The Jacksonville Jaguars won just four games in the previous two seasons, which is not a great mark of success for any NFL team. In the past four seasons, the number of wins is only 15. They haven't been to the NFL playoffs since 2017; and in their 28 years of existence, they've only made the postseason seven times. Success has been difficult to come by for this relatively young franchise, and what small degree of achievement they have attained over the years has tended to be fleeting. Early in their existence, they actually had a string of four consecutive winning seasons (1996-1999).
Since 2007, they've had one season where they finished with a .500 record (8-8 in 2010). They went 10-6 in 2017, which was the last time they appeared in the playoffs (where they actually won a game, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round). Other than that, they've had a losing record every year since 2010. Could 2022 be the year the franchise finally has put the pieces in place to achieve a degree of stability and lasting success? I, for one, think it's quite possible.
Finding the Right Coach at the Right Time
Since their inception, the Jaguars have had seven head coaches. The first of those, Tom Coughlin, was the only coach to have a winning record at the helm. Since then, only Jack Del Rio (Coughlin's immediate successor) has lasted longer than four seasons in the job. The most recent experiment, Urban Meyer, was an abject failure that lasted less than a season. Eager to put that mistake in the rearview mirror, the Jaguars turned to head coach Doug Pederson, who was hired back in February. Perhaps the most important assets Pederson brings with him are a Super Bowl pedigree (he won Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017) and a depth of knowledge on the offensive side of the ball, particularly the quarterback position. This last point should be particularly useful, considering he's teaming up with the 2021 No. 1 overall pick by the Jaguars, Trevor Lawrence.
Trusting Trevor to be the Franchise Face in Jacksonville
Coming into the NFL Draft, Lawrence was one of the most talked-about quarterbacks in what was a very deep class of signal callers. The Jaguars have drafted 11 quarterbacks over the years. Only four of those were taken in the first round -- Byron Leftwich, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles and Lawrence. Leftwich had a solid start with the Jags, but injuries derailed what could have been. Gabbert followed a similar trajectory, showing signs of promise but dealing with nagging injuries and working in an offense that leaned more on the run game. The personnel around him didn't do him any favors either. Bortles had a decent Jaguars career, leading the team to its last playoff appearance in 2017. His 2018 season didn't go as planned, however, and he was ultimately benched during the season.
Trevor Lawrence came into the league with sky-high expectations. There was very little disagreement among scouts and talent evaluators that he was tremendously talented and had the potential to be a top-level quarterback for years to come. Unfortunately for him, Urban Meyer was his head coach. The utter chaos created by Meyer and the controversy surrounding him likely stifled Lawrence's growth on the field. He was also at a disadvantage regarding the skill positions surrounding him. His wide receivers did him no favors when it came to catching passes. Lawrence finished with a completion percentage just below 60% and threw 17 interceptions to only 12 touchdowns. He was also dealt a blow in the backfield when fellow rookie Travis Etienne went down for the season thanks to a Lisfranc injury. Despite all of the distractions, Lawrence was able to show maturity and composure throughout his rookie season. The question coming into this season was whether the team would find players to put around him who would help him succeed on the field. Throughout the preseason, Lawrence and his new teammates showed promise. After four weeks of the 2022 season, the answer seems to be yes.
Improving the Roster via the NFL Draft
The Jaguars brought in some new faces for 2022. The biggest changes came among the pass catchers. Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram were all brought in with hopes of improving upon last season's disappointing output from the wide receivers and tight ends. This year's No. 1 overall pick, Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker, along with Devin Lloyd (picked 27th overall), should immediately improve the defensive side of the ball. And free agent signings such as Brandon Scherff bolster an offensive line that will look to give Lawrence more time to work his magic. Getting Etienne back as a complement to James Robinson in the backfield will only help Lawrence by giving him even more weapons to work with. Combine all of that with the experience Pederson brings to the table, and it's a recipe for success.
Early Results Show Progress
Through four games so far in the 2022 NFL season, the Jaguars have gone 2-2. They're already halfway to matching their win total for the previous two years. What's even more exciting for the franchise is that they look to have moved beyond the disfunction of last year. In Week 1, they held their own against the Washington Commanders, then followed it up with a shutout victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Their most impressive performance came in Week 3, when they upset the Los Angeles Chargers 38-10. They rode that momentum into Philly in their most recent matchup with the Eagles -- the NFL's only remaining unbeaten team. They jumped out to an early lead against Pederson's former team and headed into halftime down by only six points. Unfortunately, they had some costly turnovers in the second half and were unable to overcome them in the end. Nonetheless, they have looked like a different team so far this season.
It's clear already that the Jaguars are coming together. Under Pederson's stewardship, this is a team finding itself and working together to achieve big things. If the offense continues to gel, they could potentially be as explosive as Josh Allen's Buffalo Bills or Jalen Hurts' Eagles. Obviously, there will be ups and downs along the way, but the early returns are promising for the Jaguars, who may very well make some noise and be a contender in the AFC South this season.
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