It will come as no surprise to any NFL fan that the Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t exactly set the pace as playoff front-runners as of late.
The AFC south team haven’t clinched a playoff berth since 2007 when they reached the divisional round, only to beaten by Super Bowl finalists the New England Patriots.
Times have been tough in North Florida, with Jags fans praying that the good times will indeed roll around again once more.
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But that wait could finally be coming to an abrupt end come this September when we welcome yet another NFL season back with open, zealous arms.
The Jaguars have quietly established their roar over the last couple of seasons - slowly clawing more wins back in the victory column with every passing year.
And, thanks to a number of factors, the forthcoming 2016 season could see Gus Bradley’s side finally explode back into the AFC playoff picture once more.
So let’s start with the man at the snap.
Having acquired the QB out of Central Florida College with the third pick of the 2014 NFL draft, Blake Bortles has well and truly established himself as Jacksonville’s starting quarterback. 2015 just so happened to be a record breaking year for the youngster.
Coming seventh in league passing yards and second for most touchdowns scored in a regular season, Bortles has already etched his name into Jacksonville history by becoming the franchise’s record breaking QB.
His accuracy and precision made for 355 pass completions is another franchise record that Blake has torn to shreds in just his second season in black and gold colours.
Nevertheless, as explosive as his arm may be, what happens at the receiving end is equally as pivotal.
Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns
The two Allen’s have been somewhat of a jewel in the Jaguars crown recently.
Allen Robinson, along with Seattle’s Doug Baldwin and Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, led the NFL in touchdowns in 2015 with 14.
Robinson’s potency in the end-zone doesn’t just come out of luck. The former Penn State receiver had 1,400 receiving yards last season - coming ahead of the likes of Demaryius Thomas, AJ Green and Rob Gronkowski.
Not bad for a second-year starter.
Allen Hurns has also enjoyed similar success on the other flank of Jacksonville’s offense. Hurns finished 2015 with a 1,000+ yard season and ten touchdowns. The 24-year-old also holds the title for most touchdowns in an opening two seasons by any undrafted free agent.
This triple threat of Bortles, Robinson and Hurns has the capability of torturing the AFC South.
The Return of Dante Fowler
Does anyone remember who Jacksonville drafted in the first round of last year’s draft?
You’d be excused if you didn’t. After all, his rookie season turned into a calamity.
The acquisition of Dante Fowler was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Jags and their wounded defensive contingent. His time at the Florida Gators was one of overriding success, terrorising offenses and catching the attention of scouts in the process.
But his formidable rise to professional football was brought to a pulverizing halt. The rookie’s first year in the NFL came to a premature end, when the 21-year-old tore his ACL on the first day of mini-camp.
No-one knows what Dante Fowler will be like when he returns to the Jag’s D this year, and that’s what’s exciting.
The first round pick excited Jacksonville fans across the globe when he was drafted. His volatile mastery at defensive end and versatility as outside linebacker has made him a nightmare for opposing blockers and a joy for defensive coordinators.
If Jaguars use him correctly, he could prove to be a huge upgrade for Todd Wash's defensive unit.
On paper, Jacksonville have never had it so easy. Two games against Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee look like winnable games along with road trips to the likes of Chicago, Detroit and San Diego which could add to the potential of a first positive regular season record since 2007.
Obviously, we are all aware that anything can happen in the NFL, with upsets happening almost too frequently.
But with a team that’s as strong as ever in North Florida, Gus Bradley will surely be rubbing his hands at the prospects of one of the biggest seasons in the franchise’s history.
Speaking of Gus Bradley.
The former Seahawks and Buccaneers defensive coordinator has been at the helm of the Jaguars since 2014 and since then has brought in some big players to further bolster Jacksonville’s threat in the AFC.
The selection of Blake Bortles in the 2014 draft has done nothing but supplement the Jags' threat going forward, with the second year quarterback having his breakout year last season. As referred to earlier on, be sure to count on Bortles continuing this into the forthcoming season.
Defensively, the walls have been put into place. Dante Fowler’s return will strengthen the d-line. He will be in good company too. The acquisition of defensive tackle Malik Jackson from Super Bowl champions Denver adds gunpowder to Wash's front line arsenal. Paul Posluszny was an impenetrable force at linebacker last year too, combining for 133 tackles.
The receiver core on offense is to be admired also. Robinson has become arguably one of the best young wideouts in the league, which of course is taking nothing away from Hurn and Julius Thomas who are both menacing threats in the red zone.
But above all, you can see the importance that Bradley has had down in Jacksonville. The 20-plus years Bradley has spent as a defensive coach in college and professional football has led to49-year-oldr old slowly building a legacy at the Jags.
Time has been the substantial factor in Jacksonville's progress back to playoff football. Now it’s time for them to show the NFL and the world just what they’re really made of.
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