make a difference right away. And I think that Shinault is an interesting pick--a guy who can be used in a lot of different ways. At 6-foot-6-inches, Johnson offers something the Jaguars don’t have in the wide receiver room. I would always draft a quarterback--they did, taking Oregon State’s Luton. I wouldn’t expect him to push Gardner Minshew, but, hey, at this point last year, we didn’t expect Minshew to push Nick Foles and we know what happened.

I did not like the lack of big guys for a team that struggled so badly last year to stop the run. Maybe Quarterman can help. The Oakleaf product was one of the Jaguars' three 4th round picks. He's tough in the box and--like a lot of the Jaguars draftees--is considered a high character guy.

Remember that the Jaguars will have two more first-round picks next year. Maybe they can add another early pick if they trade Yannick Ngakoue.

My expectations for rookies--not just for the Jaguars, but for the entire league--are tempered this year. This is likely to be an offseason without offseason practices, so all of the on-field work will have to wait until training camp, assuming an on-time start. That means that veteran teams and teams with little or no change in the coaching staff will have a distinct advantage in 2020. The Jaguars have cleaned house and have a new offensive coordinator and new quarterbacks coach. They're going into a season with a second-year player at quarterback who will play behind an offensive line that will likely be largely unchanged from last year's group that helped the Jaguars offense rank in the bottom half of the league in scoring, rushing and passing.

The Jaguars may be collecting the core players for the next four or five years, but they aren’t ready to contend. Not yet.

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