OTA’s and mini-camps are over and with training camp about two weeks away, there are certainly players that need to continue their excellent offseason or show why they deserve to be on the 2016 Jaguars roster come opening day and possibly beyond. There are multiple position battles to watch once camp begins, but that preview will come in the near future. Throughout the offseason there have been players that I have been keeping an eye on to see their progress.
WR Marqise Lee:
Entering his third year as a pro, Lee has battled a multitude of injuries. However, this is the first offseason since being drafted by the Jaguars that he has stayed healthy. Lee has stepped up and shown why the Jaguars took him with the 39th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, saying he feels 100 percent and that he can play at a high level. If Lee can continue to stay healthy, I expect him to contribute immediately as the number three receiver in this offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been developing plays to take advantage of his blistering speed, something that he was unable to do with Lee’s previous injuries. He has game-changing ability and can be a wonderful addition to make this offense even more explosive, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses to think about. Having Lee healthy would be a welcome sight for the Jaguars, instead of seeing him on the sidelines week in and week out.
LT Luke Joeckel:
When the Jaguars signed LT Kelvin Beachum this past free agency, the heat was turned up on the number two overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. Joeckel has been under scrutiny the past few seasons for his inconsistent play since coming into the league, showing flashes of being a solid left tackle, but also having bad moments, most notably, allowing five sacks in week 17 of the 2015 season against the Houston Texans. Joeckel has been practicing at left guard this offseason to see if he can possibly move inside if Beachum starts at LT, which hinges on his recovery from ACL surgery. Joeckel is in a position where he must show why he was taken number 2 overall a few years ago. If he does indeed lose the starting tackle job, it would not surprise me if general manager Dave Caldwell tries to trade Joeckel during the preseason.
SS Johnathan Cyprien:
Another player from the 2013 Draft is on the “hot seat” due to his inconsistent play. Cyprien was taken with the 33rd overall pick in that draft and has shown some flashes of why he was selected so high. He is a hard hitting safety at times, but other times he looks lost in some coverage schemes. Now, it may be easy to blame Cyprien for the spotty secondary play the past few seasons, but it’s not all on him. The team has been playing multiple safeties alongside Cyprien, which hinders his ability to play well. Cyprien is a safety that likes to play in the box near the line of scrimmage, but has been unable to do that consistently the first three years as a Jaguar. But now with the signing of free safety Tashaun Gipson, Cyprien can go to his natural position and will let Gipson handle the pass coverage, which is a skill that Gipson is known for.
RB T.J. Yeldon:
The Jaguars drafted Yeldon in second round in the 2015 NFL draft with the hopes of him possibly turning into their franchise back, much like their previous two franchise backs, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Unfortunately, Yeldon did not perform to those expectations. However, he did gain over 1,000 all-purpose yards, while missing 4 games due to injury. This offseason, the Jaguars signed 1,000 yard rusher Chris Ivory away from the New York Jets, which made people scratch their heads. The Jaguars already had Yeldon, so questions arose on whether or not the organization trusted Yeldon. Ivory was signed partly to keep Yeldon healthy and also to provide an effective 1-2 punch in the backfield that the Jags have not had since 2006-2008 when the team had the previously mentioned Taylor and Jones-Drew. I personally think that this signing was a great one for Yeldon, because he not only will have a better chance at staying healthy, but he can learn from the veteran Ivory. Yeldon and Ivory complement each other really well, because they have different playing styles. Yeldon is a better pass-catching back than Ivory, but Ivory is a powerful runner that can get the short yards and would be an excellent runner inside the red zone, where the Jaguars have struggled.
Yeldon is a player to watch because it always is interesting to see how young players react to having some competition in the position group, especially since this organization has preached competition since 2013, when coach Gus Bradley and Caldwell came in and took over the team. Yeldon is no stranger to competition, having split playing time with multiple backs during his time at the University of Alabama (Eddie Lacy in 2012, Kenyan Drake in 2013-2015, and Derrick Henry in 2013-2015). Although Yeldon will have less playing time than last season, I expect him to be slightly better than Ivory this upcoming season, and in this poll that I asked on Twitter it seems people agree with me by a slight margin. However, if Yeldon does struggle this season with the competition, I sense that Ivory will be handed the reins to the starting job with his prior experience as a solid starting NFL back.
Who will be the better running back in the 2016 season? #Jaguars
— Mike Yazigi (@Mike_Yazigi94) July 8, 2016