NFL

Jacksonville Jaguars: Lawrence the first piece in a complex puzzle

By Sports Desk March 09, 2021

It is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to turn this thing around.

Losing suited the Jags last season as their miserable 1-15 record, combined with the New York Jets' inexplicable late rally to 2-14, secured the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville are expected to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence to join new head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke. Then they must find a way of competing once more after a year of accepting defeat.

Yet this was not merely a 12-month slump; the Jags have had a winning record just once since 2007, losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2017.

There is lots of work to do, but Lawrence - tipped as a generational talent - gives them a fantastic platform to build from at the most important position.

We use Stats Perform data to review the 2020 season and identify how Lawrence might be able to lead this team to success.

Offense

It is not quite as simple as Lawrence alone re-energising an offense that scored just 306 points last year, ranking 30th in the league.

The Jaguars need not have been quite as bad under center as that statistic suggests, having benched Gardner Minshew II, their best QB, after seven weeks.

He had led the team to their sole Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, throwing three touchdowns, and was a relatively solid performer in a poor team. Minshew averaged 251 yards per game.

But Lawrence will be expected to find wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr. on a more regular basis. Along with Keelan Cole Sr., they led Jacksonville with five receiving TDs but Shenault's 58 catches represented a very low team high.

The new QB will want better protection as he aims to improve the team's passing offense, with the Jags' 2020 passers collectively sacked on 44 occasions, tied for just the 25th best rate in the NFL.

There will certainly be pressure on Lawrence, who threw for 3,153 yards in 10 games for Clemson in 2020, to deliver the goods through the air, with no team in the league turning to their running game less often than Jacksonville.

A meagre 33.8 per cent of their plays went on the ground, where they found an impressive rookie in running back James Robinson (240 rushes for 1,070 yards and three TDs) but not much else.

Defense

If Lawrence provides a big boost on offense, what is the fix on defense?

Because no amount of talent at QB can drag the Jaguars into contention if they continue to perform so poorly out of possession.

While Jacksonville were reluctant to run the ball on offense, they faced rushes on defense more often than any other team (on 48.4 per cent of plays).

In truth, though, their opponents' play selection mattered little as they found a route through regardless. The Jags gave up 417.7 total yards per game, fewer only than the Detroit Lions.

There was a clear lack of talent on defense in 2020, and even Dawuane Smoot, their sack leader with 5.5, could now be on the way out in free agency.

Cornerback C.J. Henderson will at least be back after injury cut short a rookie season in which he showed signs of promise, recording 27 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble across eight games.

But new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen needs help if he is to recreate the aggressive approach used by the Baltimore Ravens, where he was defensive line coach for the past four years.

Offseason

The roster that ended the 2020 season provided little cause for optimism. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they now have the number one pick and a huge amount of cap space to work with.

Assuming a $185million cap, Jacksonville still have around $86m to spend. They will need it, even if Lawrence, in the draft, provides the most straightforward first fix.

Offensive depth is required to assist the exciting new QB, with slot receiver Cole set for free agency while the tight end unit scored a combined two TDs last season – both supplied by 31-year-old Tyler Eifert – and still needs a blocking option.

In Shenault, Chark and Robinson, they at least have starters secured at WR and RB, especially given there are greater priorities elsewhere.

Investment at offensive tackle to protect Lawrence would boost the rookie, but those priorities lie mainly on defense.

They will need more than Henderson alone at corner and major improvement at safety is a must, as is finding a way to somehow slow their opponents' running offense.

The Jags have some exciting opportunities this offseason, but they are starting from a low base and Lawrence should only be the first of many talented new faces as the team eye a quick turnaround.

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