2022 NFL Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

I might be crazy but I actually believe in the Jacksonville Jaguars this year. Like to the extent that I could see them actually competing for the AFC South title if everything goes right for them. While that outcome is very, very unlikely, I do like the ways that Jacksonville has improved this offseason.

The success of the Jaguars’ 2022 season will be largely determined by quarterback Trevor Lawrence and how much he improves in his second season. He didn’t look like the generational quarterback talent that he was considered to be last year but that can be attributed to a challenging and unusual debut season.

The biggest move that the Jaguars made to help out Lawrence this season was hiring Doug Pederson as the head coach. The former Super Bowl winner will bring a much-needed sense of professionalism and stability after the debacle that was Urban Meyer in 2021. Pederson is also an offensive-minded coach who has demonstrated how he can get the best out of quarterbacks (he got Carson Wentz’s best season out of him and won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles under center).

Lawrence should greatly benefit from the presence of Pederson and make huge strides in year two. It will also help that he has an improved crop of pass-catchers around him.

Last year, the Jaguars’ leading receiver was wideout Marvin Jones. He is a very solid player but not the type that should be the best option on the team. He is still on the team this year but should settle into a number two role, which is where he has had the most success in his career.

Jones is able to make that shift because the team went out and signed wide receiver Christian Kirk in free agency. While Jacksonville did massively overpay for him, Kirk can still be a very capable lead receiver. He is not very likely to produce at the same rate as other receivers making over $20 million a year but he will be valuable as a deep threat and go-to target for Lawrence.

The receiving group could also get a boost with the emergence of wideout Laviska Shenault. He has the potential to be a game-changer with his blend of size, speed, and skill. Shenault has had over 600 receiving yards in each of his two seasons in the league but last year he failed to reach the end zone after scoring five times as a rookie.

With the Jaguars’ wide receiver room starting to take shape in the form of Kirk and Jones, it should free up Shenault to be used in a more versatile fashion. Expect to see him on the receiving end of more screens, jet sweeps, or even handoffs as Pederson attempts to get the dynamic playmaker more involved in the offense.

Jacksonville also improved the tight end position, which was very lackluster in 2021. The group consisted of Dan Arnold and James O’Shaughnessy last year, neither of whom caught a touchdown pass. Arnold is back this year but he will have a tougher time earning the starting job.

The Jaguars added tight end Evan Engram in free agency in a great upside move. Engram has not lived up to his potential yet in the NFL but he is still young (will be 28 this season) and may benefit from a change of scenery and new home in Jacksonville.

Second-year tight end Luke Farrell is also on the roster and should end up ahead of Arnold on the depth chart. Farrell should also benefit from the new coach, as Pederson has shown a propensity for two tight end sets. Even if it is just in a backup role, Farrell should improve this season and give Lawrence another solid option to throw the ball to.

One of the most important things to do with a young quarterback on your team is to make sure you can protect him. Jacksonville is very aware of that concept as they improved the offensive line this offseason.

Despite losing guard Andrew Norwell in free agency, the Jaguars got better across the line by signing tackle Darryl Williams and guard Brandon Scherff. Those two should lock down the right side of the line with some combination of Cam Robinson, Jawaan Taylor, Tyler Shatley, Ben Bartch, and rookie Nick Ford settling in at the other three spots.

Lawrence won’t be the only player that will enjoy the better group up front. The running backs will also benefit greatly from better blocking from the offensive line.

The Jaguars have gotten pretty solid production from running back James Robinson over the past two years. The undrafted player was a revelation when he crossed the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie. But now he is on his way back from an Achilles injury that could lead to a slow start to the season.

Luckily, Jacksonville has second-year running back Travis Etienne in place to make any time without Robinson much easier to manage. The 2021 first-round pick will essentially be a new addition to the team after missing his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL before the season.

Etienne will challenge Robinson for the starting spot and is probably the favorite to win the job. He is the more well-rounded back with better hands that make him more valuable in the passing game. He also has a history with Lawrence, as the two of them formed a legendary backfield in college at Clemson on their way to winning a national championship.

It is clear that the Jaguars have improved quite a bit on offense so it will be up to the defense to match their progress in order to be a better team.

If the Jacksonville defense does take a step forward, it will be led by the pass-rushers. Outside linebacker Josh Allen has already made an impact in the NFL, emerging as one of the best young pass-rushers in the league. He had a fantastic rookie season when he recorded 10.5 sacks but has failed to even match that total in the two years since combined.

But Allen’s talent is still undeniable and he will once again be very productive at getting to the quarterback this year. He could still use some help in the pass-rushing department, so somebody is going to have to step up.

Third-year outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson could be that player but he would have to greatly improve on his two sacks over the last two seasons to get to that point. The more likely option is rookie outside linebacker Travon Walker. The first overall pick in the 2022 draft has a ton of potential, he just has to access it. Calling him an athletic freak would be an understatement (he had one of the best combine performances of all time), now he just needs to translate the intangible into on-field production.

While Allen, Walker, and hopefully Chaisson and defensive end Arden Key handling the pass rush, it would leave the rest of the defensive line to worry about stuffing the run up the middle. They aren’t any big, recognizable names up front but defensive linemen Malcom Brown, Folorunso Fatukasi, Dawuane Smoot, Davon Hamilton, and Jay Tufele are a solid bunch.

Those guys on the defensive line will have help behind them, though, despite the loss of middle linebacker Myles Jack. They brought in linebacker Foyesade Oluokun in free agency to upgrade the Jack spot. Oluokun was one of the biggest surprised of last year when he led the league in tackles with the Falcons.

The Jaguars also stocked up on off-ball linebackers in the recent draft, spending two valuable picks at the position. First, they drafted Devin Lloyd in the first round. Lloyd was one of the best linebackers in college last year at Utah and has the skill set to step in and start right away, which he will probably have to do. They also selected Chad Muma out of Wyoming in the third round to add depth and a potential future starter to the group.

If there is one area that could potentially hold the Jaguars’ defense back in 2022 it will be the secondary. The group was not great last year, allowing the sixth-highest yards per passing play and grabbing the second-fewest interceptions in the league with seven.

Jacksonville did add cornerback Darious Williams, who was very productive for the Rams, to pair with the incumbent Shaquill Griffin. But aside from those two players, they are largely going to depend on the development of young players.

Cornerback Tyson Campbell will be expected to man the third corner spot and the 2021 second-round pick should be up for the task after a promising rookie year leading the team in interceptions and passes defended. The safety positions will likely be handled by Andrew Wingard and Andre Cisco, entering their fourth and second years respectively, with veterans Rayshawn Jenkins and Rudy Ford available if needed.

The Jaguars clearly have their plan for the future with plenty of young, talented players on the roster. The groundwork has been laid for a solid team, the question is how quickly that potential will be realized.

I think Jacksonville will realize some of that potential this season, finishing with a 7-10 record. It would be a huge increase in wins from the three they grabbed last year but I believe it is possible. I may be one of the most optimistic people out there when it comes to the Jaguars, it’s not crazy to think they could double their win total from last year.

The key to accomplishing that will be to perform really well in divisional games. The AFC South doesn’t have the level of talent that some of the other divisions have, which gives the Jaguars some winnable games. With six games combined against the Titans, Colts, and Texans, they should be able to grab three or four wins from those contests. Throw in four more winnable games against the Commanders, Giants, Lions, and Jets and the idea of seven wins seems much more reasonable.

Obviously, it is all going to come down to the strides that Lawrence makes in year two. Regardless of how the defense or the rest of the offense improves, it’s on the quarterback to lead this team to victory. If the pairing between Lawrence and Pederson works out as well as I think it could, then the Jaguars will be a much better team in 2022 than many people are expecting.