This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Tom Coughlin's first year as executive VP of football operations saw the Jaguars go from 3-13 and drafting No. 4 overall to being minutes away from a Super Bowl berth. Doug Marrone returns one of the deepest rosters in the NFL and will face lofty expectations for his second season as head coach.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
NO ALLENS? NO PROBLEM
The Jaguars lost a talented duo in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns this offseason, but still feature a group of quality young wideouts. The Allens battled injuries in 2017, with Robinson tearing his ACL in Week 1 and Hurns playing in only 10 games and accruing 484 receiving yards. Donte Moncrief was signed to a one-year contract to help fill the void after an Andrew Luck-less season with the Colts, and the Jags also inked their now-top wide receiver Marqise Lee to a multi-year extension. The position was addressed through the draft with the second-round selection of D.J. Chark, a 6-4, 198-pounder with a 4.34 40-yard dash time. Keelan Cole, a UDFA last season, stepped up to lead the Jaguars with 748 receiving yards and played a sizable role toward the end of the campaign along with 2017 fourth-rounder Dede Westbrook. Lee and Moncrief are the team's most experienced wideouts and are likely to start the season atop the depth chart, but Chark, Cole and Westbrook all have realistic chances of making contributions this season. The effectiveness of Leonard Fournette in a run-heavy offense should play a large role in how the wide receiver situation unfolds as well. Of course, the viability of all of the team's pass catchers hinges on no major regression in quarterback play.
BORTLES LOOKS TO CONTINUE ELEVATING HIS GAME
Blake Bortles is coming off a season in which he tossed 21 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards. They were hardly stats that jump off the page, so why does it feel like he may have turned a corner? The addition of Leonard Fournette to the Jaguars backfield had a huge impact on Bortles' performance last season, and for the first time in his young career, the 26-year-old signal-caller wasn't expected to shoulder the load for the offense. The numbers weren't great, but the completion percentage was a career high, and he also posted a career-low interception percentage. The revamped run game also led to better pass protection – Bortles was sacked only 24 times in 2017 – and the free-agent acquisition of guard Andrew Norwell should further strengthen the front line. The Fournette-led backfield will continue to be the focal point of the offense and likely will be the driver of the team's success on that side of the ball, but if Bortles can continue to limit turnovers, the Jags' offensive production could increase. Bortles seems unlikely to power an offense game in and game out, but with Fournette, a deep group of receivers and a stout defense, the Jaguars could easily find themselves playing in late January for the second straight year.
DEFENSE LEADING THE WAY
Make no mistake, the identity of the Jaguars is based around their defense, and this group put on quite the show last year. Jacksonville finished second in the NFL in points allowed (16.8 per game), yards allowed (286.1 per game), sacks (55) and interceptions (21), but even those impressive numbers don't properly illustrate the unit's dominance. Yannick Ngakoue took a huge step forward in his second season and now has 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles over his first two campaigns, while Calais Campbell posted a career-high 14.5 sacks, tied for second-most in the league. A.J. Bouye tied for third with six interceptions, and fellow cornerback Jalen Ramsey has proven himself to be arguably the league's best cover man. In addition to featuring top-level players and returning all their significant pieces on defense, the Jags selected lineman Taven Bryan in the first round of April's draft. Bryan is unlikely to pile up numbers in his rookie year but could still assist as a versatile rotational piece in an elite front seven. It may be difficult to replicate the type of performance the team's defense put forth last season, but the bevy of playmakers and quality depth behind them should see Jacksonville remain one of the top units in 2018.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Leonard Fournette
Fournette began his NFL career as the Jaguars' unquestioned lead back last season and totaled 1,342 yards (1,040 rushing) from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in 13 games. The 23-year-old had an uninspiring 3.9 YPC as a rookie, but his size and skill set keep him as one of the handful of RBs with legitimate three-down potential.
RISING: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Seferian-Jenkins posted career highs in catches (50) and yards (357) with the Jets in 2017. Upon joining the Jags, the 6-6 tight end could be a major red-zone target following the release of Marcedes Lewis.
FALLING: Keelan Cole
The 2017 UDFA paced the Jags in receiving yards during his rookie season, but his 17.8 YPC may be unsustainable. With the additions of Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark, Cole could begin the year buried on the depth chart.
SLEEPER: D.J. Chark
The LSU product was a potential first-round pick but fell to the Jaguars late in the second round. A strong offseason and training camp may earn Chark some early opportunities, given his size and speed combo.
KEY JOB BATTLE – PECKING ORDER AT WIDE RECEIVER
Marqise Lee headlines a young group of receivers, with the four-year pro also supplying the group's veteran presence along with free-agent addition Donte Moncrief. Sophomores Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook are coming off encouraging initial campaigns while 2018 second-round pick D.J. Chark was impressive throughout the offseason. What the Jaguars lack in a prototypical No. 1 wide receiver – thanks in part to free-agent departures Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – they make up for in depth, with all five players having the talent level of legitimate No. 2 and 3 options. Lee has a proven track record with quarterback Blake Bortles (119 receptions for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns in 20 starts over the past two years) and seems like a stable bet for another 800-plus yard season, which could very well end up leading Jaguars receivers. Lee and Moncrief will head into training camp starting on the outside, but a strong showing over the next month could reasonably propel Cole, Westbrook or Chark into the limelight come September.
Donte Moncrief – WR (from Colts)
Topped 500 receiving yards in one of four seasons in Indianapolis.
Taven Bryan – DT (Rd. 1, No. 29 – Florida)
Provides another youthful presence in top-tier defensive front.
Allen Robinson – WR (to Bears)
Big-play threat struggled in 2016, tore ACL during first game of 2017.
Allen Hurns – WR (to Cowboys)
Limited by injuries to 21 games and 961 yards over the last two years.
Marcedes Lewis – TE (to Packers)
The 34-year-old spent his first 12 seasons in Jacksonville.
THE INJURY FRONT
Donte Moncrief, WR – Moncrief missed the final four games of 2017 due to an ankle injury and also missed seven games in 2016 with hamstring and shoulder injuries as a member of the Colts. The 24-year-old appeared to be healthy throughout OTAs and minicamp, but he still took a sizable risk signing a one-year deal with Jacksonville after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons.The 2014 third-round pick enters training camp with no lingering issues and as the team's potential No. 2 wide receiver, but Jacksonville's surplus of talent at the position should provide plenty of competition.
Dante Fowler Jr., DE – The Jaguars declined Fowler's fifth-year option for 2019 in May, and the defensive end couldn't have had a much worse start to his contract year. The upcoming 24-year-old was handed a one-game suspension for a 2017 arrest a week before the start of training camp, and the following day was placed on the PUP list with a shoulder injury, which is presumably the upper-body issue that hindered him in June. Between the injury and suspension, Fowler will get a late start to preparation for the 2018 season, which could be particularly harmful after playing less than 45 percent of Jacksonville's defensive snaps in 2017.
Michael Bennett, DT – Bennett totaled 10 tackles and a half-sack during his rookie year in 2015, but has played in only one game over the past two campaigns. The 25-year-old suffered a pectoral injury Week 1 last season and was subsequently placed on injured reserve, but he participated in individual drills during minicamp. Even if he remains healthy, Bennett is no lock to make the 53-man roster along a stacked Jaguars' defensive-line unit.