WELCOME BACK: Winning game managers. It's unusual these days for a conservative-style QB to take his team to the conference title game, but BLAKE BORTLES did it last season. Bortles, 26, is better than his critics claim, though his flaws are real. His motion is slow and clunky, and his release point is low, so accuracy can be an issue. But Bortles's good moments can be great. He throws with velocity. He makes plays with his legs. In 2017 he was able to execute a well-designed passing attack that built off Jacksonville's power running game.
Running back LEONARD FOURNETTE'S rookie season revealed room for maturation (as a runner and a professional), but he's the right type of bull for coach DOUG MARRONE and VP of football operations Tom Coughlin. No player finishes runs more authoritatively than the 6-foot, 228-pound Fournette.
What the Jaguars' ground game lacked in 2017 was a road-grading offensive line. They addressed that by signing former Panthers guard ANDREW NORWELL. Alongside Norwell is left tackle CAM ROBINSON, a tantalizing '17 second-rounder who, unlike most young linemen, is better in pass protection than run-blocking. If he can take advantage of his steady footwork and long arms in the ground game, the O-line will be much more imposing.
Jacksonville's star-studded defense had been inconsistent against the run, but after trading for Bills tackle MARCELL DAREUS in Week 8, it went from allowing 138.6 rushing yards a game to 98.8. Capable of lining up at nosetackle or 3-technique, Dareus creates more options for deploying monster run stoppers CALAIS CAMPBELL and MALIK JACKSON.
Your best chance at beating the Jags' D is on north-and-south designs up the middle, where blanket corners JALEN RAMSEY and A.J. BOUYE are less of a factor. Linebackers MYLES JACK and especially TEVIN SMITH are too fast to challenge east and west, but because they chase downhill so well, they tend to set up deep. If an offense is willing, it can dink-and-dunk, which also negates Jacksonville's potent pass rush.
2017 RECORD 10W 6L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 10W 6L
28th EAGLES [In London]
6th @TITANS [Thursday]
23rd @DOLPHINS [Flex/Saturday]
WITH THE talent outside (JALEN RAMSEY and A.J. BOUYE) and at safety (BARRY CHURCH and TASHAUN GIPSON), you could argue this unit should be No. 1. But new slot corner D.J. HAYDEN is a downgrade from Aaron Colvin, who signed with Houston.