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Jacksonville Jaguars: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

All eyes are on Trevor Lawrence as he and the Jaguars are eager to move on from last season and take a major step forward under new head coach Doug Pederson.

The most dysfunctional season in Jacksonville Jaguars franchise history is mercifully in the past. The Urban Meyer head-coaching experiment failed in 2021, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence now has a competent NFL coaching staff led by Doug Pederson to help him reach the next level.

But for the Jaguars to become a threat in the AFC South, they will need more than consistent play at quarterback. Free-agent acquisition Christian Kirk has to be a dependable big-play threat as the team's No.1 wide receiver. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. must be as good as advertised despite missing last season with a Lisfranc injury. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson got the three-year extension he desired; now, he has to be the anchor of the offensive line.

The Jaguars made improving their defense a priority, primarily through the draft with the selection of No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd. They need veteran edge rusher Josh Allen to return to his 2019 level — double-digit sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance. The secondary, led by cornerback Shaquill Griffin, must do a better job forcing turnovers. With just four wins in the past two seasons, Pederson says it's not going to be an overnight fix to turn around the Jaguars, but they expect to be more competitive.

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OFFENSE

Getting the offense to be a more explosive unit is the top objective for new offensive coordinator Press Taylor and Pederson, who will be the play-caller. The Jaguars invested heavily in free agency to put more veteran talent around Lawrence, who finished last season with 12 touchdown passes and an NFL-leading 17 interceptions.

The Jaguars are counting on Kirk to be their featured No. 1 receiver, though he never was the first option of Arizona's offense during his four seasons with the franchise. The Jaguars moved on from DJ Chark., who signed with the Detroit Lions, but they added receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram in free agency to help bring more explosiveness to an offense that ranked last in scoring (14.9). Marvin Jones Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr., Jamal Agnew and Laquon Treadwell are back, but they were part of a receiving group that was near the top (or rather, the bottom) of the league in dropped passes. Still, improved competition will provide Pederson with more options. A potential mistake: not adding more speed at the outside receiver spot. The Jaguars didn't select a receiver among their seven draft picks despite the receiving class being among the deepest in talent in the draft.

When he coached the Eagles, Pederson liked to call plays from the heavy 12 personnel set that featured two tight ends on the field. It's likely that tight ends Dan Arnold and Engram will be paired together. The question surrounding Engram: Can he stay healthy and develop into a receiving threat on the outside like he was supposed to with the Giants?

The Jags hope their offensive line can avoid a repeat of last season, when Lawrence got sacked 32 times. They signed starting left tackle Robinson to a three-year extension, and they signed five-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff. Eight-year veteran center Brandon Linder retired, but the Jaguars found a potential replacement in the draft with third-round pick Luke Fortner, an All-SEC selection last season for Kentucky. The Jaguars have a hole to fill at left guard after Andrew Norwell signed with Washington in free agency. Veteran Tyler Shatley could fill the role, as could Ben Bartch, who started 11 games last season at right guard. A position battle is on tap at right tackle between returning starter Jawaan Taylor and 2021 second-round pick Walker Little.

There are questions at running back, especially with James Robinson's continued rehab from a torn Achilles last December; there's no clear timetable for his return. However, the Jaguars are counting on Etienne, the 25th overall pick in the 2021 draft, to become the matchup nightmare that the Jags expected him to be. Etienne missed last season with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot, but he participated in the team's offseason program after declaring he was around 85 to 90 percent healthy. The Jaguars traded up into the fifth round to select former Ole Miss running back Snoop Conner in the 2022 draft. He likely will be used as a short-yardage back, especially in the red zone.

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DEFENSE

After posting only 32 sacks last season, the Jaguars prioritized defense this offseason. Five of their seven draft selections were defensive players, including No. 1 overall pick Walker. They also drafted potential starting linebackers Lloyd and Chad Muma in the first and third rounds, respectively. The Jaguars plan to operate from multiple sets and packages in which both Lloyd and Muma can be best utilized with linebacker Foye Oluokun, who signed in free agency after leading the NFL in tackles last season (192) with the Atlanta Falcons.

A big question regarding Walker, the first No. 1 overall pick never to make All-American or even all-conference, is how he will be used to maximize his talent. The Jaguars want to play him at one position, but it's not clear whether that will be defensive end or outside linebacker in the team's base defense, expected to be a 3-4.

What is clear, though, is that the Jaguars will be better at stopping the run. They upgraded their defensive front seven with the additions of Walker and Lloyd, who will play alongside Allen, Oluokun, Malcom Brown, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Foley Fatukasi, signed in free agency after playing his first four seasons with the New York Jets.

With more talent around Allen, he's not likely to face as many double teams and get chipped by tight ends like he did last season, when he led the team with 7.5 sacks. But Allen has not played at the level of his rookie season, when he had 10.5 sacks and earned a Pro Bowl selection. The Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option in Allen's contract, which keeps him in Jacksonville for two more seasons.

The biggest offseason deal in the secondary: signing former Los Angeles Rams starting cornerback Darious Williams in free agency. Williams will start opposite Griffin, with 2021 second-round pick Tyson Campbell playing at nickel cornerback. Griffin had too many interceptions slip through his hands last season. Free safety Rayshawn Jenkins must make a more significant impact after not having an interception in 14 games. Second-year strong safety Andre Cisco must meet expectations after failing to beat out Andrew Wingard for the starting job last season.

SPECIALISTS

Ryan Santoso, who has made four field goals in his NFL career, is penciled in as the placekicker. Agnew is one of the top punt and kick returners in the league, but he suffered a season-ending hip injury in November, and it will be interesting to see if he has the same speed as he had before the injury. Punter Logan Cooke remains one of the most consistent players on the roster. Cooke's 43.1-yard career net punting average ranks first in franchise history, and his 46.5 gross punting average is the second highest in franchise history.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Jaguars have more talent, especially defensively. Still, this is a franchise with just four wins in the past two seasons, and overall depth is still a concern. But the Jaguars are in much better shape with a proven NFL head coach in Pederson than they were under Meyer, who had no previous NFL head-coaching experience. As Pederson says, it's not going to be an overnight fix, but the Jaguars can win six or seven games this season — enough to ensure that they won't be picking No. 1 again for an NFL-record third consecutive season.

Prediction: 3rd in AFC South