Doug Marrone is the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. And while “poor bastard” would usually be the proper response to that news, Marrone actually has an opportunity to do great things in Jacksonville. He’ll inherit a roster with a ton of young talent and a chance to challenge for the AFC South title next season.
If you laughed audibly at the last sentence of the previous paragraph, I can’t really blame you. A few weeks ago I was in the same camp. After all, the Jaguars are 15-49 over the past four seasons. But after looking at the makeup of Jacksonville’s roster I had to admit I was wrong. There is a lot of promising talent there, and if harnessed things could look very different in the NFL’s worst division.
The Jags have some really nice pieces on offense. T.J. Yeldon is a solid running back, is just 23 and has averaged 3.9 yards a carry through his first two NFL seasons and caught 50 passes out of the backfield this season. At wideout, Allen Robinson (73 receptions) and a finally-healthy Marqise Lee (63 receptions) emerged as reliable targets, while we all know Julius Thomas can be a solid tight end if he’s targeted enough. The entire offense revolves around quarterback Blake Bortles.
Bortles just wrapped up his third season and the 24-year-old was disappointing. That said, he still threw for 3,905 yards with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on a horrible team. Yeah, he has to get better, but physically he clearly has the makeup of a franchise quarterback and if Marrone can get through to him and fix whatever is wrong between his ears, Jacksonville’s offense could take a huge leap forward. The Jags also need to focus on building Bortles an offensive line this offseason. Tackle and guard should be their biggest priorities in the draft and free agency. Bortles was sacked 34 times in 2016 and that must improve.
On defense, the Jags are loaded with promising talent. Rookies Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue all showed flashes of greatness this season, while Dante Fowler Jr. and Malik Jackson also flashed as a great pair along the defensive line at times. Jacksonville has to find another defensive tackle and a safety who can cover on the back end, but the pieces are there for a really nice, attacking defense.
While Jacksonville is nowhere near a finished product, this roster has some real talent. Yeah, a number of gaps have to be filled, but if they are, this is a squad that could move up quickly in the terrible AFC South. The Jaguars also own the fourth, 35th and 68th picks in 2017 NFL Draft, so they have a great opportunity to add to the roster in a significant way.
During his two years as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Marrone posted an overall record of 15-17, but that included a 9-7 season in 2014 before he resigned. This year he had the Jaguars 1-1 after taking over following Gus Bradley’s firing. Marrone is a guy who has won at the NFL level before, and if he can just harness the talent on Jacksonville’s roster there is no reason why he can’t be successful with the Jags.