Jacksonville’s Promising Future

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By Jared Peterman

Two days and three rounds into the 2016 NFL Draft and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like they’re putting a red ribbon on an outstanding offseason.  Owning an offense with no glaring weakness, the Jacksonville brass focused on handing their defensive minded head coach Gus Bradley playmakers on his side of the ball, and that’s exactly what they did.  At the fifth pick overall, Jacksonville debated CB/S Jalen Ramsey from Florida State and OLB Myles Jack from UCLA, but eventually ended up with both on their roster after two rounds.  Ramsey was the fifth overall selection, but Jack would have to wait to join Ramsey in Duval County.

Thursday night’s first round ended and Jack remained on the board due to teams wary of his knee injury puncturing the possibility of an impactful, long-term career in the NFL.  Jack responded by posting a video of himself dunking a basketball off two feet to Twitter Friday morning, captioning it with a sleepy face emoji.  Though Twitter hasn’t been the friendliest to draft prospects lately (Laremy Tunsil), this was promoting the health of his knee at the moment.  Jack didn’t have to wait long into the second round of the draft as Jacksonville traded up from pick 38 to 36 with the Baltimore Ravens and selected the other half of their debate at pick five in the first round.

https://twitter.com/MylesJack/status/726113668602036224

This would have seemed impossible at the start of the draft process, let alone a week ago.  Concerns of Jack needing micro fracture surgery on his knee eventually was enough to scare teams off and allow Jacksonville to hit the “Jack Pot.”

Ramsey and Jack boost the defense immediately, but they aren’t alone as Jacksonville aggressively attacked free agency by signing possibly the biggest name on the market: DE Malik Jackson.  The 26 year old DE cashed in on his second contract in the NFL after winning a Super Bowl with Denver the previous season, by signing a six-year, $90 million deal with the Jaguars.  The spending didn’t stop, as they also signed FS Tashaun Gipson (25 years old), CB Prince Amukamara (26 years old), LT Kelvin Beachum (26 years old), and RB Chris Ivory (28 years old).  Besides Ivory, every player signed in the offseason is in their prime years as NFL players.  Jacksonville also has the additions of 2015 third overall selection, DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. and DL Sen’Derrick Marks coming back from injuries.

The offseason showed how committed the front office is to making this team not only be competitive, but make the playoffs in the near future.  Blake Bortles should take the offense to yet another level in his third season with outstanding weapons on the outside of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas while adding a power run game facet with Chris Ivory sharing carries with second year RB TJ Yeldon.  Ramsey and Jack will contribute immediately on defense along with the aforementioned additions, giving Bradley similar pieces he needs to recreate the Seattle defense he ran during their dominance a few years ago.  The Jaguars showed growth last season and should continue to get over the growing pains this season with a revamped defense helping take pressure off Bortles and the offense.  The Jags are ready to compete in the weakest division in the AFC and finally stop selecting in the top 10 every April.

AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

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AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

By Jared Peterman

AFC NORTH:

Despite the recent injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a real threat to win the AFC North Division.  Through Week 3, the Steelers sit 2-1, one game back of the Cincinnati Bengals, and tied with the Baltimore Ravens. Besides the horrible loss to the Ravens, the Steelers have shown flashes of dominance, especially in Week 3 vs the Carolina Panthers.  Behind the Steelers’ drive to the divisional title is the effectiveness of WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the two have helped the Steelers put up 30 point efforts in Weeks 1 and 3.  If the defense can find a way to stay healthy, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.

AFC EAST:

Through Week 3, the Buffalo Bills find themselves atop the AFC East division at a 2-1 record, 1-0 in the division.  Despite being in first place through three weeks, the Bills are still my dark horse candidate to win the division as everyone expects the New England Patriots to win the division as always.  The Bills shocked the Chicago Bears in a Week 1 overtime win and continued the success against the Miami Dolphins, a divisional rival.  Buffalo’s defense has been the strong suit throughout three weeks as it’s held their opponents to 52 points, 8th best among the NFL.  The defense has been strong, but their legitimacy relies on the offense and their explosive playmakers. Besides QB EJ Manuel, RB CJ Spiller is the key to keeping the Bills’ in contention with the AFC East crown as he can impact the game with a single carry. If the Bills can figure out how to productively feed Spiller, opponent’s defenses can be in trouble, as well as the rest of the AFC East.

AFC SOUTH:

After a stunning win at Arrowhead Stadium vs the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Tennessee Titans have been embarrassed the past two weeks by the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, but that isn’t scaring me to pick them as a dark horse in an Indianapolis Colts’ favored AFC South division. At the moment, Tennessee is tied with the Colts at a 1-2 record, and have a pretty manageable schedule in front of them.  Ray Horton’s defense has been much better than the points against shows as turnovers have put the defense in tough spots against the Cowboys and the Bengals.  QB Jake Locker decides whether the Titans challenge for the AFC South or have another losing season.  The run game between Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey has been sneaky productive from the YPC standpoint and Locker is surrounded by weapons in WRs Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, along with TE Delanie Walker. Tennessee is a little bit of a long shot to win the division, but if Locker puts it together, beware AFC South.

AFC WEST:

Flat out, the San Diego Chargers (2-1) are true contenders to win the AFC West division and made their statement clear as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks by scoring 30 points against the Super Bowl Champions.  Although I don’t view the Chargers as a true “dark horse,” most people assume the Denver Broncos will win another AFC West title behind Peyton Manning, therefore the Chargers are my dark horse pick.  The secondary seems rebuilt with the additions of CBs Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett (Rookie).  The true reason the Chargers can win the divisional title is their offense and the resurgence of Antonio Gates through three weeks.  The injuries of RBs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead hurt their run game, but Donald Brown gives legitimate insurance at the position.  The key to the Chargers’ AFC West crown relies on the health and production of the playmakers around QB Philip Rivers.

2014 NFL Preview: AFC South

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AFC SOUTH PREVIEW

 

Indianapolis Colts:

Thanks to a weak division and the talent of Andrew Luck, the Colts posted a 11-5 record in 2013 and won the AFC South as well as a playoff game.  The Colts return the majority of the same team entering 2014 besides signing WR Hakeem Nicks.  The key to the Colts’ offseason was resigning stud CB Vontae Davis to ensure a solid secondary behind a below average front seven.  Indianapolis will rely on it’s high powered offense again in 2014 as Andrew Luck seems to officially breakout and become a the league’s next superstar with deep threat WR T.Y. Hilton. and the return of Reggie Wayne.  The Colts’ biggest mystery is their running game as they possess struggling backs in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw.  If the Colts can avoid regression and figure out the running game, they’re destined to a longer postseason run in 2014.

Prediction: 10-6

Tennessee Titans:

The Titans finished 2013 at a 7-9 mark after injuries to starting QB Jake Locker and WR Kenny Britt.  A total makeover of the Titans was born in the offseason as Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the head coach and the team cut ties with former superstar RB Chris Johnson.  The offense should be improved under Whisenhunt’s system and a healthy Jake Locker throwing to under the radar WR Kendall Wright.  Rookie RB Bishop Sankey will share carries with Shonn Greene to replace Chris Johnson along with Flex position Dexter McCluster.  The defense will embrace Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme as DC where he coached Arizona last season.  The biggest impact from the defensive scheme change will result in DE Derrick Morgan who could be moved to OLB to provide more of a pass rush.  A lot rides on the growth of Jake Locker in 2014 to prove if he is the QB for the future and if the Titans will win games this season.  

Prediction: 5-11

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Jacksonville started the 2013 season 0-8, but ended 4-4 over the final eight weeks to produce a 4-12 record.  The strong finish to the season provides optimism for the future to come for Gus Bradley’s football team as they improved drastically over the offseason while laying their blueprint for the future via draft.  The Jaguars added two pieces of Seattle’s defense in the offseason in DE/LB Chris Clemons and DE Red Bryant, while also signing RB Toby Gerhart to replace the franchise’s cornerstone for many years, Maurice Jones-Drew.  Gerhart will serve as a workload back for the first time in his career after backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota.  The Jaguars selected QB Blake Bortles third overall in the NFL draft and immediately provided him with weapons for years to come in the second round in WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson to already add to WR Cecil Shorts. Bortles may not start right away in another rebuilding year for Jacksonville, but he is their future at QB and the make or break player for the franchise for years to come.  

Prediction: 6-10

Houston Texans:

Houston’s 2014 season was an unpredictable nightmare that corresponded with Matt Schaub’s season and Arian Foster’s back injury.  The 2-14 record landed Houston the number one pick in the NFL Draft that Jadeveon Clowney was selected with under new coaching regime Tom O’Brien, former New England OC and Penn State head coach.  The Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap at the QB position for the 2014 season, but Fitzpatrick will be tooled with the right weapons for a solid season behind a healthy Arian Foster and WRs Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.  The defense becomes majorily improved with the Clowney selection as they look to return to their stout 2012 form along with the force of J.J. Watt and company.  The Texans should experience more success than the 2013 season, but a playoff appearance in 2014 is doubtful and would require a Coach of the Year performance in O’Brien.

Prediction: 6-10