The Jacksonville Jaguars were busy in free agency this year. The new regime of general manager Trent Baalke, head coach Urban Meyer and their staff set out a plan and brought in twelve new members to the Jaguars, while also re-signing multiple players to new contracts.
A lot of needs were addressed over the last week, but not all of them. And now that free agency is essentially over, the Jaguars will be looking to the NFL draft to fill any gaps still left. So, what are the Jaguars' most pressing needs at this point?
We take a look at Jacksonville’s biggest team needs after free agency.
Pass-Catching Tight End
Seeing Jonnu Smith sign in New England was tough. Seeing Hunter Henry sign there was bad. And seeing Gerald Everett sign in Seattle was a big blow for Jaguars fans wanting to see a difference-maker at tight end come in and make an immediate impact in the passing game.
Baalke and company did sign one tight end in free agency, though, in Chris Manhertz from Carolina. However, Manhertz’s primary role is being an in-line blocker. He does not fill the massive need for a pass-catching tight end and Meyer recognizes that.
“We have two different style of tight ends, one is a ‘Y,’ which is—on the line, basically an extension of your offensive line, a very good blocker, but also very functional in the pass game,” Meyer said last week. “We identified the guy, had him at the top of the list and that’s [Chris] Manhertz and we got him.
“The next one is the ‘F’ and that’s the primary pass catcher, but also a functional blocker. We have not addressed that. [James] O'Shaughnessy—two years ago, O'Shaughnessy had a very good year, showed a lot of potential. Obviously, he had an ACL injury, he’s been in here training, I’ve gotten to know him, really enjoy being around him. So, we count on him, but we have not finalized that piece of the puzzle yet.”
O’Shaughnessy has had some success at times but he’s not available enough and is not at the level of a true difference-maker in the passing game. The draft is not incredibly deep at the tight end position this year, but there are a few good players the Jaguars could take.
Kyle Pitts out of Florida will not be available as much as Jaguar fans want to will it into existence. He will go in the top-ten. However, there are other options. Pat Freirmuth from Penn State and Brevin Jordan from Miami are both very solid pass-catching tight ends the Jaguars could realistically acquire.
The Jaguars did a good job of addressing the secondary so far this offseason by signing cornerback Shaquill Griffin from Seattle and safety Rayshawn Jenkins from Los Angeles. Those are two quality starters in the defensive backfield.
However, there are still a few spots in need of an upgrade. The safety spot in general is still one of them. I won’t pretend to know exactly what the Jaguars are going to do with their two safety spots with the addition of Jenkins.
Jarrod Wilson was a very capable starter last season, but he was also a free safety opposite Josh Jones at strong safety for most of the year. Will Joe Cullen move Wilson or Jenkins to strong safety? Who knows?
What we do know is regardless of that there is still a big need for improvement. Wilson is serviceable, but that is not going to cut it. This defense needs a playmaker at safety. Someone who can come down the line and blow up a play, close on a streaking receiver down the field and completely limit an offense's ability to push the ball down the field.
Fortunately, the Jaguars need matches what is available in the draft. Trevon Moehrig from TCU is arguably the top safety overall in the draft and he matches the need. And if he’s not available Jacoby Stevens from LSU, Jevon Holland from Oregon and Tyree Gillespie from Missouri are all solid prospects. The Jaguars need a higher level out of that position and should make an effort to reach that level come April.
Wide receiver was a position the Jaguars went after a bit in free agency. They signed Marvin Jones from Detroit and Phillip Dorsett from Seattle. Jones is going to be a quality starter opposite D.J. Chark and Dorsett will be a solid depth piece.
What they failed to address in the receiver room in free agency however is in the slot. And Meyer and company know that and while they like what they have brought in to pair with what was already here they are not done at receiver.
“We addressed that need and we’re still not done, I don’t mind addressing that,” Meyer said. “But the one position that I’ve been pleased with and I actually—when I first started watching the Jaguars, DJ Chark [Jr.] and Laviska [Shenault Jr.] are two guys that I think you can build.
“They’re young, I’ve spent a lot of time with them, they’ve been in to see me, they’re anxious, they’re ready to go. I hired an excellent receiver coach in Sanjay Lal. That position is going to be a huge part of our offense and we felt—we didn’t make a run or at least look at that whole, because there’s a lot of good players out there.”
The draft seems to have a plethora of wide receivers every year. It is almost always the deepest position, and this year is no different. Now, there are obviously not as many slot receivers that will fill exactly what Jacksonville needs, but there are some.
Kadarius Toney from Florida is the big name in this group and his shiftiness in Meyer’s offense sounds like a match made in heaven. But they may not want to spend a low first or early second-round pick on him to address that need.
If that’s the case, Rondale Moore from Purdue and Elijah Moore are two great options as well.
Meyer put a massive emphasis on improving the defensive line in free agency by signing four free agents and re-signing Duwane Smoot to an extension.
"On defense, the number one need, regardless of what the statistics said, the number one need to me is always going to be [to] build your defensive front,” Meyer said. “I expect our defensive line to always be the top four—in college, I expected to be in the top 5 in America.
“In the NFL, I told our staff I expected to be top 4—we should keep elevating that—the top 4 in the league and we felt it wasn’t. There were some good pieces in place, and we attacked it and we’re very excited about that. What did we get? Three? I believe we got three guys in free agency. Oh, four, four defensive linemen. And so that was the places we built. I believe we’re going to be in the top 4 in the league on that defensive line.”
The Jaguars did a great job of addressing that defensive line. However, that next level was not addressed in free agency. And while Myles Jack and Joe Schobert are great there is a need for one more difference-maker at linebacker to round out their defensive front.
Now, it will be interesting to see how Cullen and his defensive staff use Josh Allen, K’lavon Chaisson, and perhaps even new arrival Jihad Ward, who is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.
If they run a true 3-4 scheme, the need for a traditional strongside linebacker is not nearly as high. But while that may be the primary scheme the defense will actually be using principles from both a 3-4 scheme as well as a 4-3 to have a more multiple defense.
When you look at what Jacksonville has at linebacker outside of Jack and Schobert, the cupboard is pretty bare. Adding a strongside linebacker to round out the starting unit will solidify their defensive front and go a long way to becoming that top-four unit Meyer desires.
The Jaguars were not players in free agency when it came to the tackles available following putting the franchise tag on Cam Robinson. And for all intents and purposes, the Jaguars feel good about where Cam Robinson right now.
“Cam’s a good, young football player, 26 years old that’s developing and has done a good job,” Baalke said. “He knows where he stands with this organization. We have a lot of respect for him and where he can get to as a player.
“It’s hard to find left tackles in the National Football League. They don’t make many body types that big, that athletic, with that type of length. So, he’s a young man that we’re excited about working with and he knows exactly what he needs to do as we move forward and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
It certainly seems the Jaguars starting five along the offensive line is set and they feel good about it. And it is a good starting five, but the entire offensive line is not a great unit.
If one of the tackles goes down then Will Richardson is slated to come in to replace him -- but outside of that there’s really not much there. This year is a great tackle draft. And you can never have enough protection, especially with a rookie quarterback coming in.
Furthermore, Robinson’s tag is obviously up at the end of the season. If the Jaguars can draft a left tackle for the future that is just as good, if not better than Robinson, it allows them to not have to overpay for Robinson next year. They would have their left tackle locked up on a rookie contract and improve at the position to protect Trevor Lawrence for the future.
And with the number of quality tackles in this draft, it makes almost too much sense to bring one in and develop him.