I’ve only lived in Jacksonville for a little over two years, but, in my short time here, losing has never felt so satisfying as it did Sunday. And in talking to many of you who have been here a few decades more than me: you felt it, too.
The Jaguars will be picking in the Top-10 of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 12th time in 13 years they have done so. But for the first time in 25 years, they are on track to pick in the Top-2. There is a big difference between the second-overall pick and the seventh or ninth – especially with multiple, transcendent players projected at the top of this year’s Draft boards.
The phrase “Embrace the Tank” gets thrown around a lot. And the Jaguars should be excited of the fruits their losing will soon reap.
But the Texans did not bulldoze the Jaguars Sunday. The Jaguars did not throw away this game, either. It was competitive until the very end. It was entertaining. And it still ended with that coveted “L” needed to rise the ranks of Tankathon.com (coupled with a Giants victory, the Jaguars would now be picking second if the season ended today, for what it’s worth).
Still don’t believe me?
On this, the Monday Morning After, let’s dive into how the Jaguars were actually the real winners on Sunday, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it.
1. There are attractive pieces in Jacksonville
Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell are still employed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, as of this writing. If they’re to be let go, I wouldn’t expect a dismissal until at earliest December. Shad Khan didn’t fire Gus Bradley in 2016 until the week before Christmas. Tom Coughlin was dismissed December 18 of last year.
I’m sure if they both are retained, they’ will be the first to tell you: there are pieces on this roster.
And that’s exactly why potential head coach and general manager candidates across the country perked their heads up from their laptops when highlights of D.J. Chark’s 146-yard day popped up on SportsCenter. Ditto when James Robinson broke free for a tackle-breaking-filled, 12-yard carry. And also when Myles Jack annihilated David Johnson, en route to a Top-5 tackling day league-wide Sunday.
Again, it’s become common place around the league to joke about how the Jaguars are tanking. But they’re not getting blown out by three touchdowns. And even when they’re losing by two touchdowns, their rising stars are flashing and getting it on tape (in the words of Jalen Ramsey, "Doug Marrone is a real one" for playing Doug Costin and David Ekuale over Taven Bryan). Emerging talent will lure top-tier head coach and general manager candidates. Not the Lot J Project – although that’s a nice add-in.
This is not a complete rebuild like some other teams these candidates may be courted by (we’ll get to that in a second). It just needs the right person filling the remaining holes.
Which brings me to….
2. Jaguars have capital to spend and fill in other holes
As if Chark, two rookie studs in Robinson and Laviska Shenault, and Pro Bowl-caliber players in Josh Allen and Myles Jack aren’t enough to have front office candidates licking their chops...
How does Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields sound?
But wait! That’s not all!
Jacksonville will have double-digit Draft picks for a second straight year, including four in the first two rounds (and at the rate the Ravens are at, that conditional fifth-round pick for Yannick Ngakoue could very well become a third. So, potentially six picks in the first three rounds).
It doesn’t stop there.
Spotrac projects the Jaguars will have the most cap space in the entire league heading into the 2021 season (even with the impact COVID-19 and half-full stadiums is sure to have across the NFL). Among the impending free agents this off-season, in no particular order:
- Defensive Ends Leonard Williams and Everson Griffin
- Guard Brandon Scherff
- Defensive Back Desmond King (I know, Iowa Hawkeyes back-to-back, fight me)
- Wide Receivers Will Fuller and Sammy Watkins
- Safety Justin Simmons
There’s eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro honors between those players. Sure, they’re not building blocks for the next 10 years. But they would fill the holes on team friendly deals – much like Calais Campebll and A.J. Bouye did entering the 2017 season.
Beyond money, why would these free agents pick Jacksonville over, say, Atlanta or Houston, who will also be retooling their roster and front office?
Who wouldn’t want to play with Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields?
And right now, Atlanta and Houston are out of the running for both. Which brings me to the biggest reason the Jaguars were winners Week Nine…
3. Houston has Watson… but who else?
Houston will have a new head coach and a new general manager in 2021. As mentioned, the odds are good Jacksonville will, too.
So, if you’re hoping to land one of those coveted positions this off-season, you probably were paying attention to Sunday’s contest. As we have established, the Jaguars’ young talent has potential that certainly peaks the interest of any football fan, front office executive or not.
Well, they have what many consider the ultimate trump card in quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But after that?
Fuller is a free agent after this season, and fellow wide-outs Brandin Cooks (27 years old) and Randall Cobb (30) are teetering on the wrong edge of their prime. J.J. Watt will be 32 in March.
Entering Sunday’s game, the snap counts for the Texans' 2020 NFL Draft picks were as follows:
- DT Ross Blacklock: 18% of defensive snaps, 17% of special teams snaps
- DE Jonathan Greenard: 2% of defensive snaps (that number jumped Sunday), 30% of special teams snaps
- OT Charlie Heck: Yet to play
- CB John Reid: 8% of defensive snaps, 27% of special teams
- WR Isaiah Coulter: Yet to play
The Jaguars have gotten more out of their undrafted free agent rookies, let alone their 2020 Draft Class. And it only gets worse for the Texans.
They have six picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. None are in the first two rounds. And having beat the Jaguars twice now this season, their AFC South foes are all but guaranteed to pick ahead of them.
Sure, Houston won Sunday’s game. But knowing all of the above: if you’re a general manager looking for a job this off-season, are the Texans really viable?
4. Luton may not be the answer, but he proves who is
For a second straight year, the Jaguars trotted out a sixth-round, rookie quarterback from the Pac-12. For a second straight year, that rookie quarterback lost his debut to the Houston Texans thanks to a missed two-point conversion in the game’s waning minutes and seconds.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Look: anyone who has followed the Jaguars via First Coast News the last 18 months knows that no one has championed Gardner Minshew II more than yours truly. He most certainly can and will have success in this league.
It’s too small a sample size, but Luton performed exceedingly well in his debut. He had a QBR of 78.7 Sunday, a better mark than Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tom Brady. It was against the lowly-Texans, but Luton hadn't called a play in the Jaguars' huddle since August.
But neither Minshew or Luton can be the reason this team doesn’t draft a quarterback in this year’s Draft. There is too much, undeniable talent in this year's class. And once you get the right quarterback: everything else falls into place.
Here’s where Luton really helped the Jaguars win on Sunday: he is 6’6’’, 224 lbs and has a cannon for an arm.
Trevor Lawrence: 6’6’’, 220 lbs.
Justin Fields: 6’3’’, 228 lbs.
Beyond providing the correct dimensions for future Jaguars’ quarterback, Photoshopped photos, Luton had more success than we have seen from Minshew of late. Is that related to his size? Maybe, maybe not. There’s no question the velocity of nearly every throw was stronger. We know Fields and Lawrence are strong throwers of the football. It’s easier to compare both prospects physically to Luton compared Minshew.
This is a long-winded way of me saying: the Jaguars could be just a quarterback away.
The line gave Luton protection. If you throw them the ball, the receivers can make plays. If you give Robinson the ball, he will produce.
Those three things weren’t always a guarantee under Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, or Minshew last year. Once again, the pieces are there. You just need the quarterback.
5. Fields and Zach Wilson played this weekend. Lawrence didn’t
We’ve got six more months until the NFL Draft. We’re going to go back-and-forth on who “QB6” is in the 2021 NFL Draft, let alone which quarterbacks go 1-2-3.
Lawrence has long been the undisputed, top-projected overall player in the 2021 class. I have no doubt he will return from COVID-19 protocol as good as ever. However, while Lawrence has been sidelined, Justin Fields has thrown just 11 incompletions in three games. BYU’s Wilson has at least two touchdowns in each of his eight games this year – and just two interceptions total. Meanwhile, Mac Jones of Alabama and Kyle Trask of Florida continue to put up video game like numbers. North Dakota State's Trey Lance remains the biggest wild card of all.
It bears repeating (pun intended) that Ryan Pace was wowed by the final few games of Mitchell Trubisky’s college career and selected him over multi-year college starters in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky wasn’t a full-time starter until his final collegiate season. Watson had already been a household name for two years – yet Trubisky was selected ahead of him.
It’s a crapshoot if any of these prospects works out each year, let alone multiple quarterbacks in a single draft becoming consistent, Pro Bowl and All-Pro contenders. But many GM’s get sucked into silly season and make silly decisions. Who’s to say – if Fields beats Lawrence out for the Heisman or leads Ohio State to the National Championship – the Jets don’t change course and select Fields? Or, if the Jaguars do fall back to the third-overall pick, the Giants take the spicy flavor of the month in Wilson second overall? And don’t forget: Pace only had to decide between three quarterbacks in 2017. There’s potentially double that many, first round quarterbacks in this year’s class.
We can’t predict if the Jaguars will select the stud or the bust. But if there’s more options on the table: someone else is also at risk of selecting the wrong guy, as the Jaguars have done time and time before.
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Want to sound off about the Jaguars? Sports Anchor / Reporter Mia O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MiaOBrienTV on Twitter.