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State of the 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars: Can Doug Pederson, Trevor Lawrence and Co. provide encore?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? 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 especially those who are here to yell "Duuuuuuuuuuval!" ...

What a fun little run for y'all last season. In the wake of the Urban Meyer debacle, your projections for Doug Pederson's debut season in Jacksonville were optimistic but understandably guarded. Safe to say Doug's Jags exceeded expectations -- like Tony Khan and AEW selling 74,000-plus seats for their upcoming event at Wembley Stadium. The Jaguars aren't the only Jacksonville product making waves in London ... but they are the first NFL team scheduled to play back-to-back games across the pond. How will Trevor Lawrence and Co. follow up a resurgent season that saw Jacksonville take the AFC South and win a playoff game in mind-blowing fashion? Good question. But before we look forward, let's take a quick glance back.

2022 rewind

One low from last season: The first 25:35 of Wild Card Weekend's Saturday nightcap. The 2022 Jaguars took advantage of an opportunity down the stretch, winning six of their final seven regular-season games to snatch the division title. I don't want to hear about the AFC South's weakness or who was fading or anything like that. Jacksonville won the necessary games to get into the postseason tournament. Oh, right -- this is the low point. Well, here's the thing: I was out there celebrating y'all's playoff bid, pumping you up as a red-hot team on the rise, defending your right to host a game on Wild Card Weekend ... and then you went out and promptly fell behind 27-0? I was disappointed, nay, disillusioned. BUT fortunately, you were playing the Chargers, who have a tendency to ... well ... Charger.

One high from last season: The last 34:25 of Wild Card Weekend's Saturday nightcap. That's right, the Jaguars rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Chargers, 31-30. Truly historic stuff -- one of those playoff games we'll be talking about for quite some time. And one of those playoff games that could fuel franchise hope for years to come. Jacksonville lost the following week in Kansas City, but the Jaguars put up a pretty damn good fight against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs. I know moral victories don't mean much, but the Jaguars proved they belonged -- which is why Duval denizens are so excited for the 2023 campaign.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence received a one-year mulligan for the Urban Meyer experience, but the former No. 1 overall pick was certainly dialed in this past season.

  • Lawrence in 2021: 3-14 QB record, 59.6 completion percentage, 12:17 TD-to-INT ratio, 71.9 passer rating.
  • Lawrence in 2022: 9-8 QB record, 66.3 completion percentage, 25:8 TD-to-INT ratio, 95.2 passer rating.

What a difference a year makes! According to the good folks at NFL Research, Lawrence is just the second quarterback since 1950 to double his wins and passing touchdowns while cutting his interceptions in half from one season to the next (min. 10 starts in each season). The other guy? Drew Brees in his early days with the Chargers. I've loved Trevor since he guided Clemson to an undefeated national championship as a true freshman. He was that dude this past season.

Projected 2023 MVP: Lawrence. This is all him. With Lawrence at the helm, Jacksonville should be squarely in the postseason mix for the foreseeable future. The Jaguars have the luxury -- at least, at the moment -- of possessing the only elite quarterback in the division. OK, I might be moving Trevor into the elite category a little too quickly, but the guy's been winning games on the national scene since age 18, so I'm good with it. And the way he carried Jacksonville into the playoffs last season was truly something to behold. After entering November at 2-6, the Jaguars went 7-2 over their final nine regular-season games. During this hot streak, Lawrence posted a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 104.6 passer rating. Oh, and for good measure, he ran for nearly 200 yards and two scores. In the wild playoff win over the Chargers, he overcame four first-half interceptions to spark an all-time rally. Apparently, the man knows how to finish.

New face to know: Calvin Ridley, wide receiver. Jacksonville traded a pair of conditional picks for Ridley just before last year's trade deadline, but the Jaguars had to wait for their returns until Ridley was reinstated from a season-long suspension. Now it's time to reap the benefits of the savvy move made in advance of an offseason lacking a surplus of available talent at the receiver position. There's no shortage of talent in Ridley, a route-running wizard who averaged 82.8 receiving yards per game over the 2020 and 2021 seasons -- the fifth-highest figure during the span (minimum 20 games played), per NFL Research. The former first-round pick hasn't played in an NFL game since October of 2021, but he should still be right in his prime at age 28. Ridley could end up being that difference-making wideout who pushes his young quarterback over the top, like Stefon Diggs did with Josh Allen and A.J. Brown did with Jalen Hurts.

2023 breakout star: Andre Cisco, safety. A third-round pick in 2021, Cisco didn't enter the starting lineup until his final few weeks as a rookie. But in Year 2, he started 15 games and filled up the box score with 73 tackles, 10 passes defensed, three interceptions (including a 59-yard pick-six at Philadelphia) and a sack. A prolific ballhawk going back to his days at Syracuse (SEE: 13 picks in three seasons), Cisco has the playmaking ability to become a true star at the safety position in 2023.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Doug Pederson
General manager Trent Baalke
Offensive coordinator Press Taylor
Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell
Special teams coordinator Heath Farwell
  • I'm a huge Doug Pederson guy. Always felt it was a mistake for Philadelphia to fire him. I know Eagles fans will probably be all like, "Nick Sirianni is pretty good." He is. Just saying, Doug has never lost a Super Bowl ... Oh, snap -- I wonder if this is going to end up being one of those curses for Philly? But I digress. This piece is about the Jaguars, right? After Pederson got a second head-coaching opportunity with Jacksonville, you wanted to know if he'd still be able to be the guy who guided the Eagles to their only Super Bowl title -- the guy I speculated might be the best coach in the league back in 2020. Well, the initial returns in Duval were quite promising last season. Jacksonville's offense looked like a real offense. Trevor Lawrence looked like a real franchise quarterback. Pederson was the guiding force the Jaguars needed. A brilliant hire by Shad Khan -- like when Tony Khan signed Chris Jericho to be one of the leading faces of AEW.
  • Trent Baalke has done a nice job in Jacksonville, especially after a Jags fan sent him a clown figurine following the 2021 season. Baalke apparently keeps it on his desk as motivation to prove his doubters wrong. Whatever works! Last year was a huge step forward for the franchise, and the forward-thinking trade for Calvin Ridley showed that he's not messing around. Furthermore, my guy Chad Reuter gave the Jaguars a solid B+ grade for their 2023 NFL Draft haul.
  • My football number (44) is retired at Corona High School. Probably because it was worn by Super Bowl XLVIII champion Heath Farwell. But still, my number is retired.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Jaguars' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma (1-27) D'Ernest Johnson, RB Marvin Jones, WR
Brenton Strange, TE, Penn State (2-61) Josh Wells, OT Dan Arnold, TE
Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn (3-88) Chandler Brewer, OL Chris Manhertz, TE
Ventrell Miller, LB, Florida (4-121) Michael Dogbe, DL Jawaan Taylor, OT
Tyler Lacy, DE, Oklahoma State (4-130) Henry Mondeaux, DL Dawuane Smoot, DE
Yasir Abdullah, LB, Louisville (5-136) Brandon McManus, K Arden Key, OLB
Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M (5-160) Corey Peters, DT
Parker Washington, WR, Penn State (6-185) Shaquill Griffin, CB
Christian Braswell, CB, Rutgers (6-202) Riley Patterson, K
Erick Hallett, DB, Pittsburgh (6-208)
Cooper Hodges, OT, Appalachian State (7-226)
Raymond Vohasek, DT, North Carolina (7-227)
Derek Parish, FB, Houston (7-240)

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 2 vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Was last season a fluke? Was the second-half surge a mirage? Was the playoff comeback a crazy stroke of luck? One way to quickly quiet any of that talk: Defeating the defending champs right here.
  • Week 5 vs. Buffalo Bills (London). The Jaguars get another chance to prove themselves early in the season against one of the premier teams in the AFC. Wait, do we still describe the Bills that way? Call me crazy, but I feel like Jacksonville's an ascending team, while Buffalo might not be as good as we once thought. This is also the back end of the Jags' two-week stay in London.
  • Week 18 at Tennessee Titans. Jacksonville finished the 2022 regular season with five straight wins -- including two over Tennessee -- to end the Titans' two-year reign over the AFC South. This time around, the Jaguars are the hunted.

Will the Jaguars be able to ...

... field a defense that complements the offense? Jacksonville hasn't boasted a defense that finished in the top 10 in points or yards allowed since the Sacksonville units led by Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey back in 2017 and '18. But that could change very soon. The Jaguars have a young core of playmakers, including Josh Allen (turns 26 this month), Travon Walker (22), Devin Lloyd (24), Tyson Campbell (23) and Andre Cisco (23). Also, the Jaguars' defense showed significant signs of improvement last season, ranking top six in takeaways, passes defensed, QB hits and defensive touchdowns. Mike Caldwell's group was especially tough during Jacksonville's five-game winning streak to win the AFC South, allowing just 15.6 points per game during that closing stretch.

... replace Jawaan Taylor on the offensive line? It's difficult losing a four-year starting bookend in free agency, especially when the man relocates to the Kansas City Chiefs. That stings. However, the price -- $80 million over four years -- was way too high. Especially with Trevor Lawrence nearing an extension window. After Taylor departed in free agency, Jacksonville spent its first-round pick on Anton Harrison, who'll attempt to fill the void left by Taylor on the right side. On the blind side, Cam Robinson is suspended for the first four games of the season. Fortunately, Walker Little is there to man the LT post, having started eight games (including the playoffs) over the past two seasons during Robinson injuries. And Jacksonville signed veteran Josh Wells to serve as a swing tackle. All in all, not bad depth at the positions most responsible for protecting the face of the franchise.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: The Jaguars already had some pretty good pass catchers. Obviously, Calvin Ridley is a huge addition to Jacksonville's aerial attack. We discussed this above. But even without Ridley last season, the Jags were one of just three teams (along with the Bengals and Chargers) to feature three different pass catchers with 750-plus receiving yards. Wide receiver Christian Kirk led the team with 84 receptions, 1,108 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. (I was one of the many folks who thought his contract was exorbitant, but hey, the guy sure earned his keep in Year 1.) Meanwhile, WR Zay Jones and TE Evan Engram both set career highs in catches (82 for Jones, 73 for Engram) and yards (823 for Jones, 766 for Engram). If Ridley can return to form as a true WR1, this pass-catching group has IMMENSE upside.

For 2023 to be a success, the Jaguars MUST:

  • Make the playoffs. The bar has been set. Once you've reached the main-event level, you don't want to revert back to mid-card territory. The Jaguars have not made the playoffs in consecutive years since racking up four straight postseason berths from 1996 through '99. They have not posted a winning record immediately following a playoff appearance this millennium. But I believe in these Pederson-led Jaguars. They're different. Yes, I admittedly have a soft spot for this team and this fanbase, but to me, Jacksonville isn't far away from joining the true elites in a stacked AFC. Last season was just the beginning, and I expect to see the Jags back in the playoff tourney in January.

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