The Jacksonville Jaguars started the 2018 preseason campaign versus the New Orleans Saints. Despite leading 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter, they fell 24-20 after a pair of touchdown runs from the Saints' Taysom Hill and Jonathan Williams. The final score, however, does not reflect how well the first team offense looked for the Jaguars in their first action of the season. Preseason play is mostly about individual matchups, situational football, and how starters/role players play during their limited snap count on a per game basis. Let's dive in and analyze Blake Bortles and the offense from this game first and then we'll get to the defense later.
The first string offense of the Jaguars looked like a well-oiled machine during their limited action in the first quarter; converting three third down conversions en route to a well executed play-action bootleg touchdown run by Bortles to cap off the opening drive. Bortles finished 6-for-9 on the day, hitting four different receivers (Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, and James O'Shaughnessy) on the drive. Surprisingly, Moncrief, a free agency acquisition, garnered three targets to match Westbrook on the night who hauled in 2-of-3 targets of his own.
Despite highly touted free agency acquisition Andrew Norwell not playing as a precautionary reason, Leonard Fournette still averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry against the Saints' No. 1 defense. Should the line can stay healthy this year, look for Fournette to put up even better numbers than his rookie season. He amassed 1,040 yards on 268 carries while catching 36 passes for 302 yards a total of ten scores on the year allowing him to finish RB9 in PPR scoring.
What do we make of the pass-catching corps? Lee, Westbrook, and Moncrief started out in three-wide sets while Rashad Greene sprinkled in with the ones. Despite only catching one pass on the evening, rookie D.J. Chark showed flashes of his skill set during his time on the field including three plays where he dusted the opposing corner with a quick line get-off.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was also held out as a precaution. Should Sefarian-Jenkins miss any time during the regular season, O'Shaughnessy looked like a capable backup offering TE2 ceiling as Bortles targets his tight ends 36-percent of the time (per NFL.com). The Sefarian-Jekins-Bortles connection will be the true testament of this offense as second-year offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett opens up the playbook to longer downfield strikes (as evidenced by three passes from Bortles over 15 yards versus the Saints). This scheme should develop into open crossing routes and better seam route opportunities for Bortles to attack this coming regular season.
Offensive Player on the rise: Corey Grant
With all of the players getting their opportunity to make the 53-man roster in preseason action, third string running back Corey Grant is making the most of his opportunity to possibly leapfrog T.J. Yeldon into the No. 2 back role. Grant has been getting plenty of camp hype as per Jaguars.com beat writer John Oesher believes Hackett is "too smart to leave a weapon like Grant on the sidelines again."
Grant surprisedly touched the ball only 33 times in 2017 but was electric each time he did. In deeper fantasy leagues Grant is a name worth watching as a handcuff to Fournette.
The so-called "Sacksonville" No. 1 defense looked pretty solid in its first action of the season despite several usual starters not playing. As the second and third string players started to mix in, observers could tell the backups and roster hopefuls were still trying to play catch up to match the intensity and grit of the first stringers. If there is anything to take away from the tape, it's going to be tough for opposing offenses to attach the middle of the field whether by the run or the pass.
Telvin Smith played a limited amount of snaps, but it is evident he may be the best sideline to sideline linebacker in the NFL when it comes to instinct and pass coverage speed. There is a reason he is cracking the top ten in IDP fantasy drafts - he is definitely worth the value at his current average draft position (ADP) of 3.4 (per Fantasy Pros IDP) in defense only drafts.
In what may have been the best week one WR/CB matchup, fans got to witness the Saints' Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas square off versus All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey. Thomas secured two passes for 16 yards while Ramsey finished his brief stint with a tackle. Ramsey and opposite corner AJ Bouye will look to better their passer rating against as the two combined for a 39.8-percent rating against in 2017 (per Pro Football Focus).
Defensive Player(s) on the rise: Leon Jacobs and Lerentee McCray
Jacobs is a seventh round rookie from Wisconsin but has mixed in with the No. 1 defense throughout training camp and is looking to solidify his hold on strongside linebacker. Jacobs has freakish traits while running a 4.48 forty yard dash at the combine. "The downside to Jacobs' game is his knack to not diagnose plays quick enough and will get moved easily at the point of attack..." -Lance Zierlein
So why is Jacobs on the rise? Head coach Doug Marrone has the seventh round pick vying for a starting position in one of the best defenses in the NFL. That says something, right? Jacobs has all of the traits and skill set to be a successful piece of this defense and even make impact plays when called upon. It will be interesting to see how he handles the next two preseason games and if his play will allow him to earn starter status.
Lerentee McCray is another name on the rise in Jacksonville, as shown in the first preseason game. McCray generated 6 quarterback pressures out of 14 attempts on passing downs and had a 21.4 pass-rushing productivity grade (per Pro Football Focus). Should McCray crack the 53 man roster, he will develop behind Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue and All-Pro Calais Campbell. Not a bad position room to be in.
Oh No: Suspensions
Marrone said he wanted to change the culture of the Jaguars when he accepted the head coaching position and has stuck true to his word. In 2017 he suspended Leonard Fournette for conduct detrimental to the team and now one week suspensions have been handed down to Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler, Jr. for conduct detrimental to the team. Ramsey tweeted his disgust at local media while Fowler had a post-practice altercation with Ngakoue which led to the two having to be separated by several teammates.
The Jaguars fly to Minnesota this week and will participate in two joint practices with the Vikings before the teams collide for the second preseason game on Saturday at noon. One thing is for certain, it will be a battle of two of the best defenses in the NFL this week!