Saturday 21 October 2017 / 02:15 PM

CAN BORTLES AND JAGS MAKE THE JUMP?

For many years, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the joke of the league. The Jaguars have sat near the bottom of the NFL standings for quite a while, last seeing relevancy when Peyton Manning was in the division and the backfield featured Maurice Jones-Drew. Since then, it’s been all about rebuilding for Jacksonville.

Two seasons ago, the Jaguars drafted their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles, from within their own state. His first season saw struggles, but Bortles made a significant jump in season two, setting franchise records in passing yards, attempts, completions, and passing touchdowns.

The offense has made huge strides, with a receiving core of great young talent in Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Rashad Greene. The tight ends feature young stud Julius Thomas, and an offensive line that is slowly coming along.

On the defensive side of the ball, with defensive anchors in Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson, Telvin Smith, and rookie starter Jalen Ramsey. Even the special teams saw an upgrade in luring away the Panthers Brad Nortman to aid the punting team.

But just how good are the Jaguars?

Well, there are certainly holes.

For starters, Bortles has been good, but his completion percentage is a problem. It’s towards the bottom of the league, and calls to question his ability to be a game-changer through the air. But more troubling is his interceptions. Bortles threw 17 in his rookie season, and threw 18 in his sophomore campaign. While this can be attributed to growing pains, Bortles still hasn’t seen much improvement in his decision-making. Some picks were justified on great coverage, but others were abysmal. His mid-distance throwing between 10-15 yards was the worst, which saw 10 of his 18 interceptions. For the Jaguars to make a significant jump, Bortles can’t throw them out of games.

Brought in to help the passing game were running backs Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon. Yeldon was good for the Jaguars, but not great. Insert Chris Ivory, a 1,000-yard back for the New York Jets last season and a workhorse the offense can rely on. But they won’t move very far without aid from a battered offensive line. The line last season didn’t create much room for a running game, and was patchy in the passing game. Former first rounder Luke Joeckel is battling for his spot, with the left side of the line causing major concern last season.

The defense made great strides last year, but saw big-time holes in the passing game. Jalen Ramsey was brought in to shore up things on the outside, and the first-round pick is making strides already in camp, and looks to be the day one starter on the outside. Prince Amukamara, brought in from New York, will more than likely man the other side for a blanket cover that struggled to keep guys in front of them a year ago.

The Jaguars are adding more talented rookies from this years draft, where the franchise was among the winners, stealing first-round talent Myles Jack due to injury concerns in the second round.

Overall, this team is extremely young, and is going to be prone to growing pains. But with a third-year quarterback, and talent at every position, the Jaguars finally look to be on the path of contending in the AFC. While not yet ready to compete with the likes of Green Bay or New England, playoffs should be a realistic expectation for this team, who should see improvement in key categories from a year ago.

But, this team will only go as far as the Bortles arm takes them, and the mistake-prone quarterback will have to make great strides to compete at a high level. With Houston and Indianapolis making big improvements, and even Tennessee making improvements, the division will be much tougher than a year ago.

But fortunately, so will the Jaguars.

[YouTube – TheFootballman175NFL]

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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