If you’re looking for holiday gifts for the Jacksonville Jaguars fan in your life, consider cheering for the Chicago Bears this Sunday as the Jags sit in the catbird seat for the ultimate prize - the first pick in the 2021 draft and the rights to pick Trevor Lawrence. I reached out to our friends at Big Cat Country to find out more about this rebuilding team and Ryan O’Bleness was kind enough to provide valuable insight.
Spoiler: Jaguars fans will be cheering for the Bears this weekend.
Windy City Gridiron: So, Trevor Lawrence, eh? Just how excited are Jaguars fans about the prospect of Lawrence in Teal and Gold?
Big Cat Country: Jaguars fans are extremely excited. Nobody was surprised when Jacksonville was dismantled by the Baltimore Ravens last week, but just about everybody was shocked when the winless New York Jets somehow upset a tough Los Angeles Rams team, thrusting the Jaguars into first overall pick territory in the 2021 NFL Draft (even though the Jets and the Jaguars have the same record, the Jags own the tiebreaker for the No. 1 overall pick due to having a weaker schedule).
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is exactly the franchise quarterback the Jaguars have been looking for ever since Mark Brunell, or at least David Garrard, left Duval. He is the kind of generational talent, franchise-defining player that just about every team would covet. Is he a perfect prospect? No, nobody is. Is it possible he may be a bust? Sure, but unlikely. Lawrence is looked at as the most complete quarterback prospect since probably Andrew Luck, and he is exactly what the team needs to turn around the horrid on-the-field product that the Jaguars have often produced. He will create buzz and reinvigorate a tormented, but loyal and passionate fan base.
So, yeah, Jaguars fans are actually rooting for losses these last two weeks. I’ve never been of the “tanking” mindset, and players and coaches certainly aren’t either with their jobs on the line, but at this point, it is what is best for the future of this franchise’s sustainability in Jacksonville.
WCG: What’s Gardner Minshew’s future in Jacksonville? Is he someone that the Jaguars see as keeping as the backup or will they look to move him in the offseason? Does Minshew give the Jags the best chance to beat the Bears or is it starting Mike Glennon in a, ah, erm, “revenge game.”
BCC: It will be interesting to see what the Jaguars decide to do with Gardner Minshew this offseason. He is on a cheap sixth-round rookie contract, and makes only a base salary of $850,000 in 2021, so the Jaguars wouldn’t really need to cut him to save cap space — Jacksonville also has the most cap space in the NFL, so it shouldn’t be a concern in that regard. However, it is obvious that the Jaguars are going to draft a quarterback. If Jacksonville holds onto the No. 1 pick, it will obviously be Lawrence (unless for some reason he decides to return to school). If Jacksonville ends up winning another game, and moves into the second spot, it will likely be Ohio State’s Justin Fields (or possibly BYU’s Zach Wilson). So where does that leave Minshew? He is still a pretty young quarterback himself, but now that he has nearly two full seasons of starting experience, he could be a guy who the coaching staff (I am guessing it will be a new staff) wants to keep around to mentor the rookie quarterback. He would also be a top-notch backup option. So there are plenty of reasons for him to stick around, but with a new general manager coming in and likely a new head coach, the new regime could very well choose to move on from Minshew and his great mustache.
As for the rest of this season, and this week, I do think Minshew is the best quarterback on the roster who gives the team the best chance to win (Jaguars fans will say to start Glennon or Jake Luton to guarantee a loss, haha). He has a tendency to take too many sacks and he sometimes misses easy throws, but he is a play-maker and the ultimate competitor. But, with that said, head coach Doug Marrone did say that Minshew and Glennon will battle it out this week in practice and whoever shows the most there will get the starting nod against Chicago. So, Glennon could get that “revenge game” after all.
WCG: James Robinson has been a revelation for the Jags this year. The UDFA RB Illinois State product is a guy a few Bears fans had their eye on this off-season. He’s eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing with a 4.5 yards per carry average, adding another 49 receptions for 344 yards. What’s been the key to his success in a down year for Jacksonville?
BCC: It has been a rough year for the Jaguars, and for the fans to watch, but James Robinson was such a pleasant surprise. The team knew it early, which is why Jacksonville felt comfortable cutting Leonard Fournette prior to the start of the season. Robinson just puts his head down and goes to work. He doesn’t talk much, but his play does plenty of the talking. He excels in multiple areas of the game — running between the tackles with power, running to the sideline with speed, ability to break tackles with strength or hurdle over defenders with athleticism, and a strong prowess in the passing game out of the backfield. While the offensive line has had struggles in pass protection, it has done a pretty good job in the running game, allowing Robinson to find space.
Robinson actually broke Dominic Rhodes’ single-season rookie record for most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie, which now stands at 1,414 total yards this season. He is one of just three players to rush for 1,000 yards so far this year.
Robinson, if healthy enough to play (he is dealing with an ankle injury), will make an impact on Sunday. Oh, and Robinson was completely snubbed from the Pro Bowl.
BCC: The Bears only play the Jags once every four years and a lot can change in this league in that time. Who are the young players on this team that make up the core of the Jaguars moving forward?
The Jaguars rely heavily on young players and rookies. On the offensive side of the ball, of course Robinson is the player the team can build around and looks to be the bell cow back of the future. But rookie wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson have made some plays this season. Then of course fellow wide receiver D.J. Chark is still a young play-maker as well at 24 years old.
On defense, cornerback C.J. Henderson and defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson were the first round picks this year and have both had ups and downs. The Jaguars need those two to develop, but Henderson is currently on injured reserve. Defensive tackles DaVon Hamilton (also on IR) and undrafted rookie Doug Costin have shown a lot of promise this year. Then there was 2019 first-round pick, defensive end Josh Allen, who had a breakout rookie year, but slowed down in his second year (you guessed it — also on IR).
There are pieces to build around, and things will look a lot brighter in Jacksonville if the Jags do land Lawrence, but this team is still a couple years away from being competitive.
WCG: Who would you say the Jaguars consider their “rival” and why? I ask because the Jaguars are a relatively young franchise and the divisional opponents are some distance away geographically. Is it someone in that division or is it someone like the Dolphins due to proximity?
BCC: The Tennessee Titans are definitely the team’s biggest rival. The two fan bases get into heated exchanges often on Twitter, and the players of the two franchises have had some choice words for each other in the past as well. Plus there was that whole thing about the Titans stealing Jacksonville’s playbook in 1999.
Other than that, it’s the other two divisional rivals with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, and the old AFC Central rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I wouldn’t really call the Dolphins a rival, but one of the newer, lesser-known rivalries is with another AFC East opponent: the Buffalo Bills. The Bills and Jaguars played in the 2017-2018 AFC Wildcard game and that was a heated battle the Jaguars ended up winning by seven points, and the next season there was a big brawl on the field when the teams got together. The two teams haven’t played since then, but it will be interesting to see if that one continues in the future.
Thanks to Ryan and Big Cat Country for the insight!