First games can be misleading … or a sign of things to come.
For example, the Jaguars won their opener against Houston in 2017 and went to the playoffs. By contrast, they beat the Colts in their opener in 2020 and then lost their next 15 games.
This year with a new coach in Doug Pederson, they open at Washington and a victory would set a positive tone since their next three games at home against Indianapolis and road trips against the Chargers and Eagles will be challenging.
The Jaguars are upbeat now that they put the Urban Meyer fiasco behind theM. They hope that Trevor Lawrence will take a big step in his second year, and that this year’s top pick (Travon Walker) will team with Josh Allen to spearhead the defense.
But there are a lot of skeptics that the team is still too young to make big strides after winning only four games the last two years. Sports Illustrated I predicted they will go 5-12, and the over-under is 6.5 wins. The Athletic polled five personnel types and they ranked the Jaguars as the third-worst team in the AFC above only the Jets and Texans, although one said they could finish second or third in their division.
Pederson may need time to turn the team around because they still are paying the price for shaky drafting in recent years. They weren’t able to draft a solid core of four-to-six-year players that often the foundation for winning teams.
They have no drafted players left on the roster selected before 2017, although Tyler Shatley is still on the roster after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
They did hit on their first three picks in 2016 when they selected Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue, but Ramsey and Ngakoue got involved in contract disputes and departed. Jack got a second contract in 2019, but they feel he didn’t live up to it and he was cut after the 2021 season, ultimately signing with Pittsburgh.
They have two each left from the 2017 and 2019 drafts – Cam Robinson and Dawuane Smoot from 2017 and Allen and Jawaan Taylor from 2019. There is also one remaining member (punter Logan Cooke) from the 2018 draft.
The bottom line is that they have just five drafted players taken before the 2020 season, so they don’t have enough to show from those drafts.
One plus is that they have several productive free agents in their fifth and sixth seasons, including Christian Kirk, Arden Key, Foley Fatusasi, Foye Olukun in their fifth year and Zay Jones, Evan Engram, Dan Arnold, Roy Robertson-Harris and Saquill Griffin in their sixth season to fill holes.
The question is whether the Jaguars’ young players will develop quickly enough to combine with their veteran free agents to make them more competitive this year as they attempt to go over the 6.5-victory number.
The Washington opener could provide a sneak preview on how good the Jaguars will be this year.