Jacksonville Jaguars 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Wes Reynolds: Doug Pederson pulled off the best one-year turnaround in NFL history last season in his first season as Jaguars head coach. Jacksonville started 3-7 and then won six of their last seven games to win the division.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence improved in his second year with a 25-8 TD-INT ratio versus a 12-17 ratio in his rookie season. Lawrence brings back his entire receiving corps (Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and Marvin Jones) at over 3,200 combined yards and 20 touchdowns between them, and adds Calvin Ridley, who returns from his one-year gambling suspension, and second-round tight end Brenton Strange (Penn State).
Travis Etienne ran for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns last season, but Jacksonville did lack a power runner in short-yardage situations which is why they drafted Tank Bigsby (Auburn) in the third round. Etienne also must correct his fumble issues (five).
The offensive line is the biggest issue the Jaguars have if they are to repeat as AFC South Champions. No offensive lineman on the Jacksonville roster earned a PFF grade in the 50th percentile or better for their position last season.
The defensive line is also a question mark. While the down linemen were solid against the run (12th in NFL), they only registered seven sacks between them. Either this group must get more pressure upfront on the passer or the Jaguars edge rushers must make a massive leap, and probably it needs to be a little bit of both considering the Jaguars ranked 27th in sack rate last season (5.5%).
Josh Allen, the 2019 seventh overall pick, only had six sacks last season and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker only registered 3.5. Walker was not the only disappointing first-round draft pick on Jacksonville’s defense last season as linebacker Devin Lloyd often showed a lack of awareness and was benched for two games last season. On the inside of the 3-4 defense is some stability with Foyesade Oluokun leading the NFL in tackles (184) for the second consecutive season, but only 12 were for loss of yardage.
Jacksonville’s lack of pass rush led the Jaguars to be 29th on third-down defense, 25th in red zone defense, and 30th in pass defense DVOA. However, the edge rushers were not the only culprits as the secondary struggled. Third-year cornerback Tyson Campbell is the team’s only true difference-maker in pass coverage, and the Jaguars did not draft anyone for help in the secondary until the fifth round. This unit can only live off turnovers so much.
Jacksonville’s offense should continue to put up points and yards with Lawrence’s continued development and plenty of talent at the skill positions. However, the offensive line, edge rushers, and secondary do not look to have improved. The Jaguars now have the unfamiliar distinction of being the hunted. Teams will not sleep on this team that probably overachieved in 2022. Furthermore, they now must play a first-place division winner schedule which includes games with Kansas City, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and San Francisco. The Jaguars also had a lot of injury luck in 2022 finishing with just the second-fewest Adjusted Games Lost. The Jaguars are the rightful favorite but probably a tad overvalued at -150.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: When general manager Trent Baalke traded for wide receiver Calvin Ridley last season, I loved the deal. As one NFL defensive coordinator told me after facing the Jags, they are a receiver away from having a great offense. And if Ridley plays like he did from 2018 to 2020, scoring 26 touchdowns, he would be the perfect receiver for the offense. Watching the Jags this summer, I agree they can be dangerous and challenging to defend especially when quarterback Trevor Lawrence doesn’t take unnecessary chances with the ball. The Jags will score points. They were 8-1 last year when they scored 24 or more points in a game. The only teams they beat scoring less were the Jets with Zach Wilson under center and the Titans with Joshua Dobbs.
The concern with the Jags moving into this season centers on their defense, specifically their ability to pressure the passer. They will get the lead on teams; can they increase the lead with their ability to pressure their opponents into mistakes? Last year, they finished seventh overall in the turnover takeaway battle and 24th in yards allowed. So, even with the turnover advantage, they struggled to add to the lead. This summer, we know the offense is great, and the defense is still middle of the road, with hopes of trending upward.
Player to Watch: WR Calvin Ridley
Ridley served his time and now he enters the season as a man on a mission. The 28-year-old has basically missed two years in a row now, but he’s been a standout in Jaguars camp and defenses won’t be able to cover all of the weapons in this offense. The expectation is that Lawrence and the passing game will improve in Year 2 under Doug Pederson, and Ridley could be a huge benefactor as a big-play threat. There is a good bit of rust to shake off when Sundays come and the lights get bright, but Lawrence is likely to find the hot hand and you don’t want to be behind if it is Ridley from the jump. - Adam Burke
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