The Jaguars offense didn’t do anything particularly well in 2020 following an impressive opening week win against the Colts. They finished ranked 30th after posting a negative Adjusted Rating in each of their 15 consecutive losses to end the season. They rotated quarterbacks behind a porous offensive line and none of them capitalized on the available weapons in the passing game.
Impressive rookie James Robinson was the lone bright spot on this offense despite relatively poor run blocking. He consistently churned out positive yards and had to do much of it on his own.
Jags Rushing Breakdown
|JAC Average||NFL Rank|
|Yards Before Contact||2.2||21st|
|Yards After Contact||2.3||5th|
Despite hitting contact close to the line of scrimmage on most occasions, Robinson averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry, with 2.6 of those yards coming after contact. In fact, of all the players with 200 or more carries in 2020, only Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry amassed more yards per carry after contact than James Robinson. And this number was not inflated by a big breakaway run, as he had only one carry all year over 40 yards (and that went for 47 yards). He was just a consistently good runner.
But the passing game lacked this consistency. They played quarterback carousel with Gardner Minshew, Jake Luton, and Mike Glennon. Minshew was clearly the best option in this offense, in particular because both Glennon and Luton lacked mobility and the line did not provide a lot of pass protection. Minshew was clearly the best at making things happen in the face of pressure.
Jags Offense by Quarterback
I really like Minshew. I think he could be the next Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not only do they share epic facial hair, but they both play an exciting but inconsistent style of offense that at least gives their team a chance against any opponent. He’s the kind of player who will float around the league and play in relief of boring quarterbacks who are not getting the job done. He’s feisty and he takes chances. He gives underdogs a chance to win.
But that was not what Jacksonville needed in 2020. Fairly early in the season it became clear that they were content to go for the number one pick in the 2021 draft and take Trevor Lawrence. So as soon as Minshew struggled, they rolled the back-ups out and accomplished their goal.
The Jags had weapons in the passing game but they were not effectively schemed. Chark has shown flashes of excellence and Shenault showed the potential to be the kind of player that opens up an offense with his playmaking ability. But it takes an effective scheme to maximize the impact these players can have on an offense. After drafting another weapon in Etienne, the Jaguars look to start over in 2021 with a new head coach and quarterback. Whether or not they succeed moving forward will depend heavily on how effectively Meyer can use his available offensive weapons.
The Jaguars defense did not fare much better in 2020, primarily because several key injuries killed the momentum they had and prevented them from playing at full strength for most of the year. Their defense was anchored by a very good player at each level – Josh Allen at defensive end, Myles Jack at linebacker, and another impressive rookie in C.J. Henderson at corner. But they only played five games all season with the trio healthy, and three of them came in the first three games while Henderson was still getting up to NFL speed.
They have been building their defense the right way. They spent early draft capital on top prospects and this does not lead to overnight results. They have built a defense to match their division rivals’ offenses, with strength up front and a solid corner on the back end. At times they flashed their potential. But they just did not get enough pressure.
*Omitted Weeks 8-9 v. HOU and GB, the only games playing at full strength mid-season.
This chart tracks the Jaguars’ defensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s average depth of target (ADOT) on the season. They played some of their worst games against teams that threw a lot of deep passes, like DET (-1.15), BAL (-1.19), and CIN (-2.53), who all finished top-10 in ADOT. By contrast, they played their best defensive football against the short-area passing attacks employed by PIT (-0.42), IND (-0.55 avg.), LAC (-0.64), and MIN (+0.36). With strength in the middle of the field, they played better when they could close on the receivers quickly. Without exerting any pressure, quarterbacks that threw deep could sit comfortably in the pocket while the plays developed. They were particularly bad in the deep passing game with Henderson hurt late in the season.
Jaguars Passing Defense
When a team implements a fairly high number of blitzes but still does not exert a lot of pressure or record a lot of sacks, it puts way too much pressure on the cornerbacks, unless they are really strong. It also shows a weakness on the defensive line. But the Jags did face a tough schedule of opposing offenses. They played very few bad offenses and found themselves in tough spots most weeks. There is a chance their numbers were deflated due to injury and schedule.
It took years of draft capital for the Steelers defense to truly come together. I’m not saying the Jaguars are the next Steelers, but they are certainly headed in the right direction with this young core of defensive playmakers. If they can stay healthy in 2021, and their three studs can step up as leaders, they will have a good foundation for improvement. But they will need to exert pressure more effectively to take a true step forward.
Putting it All Together
- The Jaguars are fairly rated heading into the offseason. They were a 1-15 team that played much better than their record indicates, rolling out a top quarterback prospect and (hopefully) a healthy defense. They likely will take a big step forward. But their Vegas win total is around 6.5 wins, so a massive step forward is already baked into the price and may be overly optimistic.
- Early projections for the Jaguars offense will be very difficult with a rookie quarterback and a first-time NFL head coach. Many long-time college head coaches struggle in the NFL but some do well. Meyer may be set up for success with a prospect like Lawrence, but there are no guarantees with the college-to-NFL transition.
- In particular, evaluate early how effectively Meyer and Lawrence use their available weapons. There is massive potential if they can implement an effective NFL scheme.
- Expect the Jags defense to outperform against short area teams with their strength up front and in the middle.
- Expect the Jags defense to underperform against deep passing teams, particularly if they have two or more outside weapons.
Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways
- Drafting Etienne takes some of the shine off James Robinson, who projected to be a strong fantasy option before the draft. But I was really impressed with Robinson as a player in his rookie season and if he is discounted enough by the draft pick I’m willing to take a chance on a player who has proven to be solid in the NFL over a rookie.
- Look for D.J. Chark to bounce back as a true number one receiver with better quarterback play. Few players in his range have true top-5 potential and he is one of them.
- Trevor Lawrence may improve as the season goes on and makes for a very exciting upside play if you can manage the bench space.
Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year
In Week 3, the Jaguars hosted Miami and were inexplicably 3 point favorites at home. They were playing without D.J. Chark, their best receiver, and their starting center in a battle against a Miami defense that typically capitalized against quarterbacks who struggled under pressure. On the other side, Ryan Fitzpatrick would get to square off against a defense that struggled to pressure the quarterback. I projected a strong advantage for Miami and bet not only on MIA +3 but on the alternate spread of MIA -3 for extra juice. The Dolphins pulled through for an easy 31-13 win in the mismatch.
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