Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? 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 All Elite Wrestling fans who just want to yell "Duuuuvalllll":
For those of you who know me, understand that I'm a huge wrestling fan. And the AEW promotion run by Tony Khan is my favorite thing right now. But sometimes in wrestling, you have a new superstar you want to put over and well, to put it mildly, things don't always work out and you have to pull the plug on the gimmick. The NFL version of this was Urban Meyer as coach of the Jaguars last year. But it's a new season, so let's take a look.
One low note from last season: There were way too many scandals around Urban Mayer, which ultimately cost him his job. I'll be honest, I was hopeful at the start of his tenure that things were going to work out for him in Jacksonville.
Head coach: Doug Pederson. I openly wondered if Doug Pederson was the best coach in the NFL heading into the 2020 season, and I have to wonder if I got the guy fired by the Eagles for even suggesting such a thing. His time in Philadelphia unraveled so quickly. We haven't seen a fall from grace that fast since, oh, well, Urban Meyer? Here's my thing, though. I still really believe in Doug Pederson. I'm surprised he wasn't a more sought-after coach in the previous cycle, though it seemed like a couple of teams kicked the tires on him. I'm all in on his redemption tour. A lot of the reasons I loved him two years ago still remain. He won a Super Bowl with his backup quarterback, Nick Foles, and took down the G.O.A.T., Bill Belichick, in the process. Then there was the Double-Doink Game (as a Chicago fan I hate to bring it up, but have to give him credit for another playoff win). He was making the playoffs on the regular before his abrupt dismissal from Philadelphia after I called him the best in the game. I really do believe he's going to bring credibility to the Jaguars. And I'll just leave it at that. No more hot takes for me.
Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence. Oh man, I don't want to say that Lawrence's rookie season in the NFL was a bust. But to me, this worked out like The Book of Boba Fett. For years, our headcanon for the famed bounty hunter was greater than what we saw in the Disney+ series. Similarly, we've wanted to see Trevor play in the NFL for so long that to see him rank dead last in the NFL with 6.0 passing yards per attempt in 2021 was rather disappointing. And it's not like we could have just created some games where the Mandalorian played wide receiver to help make it better. That said, there is no way I'm going to give up on him just yet. Yes, that goes for both Boba and Trevor.
Projected 2022 MVP: Lawrence. I'm going to say this: I'm not going to expect the Jaguars to compete for the Super Bowl this year -- sorry friends, it's the truth. But if the Jaguars are going to be competitive this year, they need their quarterback to play better. And if you're looking for some hope, check this out: Under Pederson in Philly, Carson Wentz had 16 passing touchdowns with 14 interceptions and a 79.3 passer rating his rookie season. In Year 2, Wentz had 33 passing touchdowns, just seven picks and a 101.9 passer rating.
New face to know: Evan Engram, tight end. All right, hear me out. When you look at Doug Pederson's time in Philly -- and other stops -- his offense has always made use of his tight end. In fact, Eagles tight ends led the NFL with 8.2 receptions per game from 2016 to 2020 under Pederson. I know some of you might say Dan Arnold could be the guy who benefits this fall. And maybe that's true. But I've been waiting for Engram to break out for so long. At least indulge me here.
2022 breakout star: Andre Cisco, safety. The Jaguars invested a high draft pick in Cisco last season, but never really gave the third-rounder much of an opportunity on the field. The new coaching staff does not seem to be making that mistake. Both Pederson and defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell were impressed by Cisco during OTAs and minicamps. Cisco appears ready to be given a bigger role this season.
Three key dates:
- Week 2 vs. Indianapolis Colts. Based on the way last season ended -- and everybody now being in on this Jaguars' "home" winning streak -- this one will draw a lot of interest. The "home" is in quotes because one of those wins was in London. That wasn't a shot.
- Week 4 at Philadelphia Eagles. I mean, Doug Pederson REVENGE GAME. And it's in Philly, too. The Eagles are the only playoff team from 2021 the Jaguars play in the first eight games.
- Week 16 at New York Jets (Thursday night). The Jaguars close out with three winnable games, with away games against the Jets and Texans followed by the season-finale vs. Tennessee. And I know I run the risk of upsetting Titans fans by even mentioning the Titans in this sense, but I'll stand by what I said.
Will the Jaguars be able to ...
... protect the football? The Jaguars had a -20 turnover differential, the lowest in the NFL since the 49ers' -25 in 2018. The good thing about this is I predicted the 49ers to go 3-13 in 2019 and they ended up going to the Super Bowl. So maybe there is hope. But there are other areas the Jaguars must work on. They were last in the NFL in wins last season -- hence owning the draft's first overall selection. They were also last in points per game (14.9) and 28th in points allowed (26.9).
... bring back Sacksonville? Man, I loved the defense that led the Jaguars to the 2017 AFC Championship Game. The Jags caused a bit of a stir when they selected Travon Walker with the first overall pick. It was the second consecutive season in which the team held the top pick, making it the fourth franchise -- and sixth instance -- of a team in the common draft era (since 1967) having the top pick in back-to-back years. Walker was selected over Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson, and many felt GM Trent Baalke was trying to recapture the magic he had with Aldon Smith. The Jaguars had a mere nine takeaways last year. They had just 32 sacks, which was tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL. If Walker can be the sack specialist the Jags envision, that would be huge for the defense.
Oh, and for the record, the last team to have back-to-back first overall selections was the Cleveland Browns in 2017 and '18. They also went quarterback and pass rusher with those two No. 1 picks. The Browns made the playoffs two years later. Just saying.
One storyline ...
... people are overthinking: Christian Kirk's contract. As noted, the Jaguars struggled offensively last season, so the Jaguars were not afraid to spend some money in free agency this year. Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million deal, coming off a year when he had a career-high 74.8 catch percentage, fifth among wide receivers with a minimum of 75 targets, per Next Gen Stats. But one of the reasons the Jaguars brought him in was to jump-start the deep passing game. Kirk had 377 yards on deep passes (20-plus air yards) last season, seventh-most in the NFL, and a 55 deep catch percentage, second in the league behind only Cooper Kupp (min. 20 deep targets). Lawrence had a 55.3 passer rating on deep passes in 2021, which was 30th in the NFL, ahead of only Sam Darnold. Kirk should fit in well opposite Marvin Jones Jr., who led the Jaguars with 73 receptions, 832 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2021.
... people are overlooking: Travis Etienne is back. Etienne was a shocking draft pick at No. 25 overall last year, especially when James Robinson was so good during his rookie season. However, the former never saw the field last year due to a foot injury. And Robinson tore his Achilles in Week 16. Robinson amassed 2,403 scrimmage yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons prior to his injury, and though the hope is that he'll be ready for Week 1, he isn't rushing his return. That's why it's important for Etienne to contribute. I'm sure you're aware he was college teammates with Lawrence at Clemson and led the FBS in scrimmage yards from 2018 to 2020. I know this is a hot-button issue in the fantasy space, but I'm in on Etienne. If you're asking me.
For 2022 to be a success, the Jaguars MUST:
- Put Trevor Lawrence in a position to succeed in the future. I know that it's not a lot of fun to watch a football team in rebuilding mode, but this is the most important thing the Jaguars can do this season. And it would be considered a success. I look at the Jaguars' season much like I would look at playing TPC Sawgrass for the first time. I don't care what the score is, I just want to land on the green on No. 17. You do that, everything is cool.