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    Can the Jaguars Win the AFC South? 5 Reasons for Optimism Ahead of NFL Training Camp

    After missing the playoffs in 2023, explore five optimistic reasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the AFC South once again.

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    While the Jacksonville Jaguars have been a historically losing franchise, Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence have changed that narrative, putting together back-to-back winning seasons in 2022-2023 for the first time since 2004-2005.

    However, despite that minor success, the Jaguars failed to win the AFC South in 2023 despite entering the season with expectations to do so. Following another NFL offseason, can the Jaguars bring the AFC South title back to Duval County in 2024? Here are five reasons for optimism.

    5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About the Jaguars This Season

    Many expected the Jaguars to be very good in 2023, but several weaknesses were still ignored. A big reason for that was a lack of team-advancing moves last offseason. That wasn’t the case in 2024, with the Jaguars taking a different and necessary approach to their offseason.

    It won’t be easy, but Jacksonville is set up nicely to rebound and compete for the AFC South — and the conference — once again, especially with owner Shad Khan deeming this season essentially playoffs or bust.

    A Healthy Trevor Lawrence

    The stats don’t say Lawrence was an elite quarterback in 2023, but he was much better than he was given credit for. From his receivers letting him down to a handful of late-season injuries, there wasn’t much propping him up for success.

    According to Dan Pizzuta of The 33rd Team, Lawrence had the most EPA (expected points added) of any quarterback due to drops.

    In terms of injuries, though, the Jaguars entered Week 13 of 2023 at 8-3, leading the AFC’s race for the No. 1 seed. However, Lawrence went down with a high ankle sprain. He then went on to suffer two more injuries (concussion protocol, sprained A/C joint) over the following weeks.

    Lawrence’s injuries caused his performance to drop, and the Jaguars kept losing games. Jacksonville finished the season 1-5 in their last six games, going from the AFC’s top seed to missing the playoffs. Their only win came against the Carolina Panthers, who had the worst record in the NFL.

    Now, in 2024, Lawrence is back to full health. According to himself, he didn’t feel fully 100% until a few weeks after the season was over. If Lawrence can stay healthy in 2024 like he did in 2022, he and the Jaguars should be in good position to keep winning games.

    A New Wide Receiving Corps

    As previously mentioned, Jacksonville’s wide receiving corps let Lawrence down in 2023. As a result, the Jaguars made it their mission to fix that part of the team.

    First, they’ll return Christian Kirk, Lawrence’s go-to weapon in the slot. Similar to Lawrence’s injuries, Kirk also suffered a season-ending injury in Week 13 that proved to be a massive hit to the team’s offense, as he was on pace to break 1,000 yards once again. Now healthy, Kirk will once again be a massive piece of the offense.

    Then comes free agency, when the Jaguars signed former Buffalo Bills receiver Gabe Davis to a three-year, $39 million deal. With the Jaguars losing Calvin Ridley to the Tennessee Titans, many thought this move was his direct replacement. Yet, in fact, he’s replacing Zay Jones, who was cut as a cap casualty months later.

    Ridley’s actual replacement is Brian Thomas Jr., who was taken in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. A premier outside receiver at 6’3″ with 4.33 speed, Thomas will play the X-receiver role the Jaguars hoped Ridley would be when they traded for him.

    As a whole, the Thomas and Davis additions show that the Jaguars want to change one thing — they want to go deep. Lawrence was known in college for throwing deep balls to big receivers at Clemson, but he hasn’t been able to do that in the NFL.

    With Thomas and Davis both known for being big, physical deep threats, Lawrence will finally be able to do that. If the new trio of receivers can gain a good repertoire with their quarterback, the team’s passing game could take a whole new approach in 2024.

    New Trenches Additions

    When it comes to football, especially the NFL, the trenches are where games are won. In 2023, the Jaguars’ offensive and defensive lines were their biggest weaknesses. More specifically, their clear-cut biggest needs were center and interior defensive lines.

    To fix the issue, the Jaguars brought in center Mitch Morse and DT Arik Armstead. Morse, coming from the Bills, will replace Luke Fortner, who was arguably the NFL’s worst center in 2023 in terms of both pass protection and run blocking. A one-time Pro Bowler, if Morse can stay healthy, there’s almost no way he won’t improve that spot.

    For Armstead, he joined Jacksonville on a three-year, $43.5 million deal after being cut by the San Francisco 49ers. While the Jaguars have an elite pass rush from their EDGE’s, they got next to no pass rush juice out of the interior in 2023. That’s where Armstead comes in, as he’s one of the better pass-rushing interior linemen in the NFL.

    MORE: 5 Breakout Candidates on the 2024 Jacksonville Jaguars

    In addition to Armstead, the Jaguars also spent two draft picks on the interior defensive line. Taking Maason Smith in the second round and Jordan Jefferson in the fourth, the Jaguars should have no shortage of bodies in that room with a lot of upside.

    And if DaVon Hamilton can also come back strong from his injury-ridden 2023, who knows what could happen there as well.

    A New Defensive Identity

    Jacksonville’s defense flashed some really good moments early in 2023 but ultimately struggled greatly down the stretch, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell and most of his staff.

    Although having a new DC can usually be scary, the Jaguars brought in a highly touted name in Ryan Nielsen. The biggest difference you’ll see from him? An aggressive defense.

    “First of all, we’re going to be, kind of the overview of everything is we want to be attacking and aggressive in everything that we do,” said Nielsen in his opening press conference.

    “Ryan to DC job was inevitable. Top-tier DL coach in terms of developing pass rush and emphasizing technique on run and gap integrity,” said New Orleans Saints pass rusher Cam Jordan when Nielsen was hired by the Atlanta Falcons in early 2023.

    In his first season as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, Nielsen improved the team from 26th to seventh in yards per play allowed, 31st to third in third-down defense, and 25th to eighth in pass defense.

    Atlanta’s defense ranked 11th in defensive yards per game, allowing just 321.1 per game. They also allowed just 36 touchdowns, which was tied for 10th.

    A key thing to note, though, is that Nielsen will actually have a pass rush this time. In 2023, the Falcons had one of the NFL’s worst pass-rushing units.

    A New Special-Teams Unit

    It may not always be the first thing you think of, but having a good special-teams unit can be the difference in winning or losing close games. For the 2023 Jaguars, it was the latter.

    With Brandon McManus leading the kicking unit, Jacksonville struggled greatly kicking deep. While he made all 35 extra points and 30 of his 37 field-goal attempts, he missed five of 10 attempts from 50+ yards.

    This includes a game-losing miss against the Cincinnati Bengals, two misses against the Baltimore Ravens, and two others against the Houston Texans. From Weeks 13 to 16, McManus made just one of five attempted kicks.

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    To fix the issue, the Jaguars drafted Arkansas kicker Cam Little in the sixth round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Little spent three years in college, making all 129 extra-point attempts and 53 of his 64 field-goal tries. If he can bring the Jaguars reliability in the kicking game — something they haven’t seen since Josh Lambo — it could be a game-changer.

    In addition to kicking, Jacksonville also added two new kick returners. By signing Devin Duvernay in free agency and drafting Keilan Robinson, Jacksonville is prepared for the NFL’s new kickoff rules that put two returners on the field.

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