Each SB Nation NFL writing team examined their respective franchise and put together a brief season preview. These stories are intended to help explain to fans of other teams some of the most important topics and issues facing each NFL team as the 2018 NFL Season approaches. We take our first look at a Colts opponents by examining the 2017 AFC South Champion Jacksonville Jaguars as reported by Big Cat Country.
Notable free agent additions: Andrew Norwell G, DJ Hayden CB, Donte Moncrief WR
Over / under: 9 wins - Over. While a lot of people seem to doubt the Jaguars success in 2017, their defense by in large is intact and back for another season and that will be what carries the team. Most of the doubt seems to stem understandably from quarterback Blake Bortles, but the Jaguars figured out how they could win with him last season and it took them to the bring of the Super Bowl. As long as Bortles doesn’t just completely go into the tank, with the improvement on the Jaguars offensive line they should be able to once again beat up on the AFC South and look for double-digit wins once again.
Rookie I’m most excited about: S Ronnie Harrison -- Many thought that Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison would be a first round pick, but he tumbled into the Jaguars lap in the third round. While the Jaguars have a solid pair of starting safeties in Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson, Harrison has already draw rave reviews from his position coaches through OTAs and once the pads come on he should get even better. It’s unlikely he starts for the Jaguars outside of injury, but he could factor in quite a bit in some nickel formations.
Best position battle heading into camp: Wide receiver -- The Jaguars decided to let former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson leave in free agency and released veteran Allen Hurns, so the wide receiver group going into camp is wide open. Undrafted rookie Keelan Cole emerged last season and could end up being the best of the bunch, but the additions of Donte Moncrief and DJ Chark should make it a very fun competition to watch through camp and the preseason.
Biggest storyline heading into camp: Is Blake Bortles for real? -- While I don’t think anyone is ready to declare Blake Bortles a franchise quarterback, the Jaguars committed to him with a short-term contract and his backups leave a lot to be desired. Bortles improved his play in 2017, but still had some stinkers laced throughout, but in the big moments deep in the season and in the playoffs he made plays with either his legs or his arm and you can’t fault him for that. He showed he’s a guy you can win with if other factors go right, but can he take that next step into consistency and start having more games where he’s a big reason why the team won?
Under-the-radar storyline heading into camp: The Jaguars running back group is in a weird spot. Leonard Fournette had a decent rookie season, but he still has a lot of areas to improved. After him are just TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant, both of whom have had flashes but have also not shown any kind of consistency. The Jaguars didn’t address the position at all in the draft or free agency, so they must have a lot of trust in the depth, but it’s something to watch in the preseason that most fans seem to think is just fine because of Fournette at the top of the depth chart.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: The Jaguars were absurdly lucky with injuries last season and the only notable one coming into training camp is one that has not been disclosed with Dante Fowler Jr. The Jaguars placed him on the PUP list heading into training camp and there were some reports he looked like he had lost some upper body muscle mass during OTAs, of which he didn’t participate, but the specific injury is unknown.
A Colts Perspective
There is no doubt that the Colts, or any other challenger in the AFC South, will have to work hard to take the crown from the Jaguars. Years of drafting at the top of the first round and of focusing on accumulating defensive talent have finally started to pay off.
The issues facing the team are very real though. Blake Bortles is the worst quarterback in the AFC South. This is a division that includes unproven and injury prone Marcus Mariota and a second year quarterback coming off of an ACL tear, Deshaun Watson. Relatively, unless Watson can pick up where he left off, a healthy Andrew Luck is head and shoulders above any other signal caller in the division. The importance of this observation should not be understated.
If the quarterback issue is already concern, and it is, it makes matters worse that Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have both left the franchise. Relying on a rookie wide receiver and one who has never been able to show consistent production makes life even harder. While it is nice to have Andrew Norwell paving the way for Leonard Fournette, having an offense that is unbalanced — particularly in favor of the run — is a recipe for disaster in today’s NFL. Teams will test Blake Bortles and try to force him to win games and that will take away some of Norwell and Fournette’s impact.
Finally, health is one of the most important issues facing NFL teams who want to win. The great teams and coaching staffs are able to overcome injuries to players at key positions — see Eagles, Philadelphia — but most will falter in the face of injury. For a team that is defense and running game dominant, it puts the Jaguars in an even more precarious situation than most.
If injuries start to whittle away at their vaunted secondary, it will have a big impact on the outcome of their games. If Fournette’s hard-nosed running style leads to meaningful missed time or if their offensive line suffers injuries in front of him, it will have a major impact on the team’s ability to win. Every team is vulnerable to injury somewhere but Jacksonville doesn’t have the luxury of a quarterback who can make up for team weaknesses and since they rely on ball control and the ground game to win, any weakness in the secondary could put them in offensive track races they simply cannot win.