To say rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence is walking into a challenging situation is an understatement. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a forgotten franchise as of late and have shown an inability to build a winning organization since owner Shahid Khan took over in 2011. Jacksonville requires a facelift, but can one player do it alone? Before selecting Lawrence to be the cornerstone of your fantasy franchise, let’s break down the situation he’s walking into and see how fantasy-relevant he can be.
This is a seven-part series covering the potential outlook of every rookie quarterback drafted in the first round. It covers the history of the franchise, the front office’s tendencies, the coaching staff’s ability to develop players, the player profile, roster construction, youth surrounding the player, and whether this quarterback is ready to be the cornerstone of your dynasty team. To check out the original article, click here!
The Beginning in Jacksonville
In 1995 the NFL gifted Charlotte and Jacksonville with two new franchises. Carolina got the Panthers and Jacksonville was the proud new home of the Jaguars. Jacksonville was founded by a group called Touchdown Jacksonville!, headed by Wayne Weaver. Throughout Weaver’s tenure, the organization was solid. They had six winning seasons (compared to Carolina’s four) and an overall record of 133-123 before selling the team halfway through the 2011 season.
Weaver believed in stability. He only had two head coaches and three quarterbacks throughout his 16-year tender. His teams were widely built on successful defenses and being efficient on offense. However, there was one massive issue: they mismanaged the salary cap, forcing their teams not to have depth and make untimely roster cuts. Regardless, the Jaguars franchise was somewhat stable until Khan purchased the organization.
From 2012 to 2020, the Jaguars had six or fewer wins in all but one season. The organization hasn’t drafted or developed well; they only have five players who signed their second contract with the team — two of them on one-year contracts. With a top-ten pick in eight seasons and a top-five in six of those, it shows just how bad they were.
In 2017 the Jaguars switched gears and overhauled the entire front office and coaching staff outside of general manager David Caldwell. They brought in former Giants coach Tom Coughlin, and the feeling around the organization changed the second he was hired. Immediately there was hope as they went 10-6 and made it to the conference championship.
The success was short-lived, however. Coughlin’s abrasive management style drove away players. 25-percent of the grievances filed in 2019 was against the Jaguars. Following 2017 they reverted to their losing ways finishing the next three years with only 12 total wins. After the NFL Players Association sent a notice to the Jaguars about the complaints, Coughlin was kicked to the curb. Doug Marrone and Caldwell followed suit one year later. The Jaguars were back to square one, but this time they had the top pick.
The New Light
After firing Caldwell in November, director of pro personnel Trent Baalke was made intern general manager and later officially hired as the general manager moving forward. His six-year stint in the position with the 49ers was rather impressive in terms of drafting talent. He regularly found value across all seven rounds and rarely had misses at the top of the draft. But, Baalke’s tenure was tainted by the coaches he put in charge following Jim Harbaugh and the exodus of talent prior to the start of the 2015 season.
Going into 2015, the 49ers fired Harbaugh, saw defensive studs Justin Smith, Chris Borland, and Patrick Willis retire, cut Aldon Smith, and lost eight starters under 30 to free agency. After hiring defensive line coach Jim Tomsula as head coach, their future looked bleak. He led the team to a 5-11 record and was fired one year after.
Baalke wrote his final paycheck when he hired former Eagles coach Chip Kelly to lead the team. A 2-14 finish and a lost connection with his peers sealed his fate. Following the 2016 season, Baalke worked as an NFL operations consultant before making his way back to the Jaguars.
Baalke’s skill sets are quite clear: Focus on getting talent. He didn’t sustain with the 49ers because both he and Harbaugh were known for sticking to business and not building relationships. Building relationships is something Jaguars new head coach Urban Meyer specializing in — almost to a fault.
Lawrence’s New Coach
Meyer had great relationships with his players and coaches but arguably to a fault. He left Florida in 2010 with over 30 player arrests, drug problems, and issues with his coaching staff. He took a year off before joining Ohio State and soon ran into similar issues. The repercussions never came to light as they were just allegations, but at what point does one draw the line?
With all of his issues of allowing a renegade-type lockerroom, he still had enormous success. He led both programs to multiple bowl games and he is only one of three coaches to win National Championships with two different universities. Will his style co-exist with Baalke and work in the NFL?
What arouses curiosity is how Meyer and Baalke are constructing this team. They surrounded Lawrence with pass-catchers in the draft and free agency while still having weapons on the offense. It’s a situation worth monitoring as both Meyer and offensive play-caller Darrel Bevell have won through the running game.
As I wrote in an article discussing D.J. Chark’s upside for PlayerProfiler.com, “Bevell was the offensive coordinator who helped Russel Wilson achieve a 7.8 adjusted yards per attempt while he was in Seattle. He then goes to Detroit, where (Matt) Stafford only hit 7.8 once in ten years. Stafford went on to beat that mark in two consecutive years. Although he has seen wild success with quarterback efficiency, he has been asked to run offenses which feature the run. There have only been five offenses which weren’t in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts since taking over as the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2006.”
“Meyers offenses in college also tended to operate through the run game. There’s one significant stat to note. Both Meyer and Bevell’s defenses have been dominant. Outside of Bevell’s time with Detroit, there’s only been one time where his team’s defense wasn’t in the top half of the league in points allowed. As for Meyer, the worst his defense has finished was 33rd of 120. They won’t have the same luxury with a rebuilding Jacksonville defense.”
In 2020, Jacksonville was both 31st in points and yards allowed on defense. The organization drafted three defensive players in the first three rounds so there will be a learning curve, but in 2021 they spent less than 50-percent of their picks on defense. In free agency they were more aggressive. However, according to Pro Football Focus, their top three defensive players signed finished 25th, 45th, and 74th at their positions. In other words, don’t expect significant growth immediately. The Jaguars are going to be in negative game scripts more often than not.
The Jaguars seem like they have a plan in place to keep games competitive. Although they rostered Chark, Laviska Shenault, and Collin Johnson, they signed Mavin Jones Jr and Phillip Dorsett in free agency, drafted Jalen Camp, then acquired undrafted free agent Josh Imatorbhebhe. All of the new additions have a combination of burst and speed, allowing them to get behind defenders. These skill-sets work well in four-wide personnel packages and could give Lawrence plenty of opportunity for big plays.
Lawrence is arguably one of the best prospects to come out of college. His accolades are endless; his ability to win is undeniable. Lawrence has improved every year since starting as a freshman. There will be some things Bevell needs to work with him such as his deep-ball placement, consistency under pressure, and reading the entire field, but overall, he is ready to take over in the NFL.
When building your dynasty with a quarterback early, the biggest thing is making sure he offers upside in all aspects. You’d be disappointed in a player like Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield because he’s in a run-heavy offense without him having rushing upside. There are exceptions, but as more quarterbacks tend to run, the gap will continue to widen for the top-tier quarterbacks.
In Lawrence’s final two years, he rushed for 766 and 17 touchdowns in just 25 games. He has the arm and will have to pass, but even if he sees pressure or this team turns run-heavy, Lawrence has the ability to escape the pocket or run the option. Early in his career, he will use his legs more often than most expect. Ten of his games this season are teams who should rank in the top ten in quarterback pressures.
What Lawrence Should Expect from the Organization
Steve Spurrier was another college coach who entered the league in 2002 with Washington. His Fun “N” Gun offense was thought to be revolutionary. However, Spurrier struggled with personnel decisions and an inability to discipline his players due to owner Dan Snyder’s involvement with the team. Spurrier resigned from Washington after just two seasons.
What happened in Washington is quite the opposite of what could occur in Jacksonville. Baalke is more strict, while Meyer lets his players get away with things most organizations wouldn’t. Either way, if both aren’t on the same page, we could see things fall apart quickly.
It’s also fun to compare their first drafts. The only difference in positions taken was a linebacker instead of offensive line (and fullback). This coincidence shouldn’t be weighed into the decision and is purely speculative.
If Bevell wasn’t there, I’d be much more concerned. However, as mentioned above, Bevell helped develop Wilson and got the most out of Stafford. As long as Bevell remains, Lawrence will continuously progress regardless of the dysfunction.
Jacksonville’s Roster Construction Surrounding Lawrence
Jacksonville invested heavily in defense in 2020. Six of their first eight – with three of their first four – were on defense. These picks on defense allowed them to go more offense-heavy early on to give Lawrence his Clemson running back Travis Ettiene and protection with tackle Walker Little. Also discussed was the investments at receiver.
Little is a better pass blocker than run, which is why he’s projected at left tackle. However, Jacksonville was mediocre at blocking last year, the primary reason being right tackle Jawaan Taylor. It would be a considerable advantage if Little could contribute immediately. Still, there’s one major issue: he only played one full year in college due to a knee injury and COVID.
If Lawrence constantly sees pressure in his face and doesn’t adjust, he could be in for a long season. Offensive line coach Greg Warhop does alright with the offensive line when he has talent, but he is no Bill Callahan. This offense should work off the play action, run-pass option, and quick releases for him to succeed. As mentioned above, Lawrence can run.
Looking forward, there is a ton of talent at the skill positions. Shenault and Chark could be studs as Johnson, Camp, and company continue to develop. With eight picks in 2022, Jacksonville should continue to invest in the offensive line and tight end positions. Improving them and developing their young studs could lead to a lethal offense beyond 2021. Lawrence and this roster are in a dream scenario in terms of talent.
Lawrence’s Development with Youth
Chemistry with the pass catchers, along with their utilization, is crucial. With draft capital invested in Shenault and Chark, it would behoove Meyer to focus on utilizing their skill set instead of forcing them into a role that doesn’t best suit them. If he does decide to move on from Chark, it does get interesting.
If Chark plays well, the better decision would be to select an offensive lineman. But, if Jacksonville moves on from him and the cards fall right, Jacksonville could be looking at another one of Lawrence’s college teammates. 6-4, 205-pound receiver Justyn Ross could be a dream scenario. He outproduced Tee Higgins in his freeman year and still had an excellent sophomore year. After a neck injury sidelined him for 2020, Ross decided to return to school. If he shines in 2020 and Jacksonville exceeds expectations, Ross could be the top receiver in a potentially dynamic offense come 2022. Regardless of what happens, Lawrence will be paired with at least one dynamic pass catcher for a while.
Lawrence’s Future Outlook
Jacksonville’s organization makes me more nervous than it probably should. Baalke has a hard time getting along with peers; Meyer has a very undisciplined style of coaching. However, there is an ultra-talented quarterback with a winning history in an organization willing to surround him with talent. There’s an experienced offensive coordinator, not to mention a weak defensive division.
All in all, he’s slightly riskier than expected, but the upside is still there. Lawrence is absolutely worth the investment to build your dynasty around. However, if you can get a haul to move back a spot or two, it’s worth exploring. Maybe Lance could be safer in an organization with Kyle Shannahan calling the plays. Maybe Matt Nagy can figure it out with Justin Fields. These are questions I will have answers to on the upcoming articles of Stabilize Your Future!
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