Projected Jacksonville Jaguars' Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The Jacksonville Jaguars hope training camp heralds the start of a strong second season under head coach Gus Bradley. Along with general manager David Caldwell, Bradley has been overhauling what was a thin and aging roster when he took over last season.
With the 2014 NFL season fast approaching, Bradley and Caldwell have revamped the defense and found the future face of the franchise in rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
But those moves don't tell the whole story of how different things are in Jacksonville. Optimism about the new campaign will abound when the team begins training camp on Monday, July 21. That's when the rookies come through the doors of the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. The veterans join them on Thursday, July 24, per schedule information via NFL.com.
Here's a pre-camp breakdown of how the final 53-man roster should look.
Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Stephen Morris
Cut: Ricky Stanzi
The job is Chad Henne's...at least for now. Yet that still seems a strange choice when considering the decision to draft Blake Bortles third overall in the 2014 NFL draft.
However, Bradley has been consistent about the idea of Henne staying his starter, per NFL.com's Mike Coppinger. Supporters of that choice will likely point to Henne's experience with the schemes of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
However, that's a slightly overblown idea. Henne was solid at times in 2013 but was also still guilty of his traditional follies. He threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13).
The Jags are banking a lot on Henne reaping the benefits of new options at wide receiver. It might just be smarter to trust Bortles from the start, affording him the chance to learn alongside a new-look supporting cast.
If Jacksonville endures another losing season with Henne at the helm, not much will be gained. Yet even a rough debut year is likely to be invaluable experience for the player who is ultimately tasked with making this franchise a consistent winner.
As for the third-string role, expect undrafted free agent Stephen Morris to knock Ricky Stanzi off the roster. Morris is a strong-armed but extremely raw prospect. He has the basic physical attributes that coaches look for.
Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Bradie Ewing (FB)
Cut: Storm Johnson, Terrance Cobb, Beau Blankenship, Will Ta'ufo'ou
This position has a Maurice Jones-Drew-shaped hole at the heart of it. Fortunately, new arrival Toby Gerhart can fill the void.
The ex-Minnesota Vikings backup has feature-back potential. That's something Bradley is reportedly counting on. The coach has called for his new groundhog to target 18 carries per game, according to Pro Football Talk writer Mike Wilkening.
Gerhart has the frame for that kind of workload. The task for Bradley and Fisch is to identify the right speedy complement for the 6'0", 231-pound bruiser.
One of the better candidates has to be Denard Robinson. He has recommitted to playing running back full time this season.
The early signs have been positive. Robinson has improved his ability to hold onto the ball. He also now has a more clearly defined role in the offense, per Fox News:
The Jaguars have settled on Robinson's role. There's no experimenting with him on punt/kick returns or at quarterback. Sure, he still might take a snap from the wildcat formation or maybe make a short throw as part of a trick play, but he's unlikely to heave the ball downfield or even be asked to get out in pass routes.
Most everything he's doing now is from the backfield, whether he's taking handoffs, pitches or short passes and then using his speed in space.
That's a description that fits a natural third-down back. Robinson's likelihood of winning the job can all but doom the hopes of seventh-round draft pick Storm Johnson.
A college teammate of Bortles, Johnson simply isn't well-rounded enough to be a factor in this rotation. That's something Bradley hinted at shortly after the draft, per ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco:
Seventh-round pick Storm Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite, but he was taken that late for a reason. Moments after drafting him, coach Gus Bradley said Johnson really struggles in pass protection and he also has trouble holding onto the football.
If there's no room for Johnson, there certainly won't be any for rookie free agents Terrance Cobb and Beau Blankenship. But one player who will stick around is Jordan Todman. He's a steady receiver and a decent runner who can also return kicks. That's useful versatility on any team.
There will also be change at fullback this season. Former Atlanta Falcons draftee Bradie Ewing will replace Will Ta'ufo'ou. He'll form a punishing lead blocker for the equally stout Gerhart.
The Jags are banking a lot on Gerhart being able to become a true workhorse. If that gamble pays off, this team will have a fearsome smashmouth rushing attack.
Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee, Ace Sanders, Allen Robinson, Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor
Cuts: Tandon Doss, Nathan Slaughter, Chad Bumphis, Damian Copeland, Allen Hurns, Lamaar Thomas
This position group can be a pleasant surprise this season. Incumbent trio Cecil Shorts III, Ace Sanders and Mike Brown can all make big plays. They also suit the creative schemes of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
However, there's no denying the Jags need some imposing size and top-end speed at this position. Second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson will add those vital qualities.
Lee, who recently agreed to terms on his rookie contract, per Jaguars.com reporter John Oehser, could be a dynamic playmaker if he can stay healthy. Expect to see both him and Robinson quickly grow into prominent roles in this passing game.
As for those who fail to avoid final cuts, only Allen Hurns has a chance to change coaches' minds during camp. The undrafted free agent impressed both Bradley and Henne during OTAs and minicamp, per Fox Sports Florida's Ken Hornack.
Meanwhile, Doss' ability to return kicks, along with his 6'2", 205-pound frame, could be an asset. However, he must prove he can stay off the injured list.
At this point, bet on Hurns landing on the practice squad, while Doss won't do enough to avoid being a late cut.
Clay Harbor, Marcedes Lewis, Marcel Jensen
Cuts: Reggie Jordan, D.J. Tialavea, Brandon Barden
It would help the Jaguars passing game if there was more production from the tight ends. Both Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor offer excellent size and solid move skills in what should be a prolific rotation.
Harbor has a little more potential to be moved around formations than the more classically in-line Lewis. The former's role should expand in this season's offense.
Finding a suitable third choice won't be easy, despite a plethora of options. Marcel Jensen has the best chance.
The bruising rookie free agent could be a matchup nightmare if he adds some agility and nuance as a receiver to complement his massive frame. Initially, the 6'6", 259-pounder can help out as a supplementary blocker in ground schemes that will be based on power.
Among the cuts will be Reggie Jordan. However, this wide receiver-sized tight end will push Jensen to the brink and should find himself on the practice squad not long after the final 53 are set.
Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, Mike Brewster, Austin Pasztor, Brandon Linder, Sam Young, Cameron Bradfield, Luke Bowanko
Cuts: Tyler Shatley, Josh Wells, Drew Novak, Matt Stankiewitch, Jacques McClendon, Patrick Lewis
The main interest along the O-line will be the potential emergence of Luke Joeckel. The second player taken in the 2013 NFL draft had his rookie season wrecked by an ankle injury after just five games.
It was a cruel blow for the ex-Texas A&M standout. He had begun life in the pros at right tackle but switched back to his natural left side just prior to the injury.
ESPN Insider Todd McShay (h/t ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco) believes Joeckel will be the key player on this O-line:
This is for two reasons. First, Joeckel is a high-level talent who was the No. 1 prospect in our 2013 rankings. He has quick feet, good balance, and lateral agility as a pass protector, and he has excellent first-step quickness and great range as a run-blocker. Second, the Jaguars need some serious help on the offensive line, having given up 50 sacks last season (31st in the NFL) and average just 3.3 yards per carry (also 31st).
Given his potential significance, it's encouraging that Joeckel appeared fresh and healthy during OTAs, according to DiRocco. The Jags need him to dominate at this vital slot.
His efforts will be helped by the arrival of former Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Zane Beadles. A scrappy and intelligent guard, Beadles is being counted on as a steadying leader this season, per TDDaily.com. This young group could use that type of positive influence.
Things are less clear on the right, with major question marks at both guard and tackle. Depth is at least strong, particularly in terms of numbers.
Versatile rookies Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko will ensure there is ample cover at every position along the interior.
Chris Clemons, Andre Branch, Chris Smith, Red Bryant, Tyson Alualu, Roy Miller, Sen'Derrick Marks, Ziggy Hood, Deandre Coleman, Ryan Davis
Cuts: Gerald Rivers, Abry Jones, Jordan Miller, Ricky Havili-Heimuli
This is easily the most loaded area on the roster. Bradley and Caldwell have done excellent work in stockpiling talent for the various positions along their multiple front.
Part of that work involved snaring two former Seattle Seahawks starters, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, this offseason. Both will start in Jacksonville.
Clemons will occupy the critical "Leo" role as a roving, hybrid pass-rusher from either a defensive end or linebacker stance. Bryant will work on the other side as the "Elephant" of this front seven.
The 6'4", 323-pounder will operate as a 5-technique and be tasked with absorbing and controlling multiple blockers. Bryant will play a major role in improving last season's 29th-ranked run defense.
Cover at these positions will be key, particularly behind Clemons. Bradley knows that he needs a strong rotation of quality pass-rushers in an AFC South division featuring the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck.
Fortunately, young stud Andre Branch is primed for a breakout year in this scheme. Bradley can also groom fifth-round pick Chris Smith as a potential future successor to Clemons.
The head coach would also be wise to keep Ryan Davis around. The 260-pounder has some pass-rush chops and is lean enough to work at outside linebacker if needed.
A capable quartet of pass-rushers should ensure there's no repeat of the anemic pressure defense that registered just 31 sacks last season.
Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks will continue to do fine work along the inside. Miller is a stout and underrated two-gap nose tackle.
By contrast, Marks is a useful 3-technique pass-rusher. He'll receive ample support from former Pittsburgh Steelers draftee Ziggy Hood.
Hood could operate at multiple spots in this scheme. His 3-4 experience in the Steel City could allow him to play some snaps as a 5-technique in Jacksonville. However, his ability to split gaps and create inside pressure will make him a good choice for D-tackle in Bradley's nickel schemes.
Also keep an eye out for undrafted free agent Deandre Coleman. The 6'3", 315-pounder played in a hybrid scheme at California and has the size to back up both Bryant and Miller.
There's real strength along the defensive front this season. This deep and formidable rotation can be the catalyst for a surprisingly stout unit.
Paul Posluszny, Geno Hayes, Dekoda Watson, Telvin Smith, LaRoy Reynolds, J.T. Thomas
Cuts: Marcus Whitfield, John Lotulelei, Nate Stupar, Allen Bradford
This group will be one of the chief beneficiaries of the potential dominance up front. Specifically, middle 'backer Paul Posluszny could exceed even his own prolific standards.
The tackling machine in the middle should be kept clean more often with Bryant controlling double-teams. That will let Posluszny do what he does best—roam the field and hunt down the ball.
As has often been the case throughout his career, the situation at either side of Posluszny remains uncertain. Bradley's plans have been affected by the surgery undergone by new acquisition Dekoda Watson.
Bradley had been counting on Watson to play the new "Otto" position, a pass-rushing role on the strong side of the base defense. Watson could now find himself on the PUP list at the start of camp, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
Fortunately, O'Halloran also noted that Watson is still expected to be ready for Week 1. That means he's still being counted on as a definite starter.
But Watson's status isn't the only cause for concern here. Weak-side 'backer Geno Hayes underwent knee surgery earlier this offseason. His range and mobility will be under close scrutiny during camp.
Hayes will be under greater pressure to perform thanks to the presence of Telvin Smith. The fifth-round pick made a positive impression during OTAs, according to Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union:
On Friday, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Smith reacted quickly to a check-down pass, showing off his burst. Later in the practice, he was responsible for second-round pick Marqise Lee in the slot. Quarterback Blake Bortles, the third-overall pick, looked to Lee the whole play while rolling out, but Smith had Lee covered. Bortles kept the ball, running out of bounds. Babich ran 20 yards to go celebrate with Smith.
Smith boasts the type of quickness and nifty athleticism that Bradley covets at this position.
Depth is offered by LaRoy Reynolds and J.T. Thomas. The latter's work on special teams will primarily keep him on the final roster.
Johnathan Cyprien, Winston Guy, Josh Evans, Craig Loston
Cuts: Chris Prosinski, Joe Young, Sherrod Martin, Jerome Junior
The Jaguars have one jewel at the safety position, while the rest of the rotation is dubious. The gem is second-year strong safety Johnathan Cyprien.
He is a dynamic, "Joker-style" playmaker who is capable of impacting the game from every level of the defense. NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling believes Cyprien can take on even more responsibility this season:
It's reasonable to believe he will emerge as the premier player on a defense lacking in stars. The Jaguars desperately need Cyprien to graduate to a higher level as the quarterback of the defense, a moveable chess piece capable of blitzing effectively, controlling the line of scrimmage and patrolling the middle of the field.
Wesseling's description of Cyprien as a potential "quarterback" of this defense is a reference to the expectation that Caldwell set for the player last preseason.
But while few would dispute Cyprien is a budding young star, there's also no denying things are weak at free safety. Ex-Seahawk Winston Guy is experienced in Bradley's schemes and a willing hitter. Those attributes should give him the job despite his obvious limitations in coverage.
In reserve, 2013 sixth-round pick Josh Evans will hold onto his roster spot by his fingernails. He could be joined by undrafted free agent Craig Loston, whose appetite for big hits should help him stand out above uninspiring incumbents like Chris Prosinski.
However, the presence of both Evans and Loston will serve as an indictment of the lack of quality cover at this position.
Will Blackmon, Alan Ball, Dwayne Gratz, Jeremy Harris, Jamell Fleming, Aaron Colvin
Cuts: Rashaad Reynolds, Mike Harris
Due to the threadbare nature of things at safety, the Jags would be smart to keep the cornerback position loaded. That's especially relevant considering fourth-round pick Aaron Colvin will likely begin his debut pro season on the PUP list, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union:
Selected in the fourth round (No. 114 overall), Colvin, 23, had 234 tackles and five interceptions in 50 games (36 starts) for Oklahoma. He was projected as a second-round pick until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a Senior Bowl practice on Jan. 21. Colvin had surgery six days later.
But during his short stay in Mobile, Ala., he made an impression on the Jaguars, whose coaching staff ran Colvin’s Senior Bowl team.
Colvin will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he won’t count against the 90-man roster limit. If he remains on the PUP list to start the regular season, he won’t be eligible to play for six weeks.
A deep rotation also makes sense when considering the schedule features games against the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. All three possess strong passing attacks. There's also the small matter of facing Luck and the Colts twice.
So the Jaguars could find themselves relying on their nickel front and deploying three cornerbacks a lot this season. However, Bradley doesn't have the physical dominance at the position to quite carry off the press-based schemes he installed while running the defense in Seattle.
What he does have is a solid group of willing scrappers and opportunistic zone defenders. Among them is the likely starting pair of Will Blackmon and Alan Ball. This steady duo will be pushed for snaps by last season's third-round pick Dwayne Gratz.
Behind that trio, expect Bradley to keep Jeremy Harris and Jamell Fleming around. Fleming is stout and has an aggressive demeanor. Meanwhile, the 6'2" Harris has the height that Bradley covets on the outside.
Josh Scobee (K), Bryan Anger (P), Todman/Robinson (KR), Robinson (PR), Carson Tinker (LS)
Cuts: Charley Hughlett, Kasey Redfern
Football's third phase is very solid in Jacksonville, except for a few question marks in the return game. They concern who can add genuine dynamism in this area.
Todman is solid with kicks, but this team needs a feared punt returner. Robinson could help in that area, as could sixth wideout Kerry Taylor.
The specialists are dependable pair Josh Scobee and Bryan Anger. Few teams in the NFL are as set at these positions as the Jags.
The coverage units will be aided by the strong depth at cornerback. Linebackers Thomas and Smith will also make an impact. Reserve Leo ends Davis and Chris Smith will be expected to do the same.
Projected Final 53-Man Roster
Here's the full projection for the final 53-man roster. The roster is presented alphabetically by position:
|Tyson Alualu||Defensive Line|
|Andre Branch||Defensive Line|
|Red Bryant||Defensive Line|
|Chris Clemons||Defensive Line|
|Deandre Coleman||Defensive Line|
|Ryan Davis||Defensive Line|
|Ziggy Hood||Defensive Line|
|Sen'Derrick Marks||Defensive Line|
|Roy Miller||Defensive Line|
|Chris Smith||Defensive Line|
|Carson Tinker||Long Snapper|
|Zane Beadles||Offensive Line|
|Luke Bowanko||Offensive Line|
|Cameron Bradfield||Offensive Line|
|Mike Brewster||Offensive Line|
|Luke Joeckel||Offensive Line|
|Brandon Linder||Offensive Line|
|Austin Pasztor||Offensive Line|
|Sam Young||Offensive Line|
|Bradie Ewing||Running Back|
|Toby Gerhart||Running Back|
|Denard Robinson||Running Back|
|Jordan Todman||Running Back|
|Clay Harbor||Tight End|
|Marcel Jensen||Tight End|
|Marcedes Lewis||Tight End|
|Mike Brown||Wide Receiver|
|Marqise Lee||Wide Receiver|
|Allen Robinson||Wide Receiver|
|Ace Sanders||Wide Receiver|
|Cecil shorts III||Wide Receiver|
|Kerry Taylor||Wide Receiver|
The Jags are certainly stronger than they were in 2013. There is plenty of youthful potential on offense, while the defense will benefit from the arrival of experienced playmakers up front.
However, success or failure still hinges on the play at quarterback. If Bradley's team is really ready to win now, then starting Henne makes sense.
But if another year of transition awaits, then Bortles should be under center sooner rather than later.
All statistics via NFL.com, unless otherwise stated.