Just three years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked like they had found the right formula for success. A dominant defense anchored by Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey perfectly complemented a ground-and-pound offense fueled by Leonard Fournette. Yet, as the 2020 NFL season approaches, the Jaguars look like an early favorite to land the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
In fact, after a series of offseason defections, the Jaguars put the final nail in their coffin on Monday and cemented their status as the NFL’s most embarrassing franchise. Let’s take a closer look at the major personnel mistakes that have left fans of the Jacksonville franchise with little hope for the future.
The Jaguars squandered valuable NFL draft capital
• top-10 picks 7 straight yrs
• top-5 picks 6 straight yrs
and doing this:
#10 Blaine Gabbert – TRADED
#5 Justin Blackmon
#2 Luke Joeckel
#3 Blake Bortles – CUT
#3 Dante Fowler – TRADED
#5 Jalen Ramsey – TRADED
#4 Leonard Fournette – CUT
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 31, 2020
Smart NFL teams build through the NFL draft. Of course, if you continually pick in the top-10, it means your team has not performed well on the field. Still, the Jaguars had plenty of chances to land blue-chip talent over the last decade. And yet, they have little to show for it.
Jacksonville took Tyson Alualu 10th overall in 2010. He may have started 87 games for the Jaguars, but he recorded just 17.5 sacks and never became an elite pass-rusher. Blaine Gabbert, who also went 10th overall the following year, failed to become a franchise quarterback.
Justin Blackmon may have possessed elite talent, but his off-field issues limited his NFL career to just 20 games. Luke Joeckel, who went second overall in the 2013 NFL draft, finished two of his four years in Jacksonville on injured reserve. He never played again after the 2017 season.
Four consecutive top-10 picks later, the Jaguars entered the 2014 NFL draft with a clear need for a franchise quarterback. Only their unwavering faith in a player who clearly did not possess that ability has played a significant role in their demise.
The failed Blake Bortles experiment
The 2014 NFL draft featured several blue-chip superstars. While Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham Jr. became perennial Pro Bowlers, the same cannot be said for the Jaguars’ top pick from that class. Blake Bortles somehow went third overall in a quarterback class that also included Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Though he boasted intriguing physical tools, Bortles failed to develop into a franchise quarterback. His rookie year included an ugly 69.5 quarterback rating and an 11:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bortles did throw 35 touchdowns in his second season, but he also led the NFL with 18 interceptions.
In 2016, the Jaguars went 3-13 with the former No. 3 pick under center. Bortles put up very similar numbers and clearly had not turned the team into a playoff contender.
Desperate to make the Bortles experiment work, the Jaguars passed over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL draft. Instead, they used the fourth overall pick on Leonard Fournette. Choosing a running back with a premium draft pick represented a bold move in today’s pass-heavy league. While Fournette did carry the offense as a rookie, the Jaguars ultimately lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.
Only nobody knew that the playoff defeat would spark a string of personnel moves that would decimate a roster teeming with young talent.
Trading away their young stars
After so many years of missing on high draft picks, the Jaguars appeared to turn the corner in 2016. That year, the team added Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Yannick Ngakoue. A year prior, Dante Fowler arrived as the third overall pick with a ton of potential as a pass-rusher.
Fast forward to 2020 and only Jack remains on the roster. Fowler never became a star, but he flashed the ability to harass quarterbacks. However, the Jaguars traded the former University of Florida star for a pair of draft picks in October 2018.
A year later, Jacksonville got rid of its biggest star by shipping Ramsey to the LA Rams. Instead of securing his services on a long-term deal, the Jaguars got rid of their most talented player and created a huge hole at a critical position.
In yet another example of their inability to manage their roster, the Jaguars just traded Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings. The dynamic defensive end failed to get a long-term deal done in Jacksonville and ultimately got his wish of finding a new NFL home.
Leonard Fournette release seals Jaguars’ fate as NFL’s most embarrassing franchise
To top it all off, the Jaguars officially cemented their status as the NFL’s most embarrassing franchise on Monday by releasing Fournette after just three seasons. Ultimately, the Jaguars just got rid of a player they selected over Mahomes and Watson just a few years ago. Of course, Fournette only became a Jaguar because the team refused to give up on the Bortles experiment.
Now, both Bortles and Fournette are gone. So too are Fowler, Ramsey, and Ngakoue. Meanwhile, Mahomes just scored the largest contract in sports history and has an MVP trophy and Super Bowl ring on his resume. Watson should score a lucrative extension of his own as one of the best young quarterbacks in football.
At the end of the day, the best teams build through the draft. Apparently the Jaguars apparently missed the memo that you’re supposed to retain your homegrown talent.