Realistic Best & Worst Case Scenarios for Gus Bradley's First Year with Jaguars
Gus Bradley has been officially named the next head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Per the Jaguars' official Twitter feed:
Gus Bradley named fifth head coach in Jaguars history today.— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) January 17, 2013
Bradley is a great hire for Jacksonville—his defenses with the Seattle Seahawks showed great improvement over his four years there—and 2012 was a significant pinnacle during his brief tenure as their defensive coordinator.
The Jaguars desperately needed a coach to get the defense back on track. After ranking No. 6 in total defense in 2011, Jacksonville flopped to No. 30 in 2012.
And although the offense struggled, the defense was even worse this past season. On the bright side, there's nowhere to go but up entering 2013.
Best Case: Jaguars Take Jarvis Jones or Bjoern Werner at No. 2 Overall in Draft
Jacksonville must get better quarterback pressure.
Recording a measly 20 sacks in 2012, the Jaguars didn't have a single player hit four sacks. Tyson Alualu led with 3.5.
Therefore, selecting either Georgia's Jarvis Jones or Florida State's Bjoern Werner must happen in the 2013 NFL draft. Each is a complete defender and possesses No. 1 pass-rusher potential to lead in Mel Tucker's front seven.
Jones finished last season with 85 tackles, 14.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four defended passes.
Werner collected 42 tackles, 13 sacks, had eight defended passes and one forced fumble.
Without question there are minute differences regarding each player's style; however, their effectiveness will have the same level of impact because of impressive instincts and quick reactionary skills to any developing play.
Worst Case: Jaguars Trade Down and Select a Defensive End in Round 1
Should the Jaguars decide to add more picks, trading down isn't a bad idea.
Now the trade partner would certainly depend on the deal for moving back, but it's still about stocking up and addressing an area of need.
In addition to Jarvis Jones and Bjoern Werner, the 2013 class has Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, LSU's Sam Montgomery and Oregon's Dion Jordan as worthy selections.
Moore is an expected top-10 pick, which Jacksonville could technically reach for him at No. 2 also. If not, only trading back a few spots would land him. Possessing excellent size, speed and a knack for crashing the backfield, Moore's raw talent is appealing.
Montgomery and Jordan each bring nice acceleration, lateral quickness and the ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Neither is on Moore's pass-rushing level, but they are just as capable of generating turnovers and squeezing the edge against the run. Regardless of the outcome, Jacksonville must get Jones, Werner or one of the aforementioned defensive ends.
Missing on everyone would be extremely detrimental to 2013's pass rush.
Best Case: Defense Allows Fewer Than 20 Points Per Game
Provided Jacksonville improves the front seven with a top prospect in the draft, the defense will make great strides.
Whether it's Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Werner or another leading the pass rush and run defense, there are complementary players to help.
Jeremy Mincey, Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen have a knack for being around the ball. Mincey recorded eight sacks and forced four fumbles in 2011, and Posluszny and Allen were the two leading tacklers last season.
The secondary sports Derek Cox, who defended 11 passes (four picks) and recorded 60 tackles, with other capable impact players such as Rashean Mathis, Dwight Lowery and Aaron Ross.
One major component before 2012, though, was linebacker Daryl Smith.
If Jacksonville can retain Smith and he gets back to 100 percent, this defense can make a quick turnaround with the right draft pick.
Worst Case: Defense Allows Above 27 Points Per Game
Giving up an average over 27 points per game this past season, Jacksonville has plenty of work for Gus Bradley.
For one, no matter how talented and NFL draft prospects appear, every single player is a risky investment.
Far too many times have some of the best college players flopped in the pros, which never guarantees anything. Secondly, not being able to retain Daryl Smith would be costly.
Smith is the defense's best tackler, and he's the team's best linebacker in coverage and the pass rush. As the complete package, his impact from previous years was a definite need during 2012. And his absence clearly affected the product.
The Jaguars were so bad defensively last season that a major turnaround is unlikely. They ranked No. 22 against the pass, No. 30 against the run, were last in sacks and allowed a 41.4 third down conversion percentage (ranked No. 28).
Not to mention Jacksonville was No. 31 in number of red zone scoring attempts allowed.
That's a lot to fix.
Best Case: Jaguars Record Above 40 Sacks
One area to really focus on has to be sacks.
This area can easily be improved; just look at recent history of teams that have added an elite rusher in the draft.
A prime example of how easily sacks can accumulate is courtesy of Von Miller of the Denver Broncos. In 2010 the Broncos recorded a mere 23 sacks, which was the worst mark in the league.
Denver then selected Miller at No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft and the Broncos defense logged 41 sacks that season.
Only compiling 20 sacks in 2012, Jacksonville's dire need for a dominant rusher is obvious. Daryl Smith (if retained) and Jeremy Mincey are two solid defenders who can make plays in the backfield.
Then, landing Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Werner or any other edge defender in Round 1 of the draft addresses that need. Plus pro football is a league driven by quarterbacks and consistent success can be traced back to the signal-caller's efficiency.
There are two things every team needs: a franchise quarterback and a guy who can constantly pressure other franchise quarterbacks.
Factor in the NFL current era of pass-oriented offenses, and having guys who accumulate sacks is a distinct competitive advantage.
Worst Case: Jaguars Record Fewer Than 30 Sacks
Improving upon a 20-sack season won't be that difficult for Jacksonville.
After all, J.J. Watt recorded 20.5, and Aldon Smith and Von Miller nearly out-sacked the Jaguars as well.
You know a team's pass rush needs help when one player was more productive than it.
Despite needing to draft a standout edge player, though, Jacksonville's inability to stuff the run will hurt its pass rush in 2013. By allowing an average of 141 rushing yards per game and a 4.1 per-carry average, there's not much reason to throw against the Jaguars.
Instead, opponents can easily control the game tempo on the ground. That strategy wears down the defensive front and keeps Jacksonville's offense off the field.
Considering that its offense still must prove consistency, Jacksonville's odds of winning become astronomically reduced with a limited number of possessions. So, unless the offense can push the pace and the defense stuff the run, sacks will be scarce.
Best Case: Offense Averages Above 21 Points Per Game
First, the latest on running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Per Adam Schein of SiriusXM NFL Radio via Mike Florio of NBC Sports last week:
He told Adam Schein of SiriusXM NFL Radio that the veteran tailback who had most of his season marred by a foot injury will neither hold out nor even ask for a new contract.
“I went to them last year,” Jones-Drew said. “It didn’t work out. I’m not going to reach out to them because, you know, I just feel like I tried that last year [and] it didn’t work. If the Jaguars want to do a new deal I’m more than open to talk. I’m not going to say I don’t want to go there. I’ve grown up there. This is where I started. I want to win a championship there. That’s what I want to do.
MJD is the Jaguars offense and interestingly enough, he finished 2012 with 414 rushing yards and that still led the team. He only appeared in six games.
Just imagine how well Jones-Drew and the offense will produce when healthy and backed by a stronger defense. As one of pro football's best dual-threat backs, MJD's ability to slam up front and make defenders miss in space remains a favorable advantage.
The potential of Jones-Drew, Chad Henne and Jacksonville's promising receivers will catch opponents by surprise.
Worst Case: Offense Averages Fewer Than 17 Points Per Game
From bad snaps to dropped passes and turnovers, Jacksonville's offense has about as much to fix as its defense.
On third down the offense converted 29.6 percent of the time, which ranked No. 31, and the Jaguars averaged only 15.9 points per game. Take away Cecil Shorts' 80-yard score against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 and this team would have 1-15.
Aside from putting up 37 in the overtime loss to Houston, Jacksonville did not score more than 24 points in a game. Eleven times did the offense score 20 points or fewer and the red zone offense scored a touchdown just 44.4 percent of the time (ranked No. 27).
Even worse was Jacksonville's pass protection, allowing 50 sacks—22 of Blaine Gabbert, 28 of Chad Henne.
Henne may bring a strong arm with decent marksmanship, but no quarterback will produce when constantly under duress.
Best Case: 9-7 Record
Prior to the New Year the NFL released its list of 2013 regular season opponents.
It's not the most difficult schedule, but the Jaguars are still among the worst teams as well.
Fortunately, the potential of Jacksonville's offense was displayed against Houston last season.
Include a defense for 2013 that should improve and winnable games against the Titans (twice), Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders and Cardinals, and the Jags could surprise. St. Louis, Cleveland and Buffalo are slightly more difficult by comparison, as each field better defenses and balanced offenses.
Nevertheless, Jacksonville's passing game and running game (if healthy) will move the ball. Given that the Jaguars dropped five games by seven points or less in 2012, they could significantly bump up their win total.
Worst Case: 4-12
The past two years Jacksonville has been notorious for losing close games: 10 combined between 2011 and 2012.
And consistently failing when the margin is close can significantly turn a team's expected record for the worse.
Here, we see a worst-case scenario of 4-12 because it's also reasonable to anticipate Jacksonville losing some narrow contests. The previously mentioned winnable games of Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego, Tennessee (twice) and Arizona could easily flip to losses.
The key reason is defense.
Allowing an average of 27.8 points per game last fall, Jacksonville's defense never assisted the offense. Even in the overtime battle with Houston, the Jags gave up 43 points. That was the one game in 2012 where the offense put up over 30 points, but the defense failed to step up.
Similar results will occur throughout 2013 unless the defense manages to tighten up in crunch time. The end result will be tough losses on top of the expected losses against San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Houston (twice) and Indianapolis (twice).