|Posted on January 13, 2018 at 11:25 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Jacksonville Jaguars have seen a lot in 23 seasons.
They have been at the bottom of the National Football League (NFL) standings, and at the top of the NFL Draft.
Some draft picks chosen high have not panned out.
But there have also been moments to remember, like consistently making the postseason early on and draft picks that have worked out.
It is easy to look at the overall picture of positives and negatives and think that the Jaguars' history leans more on the trying times than the celebrations.
However, Jacksonville fans have had reason to be hopeful in their city's history on the gridiron.
No other NFL franchise that has entered the league at the same time or after the Jaguars began their storyline as well as the Jaguars.
The Carolina Panthers, who also entered in 1995, advanced to the postseason in a mere one of their first eight seasons in the NFL.
The Baltimore Ravens, who were the original Cleveland Browns that were moved to Maryland in 1996, failed to attain a place in the playoffs in their first four seasons in the league before winning the Super Bowl in their fifth year.
The new version of the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that brought football back to Cleveland in 1999, has been to the postseason once in the past 19 seasons from 1999 to 2017.
The Houston Texans, who came into the league in 2002, did not advance to a spot in the postseason in any of their first nine seasons of play.
Jacksonville, however, attained a place in the playoffs in four of their first five seasons of existence, including knocking on the door of the Super Bowl twice, losing in the AFC Championship to the Titans in the 1996-97 season and the Patriots in the 1999-00 season.
But the Jaguars followed with a five-year drought before getting back to the playoffs in two out of three seasons between the 2005-06 and 2007-08 campaigns.
Then, Jacksonville went nine straight seasons without stamping their ticket to the postseason and had not won a playoff game since the 2007-08 season.
That drought came to an end when the Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, January 7th, of this year, which marked their first time hosting a playoff game since 2000, their first trip to the postseason since 2007-08, and first win in the playoffs since 2007-08.
This win has been brewing underneath a whole lot of frustration and struggling over the years, and a close look at the Jaguars will show that.
After making the postseason in the 2007-08 season, the Jaguars spent 39 draft picks from 2008 to 2013 on players that are no longer on the roster, clearing out all 39 pieces that did not fit into a postseason berth within a five-year span of subpar performance.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, Jacksonville began making moves that would pay off dividends in their build toward where they currently stand.
The team's first six draft picks in 2014 are not only all on the current roster, they have also all found themselves in meaningful playing time, when speaking of quarterback Blake Bortles (1st Round, 3rd Overall), wide receivers Marqise Lee (2nd Round, 39th Overall) and Allen Robinson (2nd Round, 61st Overall), center Brandon Linder (3rd Round, 93rd Overall), cornerback Aaron Colvin (4th Round, 114th Overall), and linebacker Telvin Smith (5th Round, 144th Overall).
Jacksonville added to their successful 2014 draft with defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. (1st Round, 3rd Overall), running back T.J. Yeldon (2nd Round, 36th Overall), and right guard A.J. Cann (3rd Round, 67th Overall) in 2015, all of whom have been starters for the team in their young history. The Jaguars' seventh-round selection, tight end Ben Koyack, chosen 229th overall, scored the touchdown that separated the team from the Bills in the recent Wild Card Round game to help propel Jacksonville into the Divisional Round versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their top three picks in the 2016 draft are all current starters for the team, with Jalen Ramsey (1st Round, 5th Overall) at cornerback, Myles Jack (2nd Round, 36th Overall) at linebacker, and Yannick Ngakoue (3rd Round, 69th Overall), at defensive end.
The 2017 draft ended with the Jaguars having selected running back Leonard Fournette (1st Round, 4th Overall), left tackle Cam Robinson (2nd Round, 34th Overall), defensive end Dawuane Smoot (3rd Round, 68th Overall), wide receiver Dede Westbrook (4th Round, 110th Overall), and linebacker Blair Brown (5th Round, 148th Overall), with all given playing time in their rookie campaigns of 2017-18. Fournette became only the second running back in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his rookie season, the other being Fred Taylor. Not to go unnoticed, Robinson aided Fournette in achieving this feat, reminiscent of former Jaguars' left tackle Tony Boselli helping Taylor to gain opportunities to advance the ball. Smoot, Westbrook, and Brown have all gotten involved on the field in rotation in their first chance at action in the NFL.
On top of all of the aid they have received through selecting well in the last four drafts, Jacksonville has also made positive moves in recent transactions, including the signing of defensive tackle Malik Jackson after he was a part of the 2016 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos' team, defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye, strong safety Barry Church, free safety Tashaun Gipson, and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, just speaking on the defense alone, a defense that ranks in the top four in the nation in six categories this season. The Jaguars head into their match-up with the Steelers first in the country in yards allowed per play (4.61), first in passing yards allowed per game (169.9), second in total yards allowed per game (286.1), second in points per game ( 16.8 ), second in redzone touchdown percentage allowed (39.3%), and fourth in third-down percentage completion allowed (33.6%). They are also +10 in the turnover margin, good for fifth in the country.
Looking to the other side of the ball, Jacksonville is in the top six of 32 NFL teams in five offensive categories so far this season. The Jaguars are first in the country in rushing yards per game (141.4), second in redzone touchdown percentage (64%), fifth in points per game (26.1), fifth in time of possession average per game (31:47), and sixth in total yards per game (365.9).
A team that combined to have 11 wins from 2014-15 through 2016-17 has matched that victory total in this season alone.
It was easy to overlook the moves that were being made over the last four seasons because the win-loss column was not looking favorable for the Jaguars.
But a deeper look at the numerous moves being made in free agency, trades, and the draft clearly shows how the Jaguars have been stragetically making steps in the right direction in recent years to place themselves exactly where they are now, in the playoffs and clawing away at not only matching their historical mile-markers, but rather, surpassing them.