The Jacksonville Jaguars have more eyes on them than usual in 2021, and for good reason. The previously lowly Jaguars finished 2020 with a 1-15 record and little positives for the fan base to hang its hat on, but the team hopes that will be reversed come Sept. 12 against the Houston Texans.
The Jaguars' hopes for the future rest heavy on the shoulders of two new additions to the franchise: quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and head coach Urban Meyer, hired in January to remake the Jaguars in his image.
Lawrence is set to start for the Jaguars in Week 1, becoming the first-ever rookie quarterback to start off a season for the Jaguars. The former Clemson star has quickly become the face of his new team, but can Meyer and the Jaguars set him up for success?
Meyer has had a rough go of it at times in his first foray into the NFL, but the former Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes head coach believes he has a formula for winning, a formula he is confident he can implement in Jacksonville.
Can the Jaguars put their past failures to bed and watch Lawrence and Meyer carry them into a bright future that the fans and owner Shad Khan hope will be filled with wins? 2021 will give us a good idea.
Jacksonville's offense will be headlined by Lawrence, the rocket-armed No. 1 overall pick with high-level athleticism and a top-notch mental understanding of the position to match. Whether the Jaguars can rebound from last season when they finished No. 27 in offensive DVOA and No. 30 in points scored per game will largely hinge on Lawrence, who will have high expectations set forth onto him even with his status as a rookie.
A big key to Lawrence's level of success as a rookie will be the offensive line, a unit the Jaguars didn't do much to over the offseason. The Jaguars returned all five starters from 2019 and 2020, franchise-tagging left tackle Cam Robinson to lock down Lawrence's blindside. The Jaguars' lone investment in the offensive line was drafting left tackle Walker Little at No. 45 overall in April, but Little appears poised to enter the season as the team's backup left tackle.
Joining Lawrence in the backfield will more often than not be James Robinson, the 2020 undrafted rookie phenom. Robinson was poised to split touches with No. 25 overall pick Travis Etienne, but a season-ending foot injury after the second week of the preseason has forced Carlos Hyde into the Jaguars' No. 2 running back role. As a result, look for the Jaguars to lean on Robinson once again.
Jacksonville has little in terms of weapons at tight end, with James O'Shaughnessy and Chris Manhertz leading the tight end room after the Tim Tebow experiment failed early in the preseason. Instead, the Jaguars will funnel their passing game through their receivers, with DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones all set to start in Week 1. The trio will be flanked by gadget/slot receivers Jamal Agnew and Tavon Austin, while former Los Angeles Chargers receiver Tyron Johnson will serve as the Jaguars' designated deep threat.
Lawrence has weapons aplenty in the passing game, but can the offensive line keep him upright? That will be the question offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will be faced with moving into Week 1.
There is no unit on the Jaguars' team that will look more different than the defense. After eight seasons of running the same Seattle Seahawks-inspired 4-3 defense, the Jaguars will shift to a multiple 3-4 defense under first-year coordinator Joe Cullen. Cullen will bring over many of the same staples of the Baltimore Ravens defense that helped him lead a top defensive line with the Ravens.
Cullen's influence and the scheme change have already made an impact as well, with the Jaguars' remade defensive line of Roy Robertson-Harris, DaVon Hamilton and Malcom Brown dominating opposing offensive lines in the preseason. The Jaguars have had one of the NFL's worst run defenses in recent years, but the additions of Cullen, the defensive linemen and middle linebacker Damien Wilson have helped turn the unit around in the preseason.
The two most important players on Jacksonville's defense are set to be weak side linebacker Myles Jack and defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen. Each will be asked to create turnovers and make consistent impacts against opposing passing and rushing offenses, with Allen set to be the Jaguars' top pass-rusher. Allen will be flanked by 2020 first-round pick K'Lavon Chaisson, who is hoping to rebound from a rookie season that saw him record just one sack.
Jacksonville will rely on key free-agent additions to lead the backend of the defense. Jacksonville signed former Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin and Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins to expensive deals in March, locking each veteran in as both a starter and a leader on the defense. The Jaguars will hope that recent draft picks such as 2020 No. 9 overall pick CJ Henderson, 2021 No. 33 pick Tyson Campbell and 2021 No. 65 pick Andre Cisco can fill out the rest of the secondary and improve one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
Jaguars record: 7-10.
The Jaguars likely have higher aspirations inside TIAA Bank Field than going 7-10 in Meyer's first season. After all, Meyer only lost 32 games in his entire college coaching career, so losing nearly a third of those games in the first season of his NFL tenure would be a bit of a shell shock.
With that said, the Jaguars are a young team that has a lot of growing pains still to go through on both sides of the ball. Lawrence is talented enough to keep the Jaguars from being consistent losers like they were last season, but Jacksonville is likely still a bit of way off from contending for the AFC South.
Expected depth chart
QB: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard.
RB: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale.
WR: DJ Chark (X), Marvin Jones (Z), Laviska Shenault (slot), Tyron Johnson, Tavon Austin, Jamal Agnew.
TE: Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell.
LT: Cam Robinson, Walker Little.
LG: Andrew Norwell, Ben Bartch.
C: Brandon Linder, Tyler Shatley.
RG: A.J. Cann
RT: Jawaan Taylor, Will Richardson
DE/OLB: Josh Allen, Jihad Ward, Dawuane Smoot.
DL: Roy Robertson-Harris, Adam Gotsis
NT: DaVon Hamilton, Jay Tufele.
DL: Malcom Brown, Taven Bryan.
OLB: K'Lavon Chaisson, Lerentee McCray, Jordan Smith.
ILB: Damien Wilson, Shaquille Quarterman, Chapelle Russell.
ILB: Myles Jack, Dakota Allen.
CB: Shaquill Griffin, CJ Henderson, Chris Claybrooks.
Slot CB: Tyson Campbell, Tre Herndon.
FS: Rayshawn Jenkins, Daniel Thomas.
SS: Andre Cisco, Andrew Wingard, Rudy Ford.