State Of The Franchise

State of the 2021 Jacksonville Jaguars: Optimism reigns with arrivals of Trevor Lawrence, Urban Meyer

Where does your franchise stand heading into 2021? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Jaguars organization, Jaguars fans around the world and those who know that Tony Khan is maybe the best executive in three sports:

Let's hone in on that for a moment. Khan changed the wrestling game when he founded All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Now the Jaguars are looking to flip the script when it comes to their football team. They hired Urban Meyer as head coach and Trent Baalke as GM. Brought in coordinators Darrell Bevell and Joe Cullen. And, of course, there is Trevor Lawrence. This all reminds me of when Chris Jericho walked from behind the curtain and said that he was joining AEW. And I really believe the Jaguars are on the same trajectory. Let's take a look at how it's coming together.

How the Jaguars got here

Let's take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2020 season.

The highs:

  • Winning in Week 1. The Jaguars opened the season with an upset of the Colts, who went on to make the playoffs. Gardner Minshew connected with Keelan Cole in the fourth quarter for the game winner. At the time, having picked the Jags to win just three games in 2020, I thought I had underestimated them.
  • The Jets' back-to-back wins in Weeks 15-16. I mean, as bad as the season was going for my friends down in Duval County, the Jets were having it even worse. They were winless heading into Week 15. And then, like some sort of miracle, the Jets beat the Los Angeles Rams. Inexplicably. Unexpectedly. And then they beat the Browns, another playoff-bound team, a week later, pushing Jacksonville into the driver's seat for the draft's No. 1 overall pick. It was crazy and it touched off a celebration from Atlantic Beach to TPC Sawgrass to Randy "Macho Man" Savage International Airport -- and I was this many days old when I found out that the airport in Jacksonville is not named after one of the all-time greats.

The lows:

  • Skidding. The Jaguars lost their final 15 games last season. They were the fourth team in NFL history to lose 15 or more consecutive games in a single season.
  • The process. I know it must have been tough for Jaguars fans in the early going last season. After winning the opener, Jacksonville lost a close game to Tennessee the following week that began the aforementioned slide. It kind of goes beyond that, though. The Jaguars' .250 winning percentage since 2018 is the worst in the NFL. But now, when you look back at some of the ugly losses, it kind of seems worth it. Because you ended up with your franchise QB.

2021 VIPs

Head coach: Urban Meyer. After Meyer spent a couple years sharing a desk with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush for FOX's college football studio show, I imagined he would end up as the head coach at USC. Instead, he's coming to Duval County, and I kind of love it. He's coming to the league with no NFL coaching experience. I mean, when guys like Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and even Bill O'Brien jumped from college to the NFL, they had significant NFL coaching experience. (Did you know Saban was once part of Bill Belichick's staff???)

Meyer was a damn good college coach, though, with a record of 187-32 (.854). That is the highest winning percentage of any NCAA head football coach with at least 150 games of experience. You might remember his time at Florida and Ohio State, but the dude was killing it at Bowling Green and Utah before those stops. He's won three national titles (two at Florida, one at Ohio State).

You're all probably too young to remember this, but this situation reminds me so much of Jimmy Johnson coming to the Dallas Cowboys from the University of Miami back in the day. He was new to the NFL, with a blonde-haired rookie quarterback who was drafted first overall. That ultimately turned out pretty well for the Cowboys. Just don't jump to Pro Football Reference and see how the Cowboys fared in Johnson's first season. Trust me on that.

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence. I mean, we've been waiting for this guy to be a starting quarterback in the NFL since he was a freshman at Clemson, where he threw 90 passing touchdowns from 2018 to 2020 (tied for most in FBS over that span). He lost only two games in his career (none in the regular season). He's been the kind of can't-miss prospect who seems destined for great things. Kind of like when Adam Page started showing up on Being The Elite. Both Lawrence and Page appear to have world championships in their future. Who gets there first?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm just excited for Jacksonville to finally get a true franchise quarterback. No disrespect to Mark Brunell or David Garrard, the only two Pro Bowl quarterbacks in club history. But I'm talking about elite quarterbacks. I mean a true difference maker. The Jaguars have had nine starting quarterbacks in the last 10 seasons, including Gardner Minshew (who I kind of still love), Blake Bortles (more famous for The Good Place), Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Those guys lost about 100 games combined for the Jaguars. Trevor has lost four total games in high school and college combined.

Projected 2021 MVP: Lawrence. I have been good, trying to avoid picking a quarterback as the team MVP as much as possible in these State of the Franchise entries. But Lawrence gets the nod here. I think it's worth noting only five teams have made the playoffs with a rookie starting quarterback and first-year head coach in the common draft era (since 1967). The most recent duo to accomplish the feat? Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano in 2012. Hey, they played in the AFC South, too. You have to love the trends, baby! By the way, Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan are also on that list (2009). Same for Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh. I don't know, Duval. Maybe we shouldn't rule out a postseason berth.

2021 breakout star: Josh Allen, defensive end. Dude was a stud during his rookie season, when he posted 10.5 sacks. They were already making jokes about who's really the best Josh Allen in the NFL. But his second season was derailed by injuries. Outside of losing enough to get Trevor Lawrence, there wasn't much that went right for the Jaguars. The defense needs to step up in 2021. I'll talk more about that in a moment. But Allen is a huge key. The Jaguars had 18 sacks last season, and the Bengals were the only team with fewer (17). That's not a list you want to be on.

New face to know: Shaquill Griffin, cornerback. The Jaguars don't need the second coming of Deion Sanders at cornerback. But an above-average guy will help out a lot. The Jaguars have invested recent draft capital in guys like CJ Henderson and Tyson Campbell to help out in the secondary. Griffin kind of becomes a steadying veteran presence who can get the younger guys over like Taz has done with his group. And if you're already tired of the AEW references, I don't know what to tell you. This is probably the most appropriate time for me to sneak them in. And it's cute I used the term "sneak" when I've been as subtle as a Tazplex.

2021 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: LOW (sort of). As I mentioned earlier, a first-year coach/rookie quarterback duo hasn't made the playoffs in nearly a decade, so a postseason appearance is not the expectation this year. Quarterbacks selected first overall are a combined 13-31-2 as rookies over the last five seasons, per NFL Research. That said, you can certainly be competitive with a rookie QB at the helm. Look at what Justin Herbert did for the Chargers last season. The division-rival Titans and Colts are good teams. But they're not flawless. I think there should be reasons for optimism here, even though the expectations are still kind of low for Jacksonville.

Three key dates:

  • Week 1 at Houston Texans. The Texans have had a rough offseason, to put it mildly. Even as a rival, you almost feel sort of bad for them. Almost. But with so many things seemingly trending in the right direction for Jacksonville, you need to rise to the occasion and land that moment. Like Cody did.
  • Week 4 at Cincinnati Bengals (Thursday night). The last two players drafted No. 1 overall are expected to go head-to-head for the first time since they met in the 2020 College Football Playoff title game. Maybe we consider this a Trevor Lawrence revenge game. Fun fact: It's currently the Jaguars' lone prime-time game of the season.
  • Week 16 at New York Jets. Presumably, the first two picks of this year's draft will battle for the first time. I know there is a lot that can happen between now and then. This should be a chance to see Lawrence versus Zach Wilson, though.

Will the Jaguars be able to …

Block for Lawrence? I mean, I'm not even going to talk about what happened to Joe Burrow last year, but the Jaguars need to be much better up front. Jacksonville's offensive tackles allowed a league-high 106 pressures last season, per PFF. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor was the biggest offender (58 pressures allowed, most among OTs), and the former second-round pick really needs to improve this season. Left tackle Cam Robinson also struggled (40 pressures allowed, eighth-most among OTs). Stanford tackle Walker Little was selected in the second round of this year's draft. He played in only one game over his final two seasons with the Cardinal, but he could develop into a starter down the road, with Robinson playing on the franchise tag in 2021.

Play some defense? Myles Jack is the living embodiment of that Will Smith/Fresh Prince meme where he's standing in the middle of an empty living room. Jack is the lone defensive starter remaining from the team that made a run to the AFC Championship Game during the 2017 season. Which is interesting, considering a grossly premature whistle is the only thing that prevented him from scoring a touchdown in that game. The Jags should have gone to the Super Bowl and won. Things could have been so different. Instead, it's been a full-on free fall since 2017, when Jacksonville ranked second in total defense. The Jaguars allowed a franchise-worst 30.8 points per game and 417.7 yards per game last season, ranking 31st in both categories. In fact, they allowed the fifth-most total yards in NFL history last year (6,683 yards).

Get Travis Etienne to be a do-everything back? Oh my gosh, Etienne lined up at receiver during offseason workouts, and NFL Twitter flipped out. Like, how dare the Jaguars try to find as many creative ways as possible to get the ball into Travis' hands? Dude led the FBS in scrimmage yards and touchdowns from 2018 to 2020. He had an FBS-best 2,571 yards after contact and 187 forced missed tackles on carries over the last three seasons. He's the only Power 5 player with at least 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in their career since at least 2000. Directly snap the ball to him, I don't care. Just let the man run with the football. He's good at it.

One storyline …

… people are overlooking: Hey, Tim Tebow is on the Jaguars! You might have totally missed this story. But Tebow signed with Jacksonville in May. But -- get this -- as a tight end. Listen, I had to address this at some point in this article. He's Urban Meyer's guy. The Jaguars need help at tight end. They haven't had one gain 500-plus receiving yards in a season since 2012. Tyler Eifert led the Jaguars tight ends with 349 receiving yards in 2020. But Tebow is an older player by NFL standards. He'll turn 34 next month and has never played the position before.

… people are overlooking, Part II: Tebow might be on the wrong side of 30, but there is some very promising young talent here. The Jaguars have five potential stars (maybe even superstars) at the skill positions who are 24 years old or younger: Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, James Robinson, D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault. Oh, and they have an underrated elder statesman at wide receiver now ...

… people are overlooking, Part III: Marvin Jones is kind of great. Jones led the Lions with 76 receptions for 978 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season. He was a beast in the second half of 2020, becoming one of just four players with at least 800 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns from Weeks 7-17. The other guys in that group? Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown and Davante Adams. He'll be a steadying influence on this team. Like when they brought in Tully Blanchard to pair with Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood. I'm telling you, I'm not slowing down with the AEW references.

… people are overthinking: Travis Etienne taking touches away from James Robinson. And the only reason you care is because you had Robinson on your dynasty fantasy team. He led the team with 1,414 scrimmage yards last season, the most by an undrafted rookie in the common draft era. He also led the Jaguars with 10 scrimmage touchdowns. But the team tied for 28th in rushing yards. They have a league-low 12 rushing touchdowns since 2019. I'm bummed for your fantasy team. I really am. But the Jaguars need to score points. They are going to be selfish about that, I know.

For 2021 to be a success, the Jaguars MUST:

  • Be competitive. There were times last year when the Jaguars played really well. I kind of liked that about this team. There wasn't any quit in them. Now we need to see that Meyer is going to be more Pete Carroll and Jimmy Johnson. Less Steve Spurrier. Do that, and the season will be a success.

In closing

I became a friend of Duval at the NFL draft in New York City back in 2014, the year Blake Bortles was drafted. I cried with you after the AFC Championship Game loss. I post videos of Darnell Mooney burning Jalen Ramsey just because. So, I'm a bit biased. But I love the track the Jaguars are on. I know having Trevor Lawrence is exciting. But it's like learning golf. Just because you got brand new clubs doesn't mean you're going to go out and birdie No. 17 at Sawgrass right away. Enjoy the process, because it truly feels like this team is heading in the right direction.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter.

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