Before 2017, the last time the Jaguars made the playoffs was 2007. In that nine-year playoff absence, they went 42-102 never finishing above .500 in a season, and had just one 8-8 campaign. Every other season was an under .500 season including a 2-14 season in 2012. They had three head coaches and two interim head coaches in that nine-year span. That 42-102 record is a result of consistent miscues at the NFL Draft. The Jaguars’ made some really bad picks in those years that set them up for failure down the road. They constantly finished at the bottom of the league from 2012-2016. Their record in that span was 18-63. The 2013 draft was a real chance for the Jaguars to turn their franchise around, but they let it go to waste.
Like I mentioned, the Jaguars went 2-14 in 2012 and that was good for the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft. The Kansas City Chiefs also went 2-14 and claimed the #1 pick in the draft. This ended up being a bad year for the Jaguars to have a top pick. The top of the draft was not loaded with skill positions. A lot of promising offensive linemen were available at the top. A lot of the skilled players such as Le’Veon Bell, Darius Slay, and Tyrann Mathieu went later in the draft and were not projected as the top pick. No one was clamoring for an offensive lineman, so the Jaguars had no good offers to trade back in the draft for more draft picks. They decided to pick OT Luke Joeckel hoping he could be the Jaguars’ Joe Thomas. Luke Joeckel was a huge swing and a miss. Joeckel only lasted a couple seasons on the Jaguars and is currently a free agent in the NFL. They had the chance to draft Lane Johnson with the #2 pick, but they went Joeckel instead and they paid the price. The Jaguars had eight picks in the 2013 NFL Draft and zero of those players are currently Jaguars and only one of those eight players is currently in the NFL. This was a loaded draft, so the Jaguars did miss big here. They could have gone Lane Johnson or Ezekiel Ansah with the 2nd overall pick, Darius Slay and Zach Ertz were available at 33, and Tyrann Mathieu was available at pick #64. The Jaguars were in position to load up in this draft, but they could not capitalize on their draft position.
The Jaguars could have been competing a lot sooner than 2017. They whiffed on their picks and endured a couple more losing seasons. Their bad draft class caused them to go 3-13 in the 2013 season. This gave them the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 draft. This draft class went a lot better. They took Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall pick. Bortles just played a fantastic game against the Patriots on Sunday, and has shown flashes with several high passing yard season, but he has not shown 3rd overall pick talent in his first four seasons in the NFL. The Jaguars could have gone Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Anthony Barr, or Odell Beckham Jr. with that pick, but they went Bortles instead. Their best picks in that draft came in the third and fifth rounds. They went with C Brandon Linder in the third round and LB Telvin Smith in the fifth round. Linder has strengthened the Jags’ offensive line and Telvin Smith has added speed and strength to the linebacker corps. The Jaguars used two second round picks on WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Robinson had a few good seasons while in Jacksonville, but he got injured and only played in one game last season and has now departed to Chicago. Marqise Lee became the Jaguars’ number one receiver, but he went down with an injury and will be out for the remainder of the year.
The 2015 draft also led to some big misses for the Jaguars. They once again had the 3rd overall pick and went with DE Dante Fowler Jr. this time. Dante Fowler Jr tore his ACL in training camp of his rookie year and missed the entire 2015 season. He has not developed into the impact player that the Jaguars thought he would, and the injury could have played a part in that. Fowler has been relegated to backup duty and did not have his fifth-year option picked up, so he will be a free agent at the end of this season. DEs Leonard Williams and Vic Beasley were available with the third overall pick. WR Amari Cooper and RB Todd Gurley were also available at #3. The Jaguars selected T.J. Yeldon with their second-round pick and that has not turned out. Yeldon has been good, but he has not developed into a viable starter. He fits better in the third down running back role rather than the primary guy. Their best pick in that draft came in the third round. They selected G A.J. Cann and he joined Brandon Linder in helping the Jaguars build a dependable offensive line.
The 2016 season is where the Jaguars turned their franchise around. There were two reasons why the Jaguars were able get back on top of the league. One of the reasons is they finally hit on top draft picks. The Jags went 5-11 in 2015 to give them the 5th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Jalen Ramsey, maybe the best talent in that draft, fell to them at #5. Ramsey has developed into one of the best if not the best cornerback in the league. The Jaguars did not stop there. They took a chance on drafting Myles Jack, who had knee problems and might not have been ready to play week one and might also have knee troubles down the road in his NFL career. Myles Jack was a first-round talent who fell to the second round because of his knee problems. Jack has stayed healthy and has been a phenomenal LB for the Jaguars. The Jaguars did not stop there- they went with DE Yannick Ngakoue with their third-round pick and he has become a starter and Pro Bowl player for them. Ngakoue has made Dante Fowler expendable with his level of play.
The Jaguars did go 3-13 the next year, but that was not the fault of the defense built through the draft. The offense could not be relied on to score. The Jaguars addressed this offensive problem with the fourth overall pick in the draft. They went with Leonard Fournette and he opened up the offense. Fournette ran for over 1,000 yards in his rookie year and helped set up the passing game for Bortles. Bortles had to carry the offense before Fournette showed up and Bortles could not be relied on to make that happen. Fournette is making it easier for Bortles to pass. The offense was further helped with the draft pick of OT Cam Robinson in the second round and WR Dede Westbrook in the fourth round. Cam Robinson was the final piece to the Jaguars’ offensive line and set up holes for Leonard Fournette perfectly. Dede Westbrook gave Bortles another receiving threat to help make some big plays. Hitting on the high draft picks helped the Jaguars, but it did not push them over the edge.
The final piece of the Jaguars’ success came in the 2017 free agency. They added veteran players like CB A.J. Bouye, DE Calais Campbell, and S Barry Church to help finalize that defense. Campbell gave the Jags 14.5 sacks, Bouye gave them a second lock down corner to shut down the passing game, and Church added a knowledgeable presence to the Jags secondary. It is not impossible to build through the draft, but it helps to compliment your draft picks with free agent signings. It gives you some experienced players to help teach your young draft picks and it adds some proven players who will make a difference for your team. Campbell, Bouye, and Church played an important role in the Jaguars 2017 playoff season. The Jaguars might not have gone 10-6 if they did not add these players. The Jaguars experienced a lot of failure in the last five years, but they capped it off with a trip to the AFC Championship in 2017. The Jaguars just pulled off a convincing win against the New England Patriots and should be considered favorites in the AFC as well as favorites to win the Super Bowl. They went from a bottom of the league team to a Super Bowl caliber team by making good draft picks at the top of the draft as well as signing big name free agents to their team.