Tanking, breakout players, how many wins: Questions as Jaguars prepare to open the season

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) greets teammate defensive end Josh Allen, left, before a game last December in Jacksonville. Minshew and Allen are two of the team's most promising players entering the season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) greets teammate defensive end Josh Allen, left, before a game last December in Jacksonville. Minshew and Allen are two of the team's most promising players entering the season. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Training camp is in the books and the regular season starts Sunday. The News4Jax sports staff answers some questions entering the franchise’s 26th season.

We checked in when training camp started and offered thoughts on the Jaguars were. Has your viewpoint changed on the team during camp?

Justin Barney: Difficult for things not to change. The Jaguars lost what felt like every recent free agent signing due to COVID-19 opt-outs or health issues. They cut Leonard Fournette. Traded Yannick Ngakoue. Shipped off Ronnie Harrison. Lost Josh Oliver to injury. Jaxson de Ville and the gigantic scoreboards may packaged and dealt by midseason at this rate. They’ve had some bad breaks with the opt-outs that would have provided depth. I don’t know of an NFL team that has undergone the training camp issues that the Jaguars have. It hasn’t been pretty and the expectations that were there, albeit they weren’t high to begin with, are even further in the toilet now.

Mark Brunell: I think there is something to this team. I’ve been on teams where everyone outside the building was talking about how bad we were going to be. Guys like me saying, ‘Oh, my expectations are low and I don’t expect them to win four maybe five games.’ And trust me, the players they know what’s being said out there. They know what’s being talked about and how most people view his team locally and nationally. But what that can do for a team is it could be beneficial. Because when everyone says that your team can’t, it can galvanize a team.

Cole Pepper: My viewpoint hasn’t gotten any better, I can tell you that. It’s tough to say for certain how much worse, because we didn’t see anything resembling full-speed competition. I think the loss of all of the defensive linemen is the most concerning to me. For a team that struggled to stop the run last year, losing Al Woods and Rodney Gunter, not to mention trading way Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue has left the Jaguars very thin on the defensive front. The fact that the Jaguars will have to rely on so many rookies is not a good sign in a year without mini-camps, organized team activities or preseason games.

Jamal St. Cyr: How could it not? The team has depth issues along the defensive line. They released Leonard Fournette. Traded Yan. Plan to start a rookie undrafted free agent at running back. None of these things have made me have a more positive outlook on the season. I don’t think they moved the needle in the other direction much either. There is a part of me that is actually excited to see what this team can do on game day. Maybe I’m crazy but the Jags have so many unknowns and that it is kind of intriguing. After watching these rookies in training camp, I’m excited to see them play this season. Honestly, if the team is going to lose would you rather watch a bunch of young players who give you hope for the future, or a bunch of older players who will be retired before the Jags are ready to make a playoff run? Give me the young guys.

We see a lot of media saying that the team is tanking in 2020. Is that fair or off the mark?

JB: I don’t think it’s the proper word here. It certainly may look that way outside of Jacksonville, but this isn’t Rachel Phelps in “Major League.” The Jaguars are still going to be competitive. I don’t think Jacksonville was going to be a playoff team in 2020 regardless of whether those players mentioned above stayed or not. I think it’s fair to say that this is a roster reset with an eye on getting young players experience and then taking a major step next forward in 2021. Granted, the front office hasn’t shown the ability to turn much of that first-round talent into second-contract players here in town (see Fournette, Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey, Luke Joeckel, etc.). All 12 draft picks this year made the roster and Jacksonville has a ton of draft capital next year. Get those young players some experience and build on that next year.

MB: A lot of people are calling it tanking. I don’t think there’s tanking going on. Players don’t tank. Coaches don’t tank. But I think it’s fair to call it a reset or a rebuild. And I liked what you said, calling it laying a foundation on which to build in the future. Obviously, there’s a lot of draft picks or some very, very good football players, young football players on that team that you could build around.

CP: Can we make a call to Pedro Serrano? The issue I have with the talk of tanking is the association the term has with a team not trying. The players are not tanking. The coaching staff isn’t tanking. The owner? I think he’s decided that it’s a math equation. No matter how good or bad the team is this year, the Jaguars are going to make a lot less in local revenue from ticket sales, sponsorship and concessions because of the limited stadium capacities. So if you were going to try to stockpile draft picks, this is the year to trade away the players who you don’t expect to help you in a couple of years. The Jaguars pride themselves on doing business differently. They appear to be the only team taking this approach this year. Will it work? Only if they draft the right players with all of the draft picks they are acquiring.

JS: I guess that means we should start calling Gardner Minshew “Wild Thing” because he is the Ricky Vaughn of this scenario. Regardless of what anyone in the Jaguars front office says, this team is not built to win this year. Just plain and simple. If the Jaguars are going to find a way to come out of nowhere and win the division it will be because Ricky Vaughn … I mean Gardner Minsehw leads them there. I don’t think “tanking” is the right word for the team this year. I prefer to look at it as a growth year. They basically are starting from scratch and letting their young players show what they can do. Teams that tank tend to play older players that everyone knows won’t perform at a high level. Regardless of if this is a tank job or a youth movement, the team is not built for a playoff run in 2020. If it happens it will be because of Minshew.

Best-case scenario, how many games can the Jaguars win this year?

JB: I said 5-11 during training camp and I’ll stay with that mark, even with the training camp carnage. I think Gardner Minshew II will find a way to win a game or two that he shouldn’t. I think the COVID-19 situation puts many teams closer together now than a normal offseason would have. Remember last season how we heard that the Miami Dolphins may be the worst team in NFL history? Well, they won five games. The worst Jaguars team in franchise history was the Mike Mularkey-coached team in 2012, a squad that went 2-14. This team isn’t that bad.

MB: 4-12.

CP: Absolute best case scenario is 6-10. But I also think it could be two or three wins very easily. That being said, I think there are going to be some teams that are more adversely impacted by the strange offseason that everyone endured. I suspect that the stable teams with a returning star quarterback playing with the same guys in the same system with the same coaches will have the edge. That’s why I’m picking Kansas City vs. New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

JS: The Jaguars' schedule is easy early in the season. Best-case scenario is they get going early and that builds confidence in these young guys. In that scenario, I could see them winning eight or nine games. Again that is the best case. My more realistic belief is 7-9 but I tend to be optimistic. The early slate of games will be important for such a young team. If they go out there and lose the first few by a wide margin then this season could get ugly quick because they don’t have that veteran presence to steady the ship.

Who is your breakout player of 2020?

JB: Dare I say Taven Bryan? He’s drawn strong reviews during training camp and the defensive line is in dire need of another player outside of Josh Allen to emerge. This is his third year in the league. Time for him to step up.

MB: I think the real question — the most interesting thing that plays out this season, to me, is how Gardner Minshew does. He very well could be the quarterback for the next 10 or 12 years he could. He could be on another team for roster next year. Just we don’t know we saw glimpses last year. Every young quarterback, for the most part, shows glimpses. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. We’ve talked about it. He’s a hard worker. The players have embraced him. He’s exciting, he runs around a little bit and makes plays. That will absolutely be the key to 2020. Gardner Minshew can improve from last year.

CP: I’m going out on a bit of a limb here because of his history of injuries, but I think Tyler Eifert could be the breakout player for the Jaguars. He knows Jay Gruden’s offense. He’s a veteran on a team lacking in established leaders. It won’t take much for him to make his mark as a tight end. The Jaguars haven’t had a tight end catch more than 60 balls since Kyle Brady did it 20 years ago. Yes, 20 years! I think the Jaguars are going to throw the ball a lot and Eifert could be one of the big beneficiaries of that approach.

JS: I’m going with a rookie. Laviska Shenault is going to have a big year. Mark it down in permanent marker. Shenault is a straight up playmaker. When the season is over people will be talking about Shenault and Chark as a legit 1-2 punch. Don’t be surprised if the Jaguars get creative with how they get the ball into his hands. Shenault should be a darkhorse candidate for the offensive rookie of the year.

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