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5 Things To Watch Following the Jaguars’ Bye Week

The Jacksonville Jaguars will have a lot of ground to make up over the second half of the season; here are a few key things to watch as they attempt to do so.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are past the bye week. Now comes the home stretch of the season, a seven-game period that will make or break the 2022 Jaguars. 

With the Jaguars sitting at 3-7 and in third-place in the AFC South after 11 weeks, where do the Jaguars go from here? What questions are looming following the bye week? Who has to step up over the next seven games, and who deserves more chances? We break it all down below. 

Can Travon Walker's impact pass-rusher grow over the final seven games? 

While the sack numbers might not show it, the last two games the Jaguars played were potentially the two most encouraging games of Travon Walker's rookie campaign. Walker posted a career-high four pressures in back-to-back games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 8 and 9, making up 33% of his 24 pressures as a rookie. While the sacks (2.5) and hits (3) are not yet there in bunches, this is the first time in Walker's career he has recorded more than six pressures over a two-week span. 

The question now is if Walker can take his development to even another level before the end of his rookie year. He has slowly improved in terms of his pass-rush fluidity over recent weeks after hitting a bit of a wall during the second-quarter of the season, but he has still yet to have a game with multiple sacks or five or more pressures. Having one game where he just explodes would do a lot in terms of confidence-building for his second season.

Final 3 divisional games all pose meaningful challenges

The Jaguars have disappointed in a big way in terms of AFC South play this year. The Jaguars have played three games against two of the worst teams in the conference in the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts but went just 1-2 in those games, including a home loss vs. the Texans that is the lone Texans win this season. With this in mind, the final three AFC South games provide some meaningful challenges for Doug Pederson's squad. 

Week 14 at the Titans, Week 17 at the Texans and Week 18 vs. the Titans at home are each daunting tasks. For the Jaguars, they can't afford to spend the offseason talking about getting the franchise out of neutral but then get swept by a Texans team that looks like it is set for a top-2 pick. Until the Jaguars are better than the Texans, they won't be much better than anyone. As for the Titans, they are the standard of the AFC South in recent years. The Titans bullied Doug Marrone's teams and simply outplayed and outcoached last year's Urban Meyer squad. Can Doug Pederson help bring balance to the rivalry, or will it be more of the same?

Which 2023 free agents could play into a new deal? 

The Jaguars aren't expected to have a busy offseason next year after the host of investments they made in free agency last March. Still, the Jaguars have a number of players on the current roster who are entering the final seven games of their contracts and will be free agents in March. Several starters and key role players are set to have their deals expire, making the next seven weeks important to track for the following players. 

Right tackle Jawaan Taylor has arguably been Jacksonville's best offensive lineman in terms of pass-protection this season after three mostly up-and-down years. Taylor has only had two down performances in 10 games, providing stability and consistency on an island at right tackle. But with Walker Little on the roster behind him, it will be interesting to see if Taylor plays himself out of contract range for the Jaguars. 

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Defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot has arguably been the Jaguars' most consistent pass-rusher this year when you factor in he plays roughly half the snaps of the starting outside linebackers. He isn't overly dynamic but all he has done is produce. If he ends the year on a high note, he has to be considered a near must-keep.

Defensive lineman Arden Key has been solid as well, posting the fourth-most pressures on the team and having a pass-rush win-rate just below Smoot's. He fits in the scheme and the locker room and should be another player the Jaguars consider retaining.

Wide receiver Marvin Jones is the leader of the wide receiver room and has come up in big moments for Trevor Lawrence over the last two seasons. He has commanded a certain amount of respect inside the locker room and TIAA Bank Field thanks to what he has done as a Jaguar and in all of the years since before then. Does that merit being added to a room that has already added Calvin Ridley? It is worth watching.

Tight end Evan Engram has been mostly reliable for the Jaguars this year, catching 36 passes for 352 yards and one touchdown, but he is averaging the second-lowest targets per game figure of his career. He hasn't been a big part of the offense, but he has played well enough to be kept around. 

Trevor Lawrence's development

The 2021 quarterback class is on fire across the NFL. Zach Wilson is sinking the Jets, Davis Mills should be benched, Mac Jones is perfectly mediocre, and Trey Lance is banged-up. Outside of Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, there doesn't appear to be much hope for the class moving forward, making the final seven games critical for Lawrence as he finishes off the season. 

Lawrence will have some tough challenges over the final seven games, playing three top-eight pass defenses by DVOA in the Cowboys, Ravens and Jets. The Jaguars will play defenses with an average pass DVOA of 12.7 over the final seven games after an average of 16 over the first 10. If Lawrence can have solid performances in at least two of those games, the Jaguars should know they have a budding star on their hands.

The case of Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma

What the Jaguars do at inside linebacker over the final seven games is one of the most intriguing aspects of the post-bye period. Devin Lloyd was the clear starter for the first 10 games but was replaced by Chad Muma in Week 10 vs. the Chiefs after a tough first-half, with Muma playing a career-high in snaps. It wasn't the first time Muma has played in place of Lloyd this year, but it was the first time it happened for an extended period.

Does this continue in Week 12 vs. the Ravens, sending a message across the roster that even first-round picks aren't guaranteed to start? Will we see a mix of Lloyd and Muma after it was a 90/10 split in favor of Lloyd over the first nine games? Or will Lloyd be given the valuable reps he may potentially need to get over his current rut? All questions worth asking that we will find the answers out to soon.