Which Players Could the Jaguars Focus a Rebuild Around?
Two years after the Jacksonville Jaguars were a quarter away from reaching the first Super Bowl in franchise history, the team is once again facing an all too familiar situation. Once the 2019 season mercifully ends, it will be rebuilding mode.
Rebuilding. A neighborhood the Jaguars are not only familiar with, but one they have built prime real estate in over the last decade or so. The last time Jacksonville faced a true up to down rebuild of the entire roster was in 2013 when general manager Dave Caldwell entered the first season of his regime.
Now with Jacksonville sitting at 4-9 and only a year removed from a 5-11 season, each of the Jaguars' primary decision-makers -- Caldwell, head coach Doug Marrone, and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin -- are likely on the hot seat.
If Jacksonville has sweeping changes in its front office and coaching staff in 2020, the new leaders will have to figure out a way to retool a roster that has badly dwindled in talent in the last two seasons. Luckily, Jacksonville has ample ammo to do so thanks to 18 draft picks over the next two seasons, including four first-round draft picks.
So if Jacksonville has to once again start with a blank slate, which current Jaguars should a new regime center their new direction around? We have identified a few, who make sense. as well as some other potential candidates.
DE Josh Allen
Josh Allen, who Jacksonville selected seventh overall in the 2019 NFL Draft out of the University of Kentucky, has been a revelation for the Jaguars in his rookie season. Asked to act as a third-down edge partner for Yannick Ngakoue and then rotate in the base defense, Allen has already shown he can produce early on in his development. His nine sacks lead the team and are the most in franchise history by a rookie and he has added on two forced fumbles and 10 tackles for loss for good measure. No matter the situation in a game, Allen has shown an ability to make plays.
Allen, 22, still has a ways to go in his development, which is maybe the most encouraging thing about where his game is at. He has already proven he can beat NFL tackles with his natural speed and strength despite not having a ton of refined pass rush moves. If this is Allen's floor as a technician, he is still equipped to be a productive and effective player. But as he learns more counter moves and develops his hand usage, he should theoretically only get better.
A young, productive, and athletic edge rusher on a rookie contract is one of the most valuable assets for any teambuilder. If Jacksonville has to rebuild, Allen should be one of the cornerstones of that venture.
WR DJ Chark
Only a year ago, wide receiver DJ Chark was a struggling second-round rookie and unable to find many snaps among a wide receiver group that didn't feature a dominant No. 1 wide receiver. But now Chark, 23, is the top dog in Jacksonville's passing offense. The second-year player out of LSU leads the team's wide receivers in catches (67), targets (106), receiving yards (956), and touchdowns (eight).
Maybe most importantly, Chark has produced with both of Jacksonville's starting quarterbacks this season, showing he can be a weapon for whoever Jacksonville has behind center. He has caught all three of Nick Foles' touchdown passes this season and has been the focal point of Garnder Minshew II-lead offenses. Thanks to a 6'4" frame, great speed and ability to make plays on the football while in the air, Chark is a pure weapon and whoever is calling the shots in Jacksonville should be thankful to have him.
Chark has the talent to be a No. 1 wide receiver year-in and year-out and should be one of the most important players of the team moving forward.
RT Jawaan Taylor
Jawaan Taylor, Jacksonville's second-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, has started every game at right tackle this season and has flashed the talent that most thought would make him a first-round draft pick last year. Thrown into the fire early in his career, Taylor has done enough to convince any staff that he is one of the key pieces to the team thanks to his ability to take on the plethora of edge defenders in the NFL.
Taylor, who turned 22 not even a month ago and is the youngest player on the team, has had his issues with penalties and consistency but has also done enough against a tough slate of edge rushers to have confidence in his development. As long as he continues to get improve, he has the ability to play at a high level at a spot Jacksonville has always seemed to be seeking answers for.
DE Yannick Ngakoue
This is, of course, pending on what happens with Yannick Ngakoue's contract situation. If he and the team don't reach an agreement on a contract extension, or if Jacksonville doesn't place a franchise or transition tag on the fourth-year defensive end, then this will obviously be a moot point.
But that is also one of the decisions the Jaguars will have to make next offseason. Committing to Ngakoue long-term would show any regime believes in him as a key building block for the future. For his part, Ngakoue has shown enough since Jacksonville drafted him in 2016 to show he is not only one of the team's top players, but he is someone who can be a cornerstone part of a franchise. He is productive, respected in the locker room, and only 24. The idea of having him and Allen as a pair for the next few seasons is enough to make an argument for Ngakoue being a major part of the roster-building moving forward.
S Ronnie Harrison
Ronnie Harrison has been one of the bright spots of a bad Jacksonville defense this season. He may not be as big of a piece as the others named above, but the second-year safety should be a part of whatever Jacksonville does moving forward.
RB Leonard Fournette
Jacksonville is going to have to make a decision on Leonard Fournette and his fifth-year option sooner than later and right now it truly is anyone' guess how long he stays in Jacksonville. He showed enough in 2019 to be a No. 1 running back, but it remains to be seen what kind of investment would have to be made in him.
CB A.J. Bouye
A.J. Bouye's contract will likely be examined this offseason, but he is one of the veteran leaders of the team and he is still playing like a solid starter. If Bouye sticks around, he will be an unquestioned starter and likely remain one of the better players on the team. He isn't an elite cornerback, but you can do a lot worse than Bouye at a premium position.
QB Gardner Minshew II
Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II still has some things to prove over these final three weeks. It is unlikely his current production and experience have done enough to instill confidence that he should be a key rebuilding piece over the next few seasons, but if he can play well beyond 2019, it would go a long way for his future.