4 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars
If you want to consider bold predictions for the 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars, how about anticipating monster production from two new arrivals?
One is a veteran defensive end who will defy Father Time and a recent tough injury record to post double-digit sacks. The other is a career backup running back who will celebrate his first taste of life as a clear-cut starter by rushing for 1,000 yards.
There's also room for a rookie wide receiver who will not only make the lineup but dominate defenses during his debut pro season.
Looking at slightly less bold predictions, count on a defensive talisman returning to the Pro Bowl. But he'll be joined a young and rapidly developing playmaker.
Here are eight predictions for what the 2014 season holds for the Jags, beginning with the boldest proclamations.
Toby Gerhart Will Top 1,000 Yards Rushing
Luring Toby Gerhart from the Minnesota Vikings was one of the better pieces of business done by any team this offseason. It has given the Jaguars a natural workhorse in the backfield.
He is a true power runner who will thrive with more carries. That's exactly what he'll get, as head coach Gus Bradley has already anointed the ex-Stanford man his team's "bell-cow back," per NFL.com reporter Marc Sessler.
Bradley has stated Gerhart is a three-down back who can carry the ball as many as "18 times" per game, according to Pro Football Talk writer Mike Wilkening, who cited a transcript from the Pro Football Writers of America.
Gerhart is even being talked about as great value in fantasy football leagues, per NFL.com scribe Alex Gelhar. There is certainly a lot of buzz building around what he might do in Jacksonville and for good reason.
He is bruiser on inside runs who will make plenty of yards after initial contact. The 27-year-old is also quick and shifty enough to produce big gains from long runs.
It also won't hurt that he plays in an AFC South that is not exactly defined by stout run defense. Statistics from NFL.com reveal the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans were among the softest run defenses in football in 2013.
Gerhart will have more than just a solid first season in Jacksonville. He'll surprise many by topping the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
Chris Clemons Will Top 10 Sacks
He's 32 and just one year removed from suffering a serious knee injury. But Chris Clemons will turn the clock back to rediscover his best form and mark his first season as a Jaguar with 10 or more sacks.
He managed just 4.5 quarterback takedowns for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. But he was clearly hampered after his recovery from a torn ACL in the previous season's playoffs.
It's worth noting that before last season Clemons notched 11 or more sacks three years running in Seattle. He did it while playing the hybrid "Leo" role for Bradley, who was then the Seahawks coordinator and is now the Jags head coach.
Returning to work for his old boss will suit Clemons, who even after 10 seasons, can still terrorize quarterbacks. However, he will find some tough challenges in the AFC South.
The division features some quality offensive tackles. Houston Texans ace Duane Brown and Tennessee Titans star Michael Roos are adept at tying pass-rushers in knots.
Clemons needs to be fully prepared to overcome blockers of that quality. Unfortunately, he missed initial OTAs, according to ESPN.com reporter Michael DiRocco.
However, Clemons soon returned and appeared fully healthy, per Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser. As the team's primary pass-rusher, he will be unleashed once the real action begins. That will give him ample opportunities to produce big numbers.
His chances of stellar production will be boosted by the talent along the Jacksonville D-line. Defensive tackles Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller are adept at pushing the pocket. Marks is also a capable interior pass-rusher.
Clemons will also be supported by fellow veteran rush end Jason Babin, as well as former Pittsburgh Steelers starter Ziggy Hood. Expect Clemons to be real force in the AFC South this season.
Marqise Lee Will Notch More Than 1,000 Yards Receiving as a Rookie
Among the excellent work done by Bradley and general manager David Caldwell this offseason, one of the better decisions was drafting a pair of wide receivers in the second round.
Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson should both make an immediate impact in the passing game. But it's Lee who will put up the most impressive numbers.
The former USC standout has the speed, move skills and hands to be a playmaker from Day 1. That's just what he'll be in Jacksonville, leading to a 1,000-yard season as a rookie.
Remember, he only dropped out of the first round of the 2014 NFL draft thanks to an injury-blighted final season in California. But Lee has assured fans he is now "100 percent," per Yahoo Sports writer Eric Edholm.
When healthy, few receiving prospects can match Lee's complete game. He is the kind of roving and versatile speedster the Jacksonville passing game has been missing.
He can savage defenses both on the outside and across the middle. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will have fun moving Lee around formations and varying his alignment to create mismatches in coverage.
Expect the rookie to produce some big games early in the season and then maintain a steady streak of consistently positive numbers.
The Jaguars Finish Above .500
There are signs that the Bradley-Caldwell regime has this franchise primed to shed its losing ways. How quickly the Jags become a winner seems to be the only question.
It's bold to say this team finishes above 8-8 in 2014, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. The defense has the potential to make huge strides, maybe even becoming a top-10 unit statistically.
Bradley's schemes, coupled with the addition of key personnel such as Clemons, Hood and Red Bryant, make defense a genuine team strength and potential game-winner.
But as positive as things look on that side of the ball, don't rule out the offense springing a few surprises. Gerhart was a smart signing who will bring consistency and efficiency to the ground attack.
That will be important in supporting whoever is under center. The quarterback rotation may not be set in stone, but this passing game will feature a host of exciting weapons.
Receivers like Lee, Robinson, Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders will pose a lot of challenges for opposing coverage schemes. Just as important will be the creative play-calling from Fisch, who knows how to get his playmakers into space.
Of course, at the moment all of this is theory. Even if each factor listed here plays out as predicted, the Jags would face a tough climb to a winning record.
If the new faces deliver what is expected, this team can shock the league in 2014 by accelerating its rebuilding program ahead of schedule.
Paul Posluszny Returns to the Pro Bowl
Paul Posluszny is the focal point of this defensive scheme. He is the savvy tackling machine positioned to flow to the ball wherever it goes.
He was outstanding in that role last season. He tallied 162 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble, per stats via NFL.com.
He has the chance to be even better in 2014, considering how much the Jaguars have upgraded the talent in front of him. In particular, he'll want to thank Bradley and Caldwell for acquiring ex-Seahawks end Red Bryant.
The 6'4", 323-pounder is a natural two-gap lineman who specializes in absorbing and occupying multiple blockers. Bryant's job is to keep linebackers clean, and few do it better than the mammoth 30-year-old.
Bryant will give Posluszny even more free lanes to attack downhill and pursue the ball. That will lead to some frankly awesome statistics and another Pro Bowl berth this season.
Johnathan Cyprien Will Make His First Pro Bowl
Expect to see dynamic young safety Johnathan Cyprien join Posluszny at the Pro Bowl. The team's second-round pick in 2013 will be a breakout player this year.
Cyprien is a fearsome hitter with good range. Those qualities let him be a force in the box as well as in coverage. The 23-year-old ex-Florida International ace will feature more in this season's defense.
He will show his versatility and skill as a safety who can lock up "move" tight ends in the slot. He'll also continue to be a major asset as a force player against the run.
Those efforts will fix him firmly in the minds of Pro Bowl voters.
Blake Bortles Will Start at Least 3 Games
Blake Bortles may be widely anticipated to sit, watch and learn during his rookie year. But the third overall pick in 2014 will see the field as a starter in at least three games.
Bradley has deemed veteran Chad Henne to be the starting quarterback more than once this offseason. But while Henne knows the system well and is capable of some big games, he is not the competent and dynamic starter the Jags will win with on a regular basis.
If Henne struggles to maximize the weapons at his disposal, Bradley won't be able to leave Bortles languishing on the bench. Both Bradley and Bortles endorsed the player's progress during OTAs, according to The Florida Times-Union writer Ryan O'Halloran.
Taking a steady approach to exposing the rookie to pro defenses is understandable. But that can't mask the fact he was drafted to be Jacksonville's franchise quarterback.
Despite the party line, the Jags won't wait too long to find out exactly what they've got in Bortles.
The Offensive Line Will Continue to Struggle
The Jacksonville offensive line was terrible in 2013. Don't expect that to change much once the new season begins.
Despite the addition of former Denver Broncos starter Zane Beadles, the group still looks suspect. He is a Pro Bowl left guard, but huge question marks remain on the right side, as well as at center.
It also remains to be seen exactly what last year's first-rounder Luke Joeckel can do. He began life in the NFL out of position at right tackle, before his rookie season was wrecked by a high ankle fracture.
Now he is back from surgery and returning to left tackle. But he is still essentially a rookie and a largely unknown quantity.
The Jaguars allowed 50 sacks and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush in 2013, per numbers from NFL.com. Not doing more to improve the talent up front was the one key mistake Bradley and Caldwell made this offseason.
It's one that will cost the team, as the current O-line will continue to be a major weakness.