For the first time in years, the Jacksonville Jaguars look to be on the upswing led by a gifted offensive trio and an improving defense. But if the Jags plan of making a leap to the next level, they will need production from players other than their budding superstars such as Blake Bortles or Allen Robinson. Let's look at a few players who can help the Jaguars break out of mediocrity this season.
Entering his second season with the team, receiver Rashad Greene will likely be the Jags go-to guy at slot receiver. Greene and Bortles seemed to mesh well in this year's minicamp, a sign that can bode well for the team heading forward.
Drafted in the fifth round by the Jaguars in 2015, the Florida State product showed at times what he could offer the team in the long term. Particularly in the returning game, Greene made big plays that the Jaguars were looking for all season. A particular play came in December against Indianapolis; Greene received a punt and took it 73 yards for a score. Over the season, the former Seminole returned 18 punts for 301 yards, good for an impressive 17 yard average.
In the passing game, Greene was targeted 17 times in his first two games, but an injury kept him out seven games. Greene ended the year with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 19 catches, seeing a decrease in production after his return from injury.
But if Greene can remain healthy this year, he has the opportunity to have a solid season on offense and in special teams. With Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas leading the way, Greene can find his niche as a slot receiver who will likely find space in defenses that will focus on the known commodities of Robinson and Hurns. A season with 30-40 catches and close to 400 yards would be a success for the second-year receiver. If Greene is able to duplicate or surpass his returning production, he will become a vital part of the team's success.
Running back T.J. Yeldon was thrown into the fire last season, earning most of the carries in his rookie campaign. And although the Alabama product showed what he was capable of at times, Yeldon struggled to find running lanes, notching nine games with less than 70 yards rushing. Yeldon didn't find the end zone until his fifth game, tallying a receiving score but his first rushing touchdown came in he next game. He ended the year with two rushing touchdowns and 740 yards.
This offseason, the Jaguars signed former New York Jets running back Chris Ivory to provide some help in the backfield, possibly because of the struggles Yeldon experienced in a trying rookie year. But this isn't terrible news for the second-year back. Ivory will likely fit in nicely as a third-down back and red zone option, taking some of the pressure off of Yeldon who can use his shiftiness to rack up yards on first and second down, potentially breaking out large yardage plays as the season and his skills progress.
The powerful passing attack will surely provide the running game with more opportunities than a year ago. Yeldon's production will also depend on the improvement of the offensive line. But with less of the spotlight solely on Yeldon, expect the former Crimson Tide running back to have a productive sophomore campaign, potentially reaching the 800 or 900 yard mark, yet more efficiently than he did a year ago.
The Jaguars believed they were getting a game changer on defense when they drafted edge rusher Dante Fowler with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft. Unfortunately, the Jaguars did not get to see their prized possession perform. Fowler tore his ACL during minicamp, missing his entire rookie year. The loss was heartbreaking for the Jags, who had wanted Fowler for quite some time.
But now healed and healthy, Fowler will be ready to provide a defensive spark in the 2016-17 season. The Jaguars hope Fowler can help them in the pass rush, as the team finished tied for 20th in the league with 36 team sacks. During the offseason, Fowler has flashed the explosiveness the team loved when he was at Florida. Coach Gus Bradley spoke about and praised Fowler for his efforts in early offseason sessions.
A confident player, Fowler is hungry to contribute after a year on the sidelines.
“We need somebody that can get to the quarterback. That’s my job and that’s what I’m going to do," Fowler said to media.
If his body holds up, fans can expect Fowler to reach the quarterback early and often in his first year of action.