What Happened to the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars?
Justin Vreeland breaks down the disappointing season from the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars
If you are a Jaguars fan (you probably aren’t – there are only about 10 of us) this season was a huge disappointment and that’s putting it lightly. Watching the Jaguars this year provided nothing but weekly frustration. After coming up just short of the Super Bowl last season (falling 24-20 to the Patriots in the AFC Championship) 2018 was supposed to be a big year for this team. Reaching the Super Bowl seemed like a strong possibility, while making the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion. So what happened? What went wrong?
AFC South Strength
Last year the Jags benefitted from playing in an abysmal AFC South that featured a Luck-less Colts team and a Watson-less Texans team (didn’t start either game against the Jags). The Jags managed to go 2-0 against both the Colts and Texans. They did go 0-2 against the Titans, but still, a 4-2 record in the division was a very solid mark. Overall the teams in their division were weak as a whole, as only the Titans managed to surpass four wins on the season. Needless to say, it is easier to be the best team in your division when the rest of your division is bad.
This year was a completely different tune in the AFC South as this division went from one of the weakest in the NFL to combining for the most wins of any division. The Texans and Colts had their quarterbacks back and turned their records around from 4-12 to 11-5 and 10-6 respectively (both making playoffs). The Jaguars really struggled within their division this year too; they repeated their 0-2 mark against the Titans while going 0-2 against the Texans and 1-1 against the Colts. Going from 4-2 in your division to 1-5 the next year will have a huge impact on your record, of course.
The most known and talked about issue with the Jaguars has been poor quarterback play. It appeared like Blake Bortles was finally starting to (somewhat) turn the corner after posting career best marks in completion percentage, QBR, interception percentage, and total interceptions in 2017 while performing well enough in playoffs to have his team one score away from the Super Bowl. Then 2018 started. He started the first 11 games of the season and digressed in yards per attempt, QBR, QB rating, interception percentage, and TD/INT ratio. In fact, he played his way right out of the starting lineup despite recently signing a three year, $54,000,000 contract to remain in Jacksonville.
Enter Cody Kessler .
The Jaguars didn’t really look at Kessler as a possible long-term solution at quarterback, but more of an “anybody, but Bortles” starting quarterback. Kessler started the next four games for the Jaguars and somehow managed to do worse than Bortles. In fact, the offense wasn’t even close to what it was under Bortles and that was with Leonard Fournette playing in three of the games. Jacksonville only mustered up 45 points total across his four starts with 16 of those points being scored by defense and special teams. The scoring output per game by the Jaguars actually dropped by 6.7 points per game under Kessler (compared to when Bortles started). Kessler only threw one touchdown in his four starts and had 553 total passing yards (138 per game). His 28.3 QBR for the year would only rank higher than Rosen among the 32 qualified quarterbacks (Bortles ranked 30th in QBR with a 45.7 mark). Needless to say, this offense was abysmal under Kessler.
Enter Blake Bortles …. Again.
The Jaguars decided enough was enough with Kessler and turned back to Bortles for Week 17 in what looks like it was just one last hoorah for Bortles as a Jaguar. It was also one last chance for Bortles to showcase himself for other teams before the Jaguars (likely) cut him in the offseason. Unfortunately for Bortles, he couldn’t get anything going as he finished 15-of-28 passing for 107 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in the Jags 20-3 loss to the Texans. The rushing attack did him no favors either though as Carlos Hyde managed only 13 yards on 10 carries. His receivers also didn’t provide much help as they struggled to come up with any contested receptions. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Bortles and the Jaguars offense.
Running Back Issues
Heading into the season the Jaguars rushing attack seemed like a position of strength. Jacksonville led the NFL in rushing yards in 2017 with 2262 and was top-10 in yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns. Leonard Fournette was in-line for a monster 2018 season and T.J. Yeldon was the ideal change-of-pace back. What could go wrong? Short answer - everything. Fournette went down with an injury in Week 1 that would cause him to miss the next two games. In his return, he went down again, this time it would cause him to miss the next four games. He would again be injured two more times and wound up missing eight total games. He only had four games with more than 15 carries. Even when healthy, he was not the same player as last season as he only managed to average 3.3 yards per carry on 133 attempts this season.
Noticing the trend of constant injuries with Fournette, the team felt it was necessary to trade a fifth round pick to the Browns in exchange for Carlos Hyde . That experiment didn’t work out though, as Hyde was abysmal as a Jaguar this season. He rushed for 189 yards on 58 carries (3.3 YPC) and did not find the end zone a single time.
To be fair to both Fournette and Hyde though, they faced eight man fronts from the defense at a higher rate than just about anyone. Fournette had eight or more defenders in the box 35.34% of the time, – more than any starter in the league – making it difficult to find space to run. Hyde wasn’t far behind at 34.3%, which was only less than Fournette and Nick Chubb among starters. When your team has no threat of a passing attack the opposing defense will constantly stack the box against you, and rightfully so.
Wide Receiver / Tight End Issues
The team decided to let Allen Robinson walk in free agency. He missed basically all of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL in Week 1, but only 25 years old, it was a bit surprising to see the team let their number one receiver go. Especially when considering he had the greatest season in franchise history and it came with Bortles at QB. They let him walk though and turned the #1 receiver reigns over to the often-injured Marqise Lee . Lee had only one full season under his belt through four years, but yet, the team felt comfortable with him becoming “the guy.” As we all know, Lee suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and did not play a game for the Jags this season. Lee’s injury left the Jaguars without a #1 receiver.
Donte Moncrief , Keelan Cole , Dede Westbrook , and rookie receiver D.J. Chark were all tasked with stepping up and into bigger roles than originally planned. That was the team’s hope at least. They combined to be the worst wide receiver group in the entire NFL. As a team the Jags led the NFL in dropped passes with 32 – four more than the next closest – despite being 19th in the NFL in pass attempts. The above group of four receivers only combined for nine touchdowns, only four more than the number of fumbles they lost. It gets even worse when we take a look at their reception to target percentage. Westbook hauled in 66-of-101 targets (65%), Moncrief 48-of-89 targets (54%), Cole 38-of-70 targets (54%), and Chark 14-of-32 targets (44%). Simply put, they just did not get the job done.
Moving over to tight end, Jacksonville took a risk on an injury-prone Austin Seferian-Jenkins , with hopes that he could provide an explosive punch that Mercedes Lewis lacked. It was a risk that did not pan out as ASJ lasted just five games before landing on IR with what wound up being a season-ending injury to his abdominal muscle. The Jaguars ended up with just one touchdown from the tight end position this season and their leading receiver from the position was James O’Shaughnessy with an unsightly 214 yards mark.
As a collective whole, Jacksonville’s pass catchers ranked 29th in yards per reception (10.4), 30th in touchdowns (15), 31st in receptions of 40+ yards (3), 30th in first down percentage (49.8%), and led the league in fumbles with eight. This was much more than just a quarterback problem.
Offensive Line Issues
The offensive line for this team was very average heading into the season, but a long list of injuries turned it into one of the worst in the NFL. The injuries started in Week 2 when the Jags lost starting left tackle Cam Robinson to a torn ACL. He was placed on IR and his season was over. Next up was starting right tackle Josh Wells who suffered an injury in Week 6 that landed him on IR and caused him to miss the next seven games. In Week 7 the team lost Will Richardson (who was now a starting tackle for the team because of the other injuries). He also suffered a knee injury and was placed on IR for the remainder of the season. But wait, there’s more! (As Billy Mays used to say before his passing, RIP). In Week 11 starting center Brandon Linder was placed on IR, ending his season. Just two weeks later, starting left guard Andrew Norwell landed on IR. All teams have to deal with injuries, but that is a lengthy list to try and overcome. The injuries led to the Jaguars being the fourth most sacked team in the NFL, constant pressure on the quarterback, and little-to-no space for running backs.
Leonard Fournette – Bust / Injured
Carlos Hyde – Bust (as a Jag)
Blake Bortles – Bust / Benched
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Bust / Injured
Keelan Cole – Bust
Dede Westbrook – Neutral
T.J. Yeldon – Exceeded Expectations
Donte Moncrief – Neutral
D.J. Chark Jr. – Bust
D/ST – Bust (but still good)
2018 Bright Spots
Okay, it was an abysmal season for the team, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any bright spots. However, you won’t find any of the bright spots coming from the offensive side of the ball.
Jalen Ramsey – Ramsey is heavily criticized for his trash talking, but he backs it up on the field with outstanding play. He led the Jags in interceptions with three and also led the team in passes defended with 13 (five more than the next closest). He also had 65 tackles (62 solo) and two tackles for a loss. Ramsey was the only Jaguar to be selected to the Pro Bowl this season and he will start in the game for the second straight season.
Telvin Smith & Myles Jack – The speedy pair of linebackers were once again strong playmakers for the Jaguars defense. Smith set a new career high in tackles with 134 – five straight years of 100+ tackles to begin his career – and had multiple interceptions for the third straight year. As for Jack, he had his first 100+ tackle campaign (107) and had his first career interception as well as his first career forced fumble.
Yannick Ngakoue – The young edge rusher had another strong season for the Jags as he recorded 9.5 sacks. He set new career highs in tackles for a loss with 13 (second on the team) and QB hits with 33 (most on the team). Ngakoue now has 29.5 sacks through his first three seasons in the league and is still just 23 years old. He is going to be nightmare for opposing quarterbacks for a long time.
Ronnie Harrison – The Jaguars third round selection in the 2018 NFL draft had a solid rookie season with one interception, three passes defended, and three QB hits. He worked his way into Jacksonville’s starting lineup and will be the team’s starting strong safety in 2019.
Josh Lambo – Lambo has quietly been one of the league’s top place kickers since joining the Jaguars last season. This season he was good on 19-of-21 (91%) attempts with four of them coming from 50+ yards. He was also successful on 19-of-20 extra points. Since joining the Jags he has nailed 38-of-41 field goal attempts for a ridiculous 93% conversion rate.
Logan Cooke – You know it’s been a rough year when you’re talking about the punter, but Cooke had a fantastic rookie campaign. He finished 3rd in punts inside the 20 (37), 2nd in longest punt (72), 2nd in average return yards (5.0), and 11th in net punting average (45.0).
Can the Jaguars rebound in 2019 and return to the playoffs? It will be tough, especially with all the changes that are coming. It appears the offense will have a complete overhaul take place. Bortles is likely to be cut and replaced by a veteran free agent and/or by a rookie first round selection. They have failed to find a franchise quarterback in the draft as they have selected a quarterback in the first round three times in the last 15 years (Leftwich-2003, Gabbert-2011, Bortles-2014), but none of them have panned out. The running back situation is also a mess as Fournette can’t stay healthy and the team is unhappy with his attitude, which could lead to the team moving on from its 2017 first round pick. Yeldon is a free agent and the team is unlikely to re-sign him. Even if the team moves Fournette, it is still likely that they cut Hyde to save cap space, meaning a rookie could be the starting tailback in 2019. The wide receiver core was a disaster and the Jags are unlikely to bring Moncrief back in 2019, but getting Lee back should help some.
Moving over to defense and special teams, the team will also have some work to do. Malik Jackson is a lock to be cut for cap space, hurting the depth on the defensive line. Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus are also on the chopping block, despite solid production this year. The team would love to keep both of them, but between their age and cap hits it is very unlikely. If all these cuts take place, the team will have huge holes on the defensive line to fill. Josh Lambo is also a free agent, but there is a strong chance the Jaguars sign him to extension and he wants to remain with the team.
Major changes are coming in Jacksonville.