Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the top up-and-coming teams in the NFL. They had a dominant defense, an exciting young running back and what seemed to be a competent quarterback.
Those 2017 Jaguars went on to make it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before ultimately blowing a double-digit lead to the New England Patriots.
Now, here we are, with just one game remaining in the 2019 regular season, and that Jacksonville club seems like ancient history.
Over the last two years, the Jags have gone just 10-21 and have not even resembled the squad that nearly made it to the Super Bowl during the 2017 campaign.
While there is reason for optimism in Jacksonville, it’s also clear that the Jaguars have work to do.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Jags’ 2019 season:
5. The defense is a shell of its former self
Remember that nasty Jaguars defense from 2017? Well, this season, Jacksonville ranked just 27th in the NFL in that category — representing one of the bigger drop-offs we have seen in recent memory.
The Jags have lost numerous players (Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson, Tevin Smith, etc.) and the competitive edge that made their defense such a ferocious unit a couple of seasons ago.
There is still talent on that side of the ball. The Jaguars still have pieces such as Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, not to mention rookie pass rusher Josh Allen, who looks like a stud.
But it’s obvious that Jacksonville needs help defensively, whether that means hiring a new defensive coordinator (perhaps Todd Wash has run his course) and/or adding some more pieces to round out the unit.
4. Leonard Fournette seems good after all
Following a miserable 2018 campaign in which Leonard Fournette played in just eight games and rushed for 439 yards while averaging a meager 3.3 yards per carry, Fournette has bounced back in a big way in 2019, as he has played in every contest and has racked up 1,152 yards while registering 4.3 yards per attempt with one week left.
In addition, Fournette has turned into quite the pass catcher, hauling in 76 receptions for 522 yards. That’s something that Fournette never even really did at LSU.
Fournette seems happier and healthier, and he has been considerably more effective as a result.
Some wondered if the Jaguars could cut ties with Fournette after last year, but it seems like he has carved out a permanent spot on their roster moving forward.
3. The Jaguars quietly have a terrific receiving corps
The Jaguars are not known for their offense, but they are certainly building a heck of a foundation on that side of the football.
With DJ Chark, Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley, Jacksonville has one of the most impressive young receiving corps in the NFL, and now, it finally seems to have a quarterback to get them the ball (more on that in a bit).
Chark in particular looks like a future star, as he has caught 69 passes for 974 yards and eight touchdowns thus far.
The Jags thought they had a nice receiving trio a few years ago in Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, but injuries and underwhelming play derailed all three wide outs.
Hopefully, this group can stay healthy and consistent as time passes.
2. Tom Coughlin was making the team miserable
While Tom Coughlin’s no-nonsense mentality may have worked in Jacksonville early on, it clearly wore on the players over time, leading to his eventual dismissal late this season.
Ramsey wanted out almost solely due to Coughlin, and other former players — and I’m sure plenty of players on the current roster — do not exactly hold Coughlin in high esteem, either.
Now that Coughlin is gone, the Jaguars may be able to start enjoying themselves again, which could ultimately lead to better production on the field.
Fortunately, the Jags have an owner in Shad Khan who seems thoroughly dedicated to making the team better, and there is a decent young nucleus here.
1. Gardner Minshew may be the answer
Jacksonville thought it had solved its quarterback issues when it replaced the much-maligned Blake Bortles with Philly folk hero Nick Foles this past offseason, but obviously, that did not work.
Foles got hurt in Week 1, was replaced by a younger, sprier Gardner Minshew, won his job back upon getting healthy, stunk, and proceeded to lose it to Minshew for what seems like for good.
While Foles may be working on borrowed time with the Jaguars, Minshew may be the answer to all of the team’s well-documented problems under center.
Minshew has certainly had some growing pains (e.g. his 13-for-31 performance against the Falcons last week), but overall, the 2019 campaign has been an impressive one for the sixth-round pick out of Washington State.
Is Minshew really the Jags’ signal-caller of the future? It remains to be seen, but there is definitely a lot more of a reason to be excited about him than say, Bortles or Foles.