JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the league’s surprises in 2022, becoming just the fifth team since the 1970 merger to win their division after having the worst record in the NFL the previous season.
They won their last five regular-season games to win the AFC South, beat the Los Angeles Chargers in a wild-card playoff game and put up a fight with the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
With an experienced, Super-Bowl winning head coach, a top-10 quarterback, a talented group of pass-catchers, some young talent on defense and a division that includes two teams picking in the top 10 of the NFL draft, the Jaguars seem to be the favorite in the AFC South in 2023.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do, though.
“I think momentum can carry you, but every year is different,” Pederson said. “We’re trying to build the best roster just like the 31 other teams right now. We can learn from what we did, especially the second half of the season. I feel like we’ve got the right guys, the right makeup, the chemistry, the locker room is solid. Those are the things you build on.
“That’s the momentum you’re talking about with those guys right there. Guys that have been in Jacksonville [for several seasons], they’ve kind of gone through some tough times. Now this past year, they got on the other side of that. That’s the challenge now of keeping that rolling as we head into ’23.”
At least the Jaguars won't go into this season with major questions about the offense the way they did in 2022:
Is Trevor Lawrence, the first overall pick in 2021, an elite quarterback?
Did the franchise make a mistake by giving receiver Christian Kirk -- a player who had never had a 1,000-yard season -- $37 million guaranteed?
Can running back Travis Etienne Jr. be a feature back?
Is tight end Evan Engram worth $9 million?
Yes, no, yes and yes. Most of the players from the NFL's tenth-best offense in 2022 are coming back in 2023, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do.
Here’s a look at the roster and whether each offensive position group is set, needs some tweaking, or needs more work:
Quarterback -- Set
The Jaguars shouldn’t have to worry about this spot for a long time with Lawrence, who threw for 4,113 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2022. His second-half surge -- from Week 9 on he was second in the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage -- and the way he rallied the Jaguars from a 27-0 first-half deficit in the playoff victory over the Los Angeles Chargers erased any doubts about his future. Veteran backup C.J. Beathard re-signed on a two-year deal but it wouldn’t be out of the question for the team to invest a late-round pick in a project QB that could eventually take over as Lawrence’s backup.
Running back -- Needs to be tweaked
Etienne (1,125 yards) is the first 1,000-yard running back that Pederson has had in his six seasons as a head coach. Etienne has to be better with ball security (five fumbles, three lost) and work on taking less big hits. The problem with this position group is there’s not much experience behind him.
Etienne had 220 carries last season and the four players behind him -- Qadree Ollison, JaMycal Hasty, Snoop Conner and Mekhi Sargent -- have a combined 107 career carries. Hasty had a 61-yard touchdown run against the Indianapolis Colts, but averaged 3.0 yards on his other 45 carries. The Jaguars used a fifth-round pick on Conner last year and they could use another late pick on a back this year. If they don’t and one of those four doesn’t step up to be the clear No. 2 behind Etienne, they could mine the final roster cuts to add a player, which is how they landed Hasty last season.
Wide receiver -- Set (ish)
It may seem off to say the position needs a little work because the Jaguars have added Calvin Ridley and Kirk (84 catches for 1,108 yards) and Zay Jones (82 for 823) set career highs in receptions and receiving yards in their first year in the offense. However, nobody knows what to expect out of Ridley. If he’s the 2020 Ridley (he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine TDs while playing with a broken foot) then the Jaguars may have the best group of receivers in the league. However, the 2023 season opener will mark 23 months from Ridley’s last game and there’s no way to know how -- or if -- that layoff will impact him. If he struggles the Jaguars may opt to move on after the ‘23 season (he is playing on a fifth-year option). Even if he plays well and the Jaguars extend him, they still need to think about bringing in a young receiver that could step into a top three role in a year or two.
Tight end -- Needs more work
Engram set single-season franchise records for catches and receiving yards by a tight end last season (73 for 766). Those also were career highs, too, and the Jaguars used the franchise tag on him while they’re trying to work out a new contract. Once you get past Engram, though, there are only two other tight ends on the roster: Luke Farrell (11 career catches) and Gerrit Prince, whom they signed as an undrafted rookie and spent the 2022 season on the practice squad. Expect the Jaguars to address this position at the draft.
Offensive line – Needs some tweaking
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor had the best year of his career and was the Jaguars’ most consistent lineman in 2022, but in free agency he signed with Kansas City on a four-year, $80 million deal. Walker Little, the No. 45 overall pick in 2021, should slide into the starting spot, but the Jaguars have to find a backup tackle. Left tackle Cam Robinson is coming off a knee injury but is expected to be cleared by the start of the season. Right guard Brandon Scherff played through ankle and abdominal injuries but didn’t miss a game and was solid in his first season with the Jaguars. If he can stay healthy the Jaguars hope he can return to the Pro Bowl level at which he played 2019-21.
Center Luke Fortner played every snap and was the Jaguars’ best rookie last season, but the team wants him to get stronger in the offseason. Left guard is the only spot where there’s a question. Tyler Shatley filled in solidly after starter Ben Bartch went down with a season-ending knee injury. Shatley is a valuable reserve who also can play center but the team wants better interior line play overall and left guard may be the spot they look to upgrade in the draft.