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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 16

Trevor Lawrence could be poised to join the league's elite quarterback ranks after his strong finish to 2022 propelled the Jaguars to a division title and high hopes for the 2023 season


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at an AFC team on the rise after a hot finish to the 2022 season led by its ascending-star quarterback.

2022 Results

The 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars took a while to find their footing under new Head Coach Doug Pederson, but finished with a flourish and won their first division title since 2017 as second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence started to look like the superstar-in-waiting he was destined to be as the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Jacksonville lost six of its first eight games, including a disappointing 13-6 home defeat at the hands of the Texans, in which 422 yards of offense translated into just two field goals, thanks in part to two Lawrence interceptions, one in the end zone. The bright spot in the first half of the season for Jacksonville was a 38-10 thrashing of the Chargers in Los Angeles, in which Lawrence threw three touchdown passes and outdueled fellow young start Justin Herbert.

Things began to turn around for the Jaguars in Week Nine when they rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Raiders, 27-20 and second-year back Travis Etienne ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The Jaguars would go on to win seven of their last nine games, including five in a row to close out the regular season. Lawrence had another impressive outing in Week Nine as he rallied the Jaguars to a 28-27 win over Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. He threw three touchdown passes, the last of which completed a 75-yard game-winning drive with 10 seconds left, as he hit Marvin Jones for a 10-yard score and then found Zay Jones for the go-ahead two-point conversion. Jacksonville's hot streak also included a 40-34 thriller over the Cowboys in which Lawrence threw four touchdown passes, Riley Patterson tied the game near the end of regulation with a 48-yard field goal and Rayshawn Jenkins walked it off in overtime with a 52-yard pick six.

The Jaguars season came down to Week 18, when they played host to a Tennessee team they had beaten four weeks earlier in Nashville, 36-22. Neither team could get much going on offense, but when Jenkins sacked Josh Dobbs and forced a fumble with three minutes left, Josh Allen scooped up the loose ball and returned it 37 yards for what would prove to be the winning score in a 20-16 decision that gave Jacksonville the AFC South crown. In the playoffs, the Jaguars would perform a mini version of their slow-start, fast-finish season, rallying from a 27-0 first-half deficit to beat the Chargers, 31-30. Lawrence threw four interceptions before his first touchdown pass but was electric in the second half, finishing with four scoring throws. Etienne's 25-yard run set up Patterson for the game-winning field goal as time expired. That victory bought Jacksonville a trip to Kansas City, where they lost to the eventual champs, 27-20.

Lawrence finished his breakout campaign with 4,113 passing yards, a 25-8 TD-INT ratio and a 95.2 passer rating. From Week Nine to the end of the regular season, he led the NFL with a 104.6 passer rating and threw 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Lawrence's favorite target was free agency import Christian Kirk, who hauled in 84 passes for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns. Two other offseason additions, wideout Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram, added 82 and 73 catches, respectively. Etienne led the team with 1,125 yards on the ground and caught 35 passes. Jacksonville finished with the league's 10th-best regular season points total and also ranked 10th in both total yards and passing yards.

The Jaguars' defense ranked 24th in yards allowed but 12th in points allowed. Jenkins and rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd were two of four Jacksonville defenders to record three interceptions, while Allen led the team with 7.0 sacks. Overall, the Jacksonville pass rush lacked bite, ranking 27th in the league with a sacks per pass play rate of just 5.82%. The Jaguars also struggled on third downs defensively, ranking 29th at 43.2%. Free agency addition Foyesade Oluokun led the NFL with 184 tackles and Lloyd and Jenkins also eclipsed 100 stops.

2023 Arrivals

After spending very freely in free agency during the 2022 offseason, the Jaguars took it easy in 2023. Jacksonville didn't hand out a single multi-year contract to an outside free agent, and it's biggest addition was veteran kicker Brandon McManus, who was cut by the Broncos. Josh Wells left his swing tackle role in Tampa to presumably do the same thing with his original NFL team in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars also added former Cleveland running back D'Ernest Johnson to its backfield depth chart and picked up a pair of defensive line reserves in Arizona's Michael Dogbe and the Giants' Henry Mondeaux.

In the draft, the Jaguars used their first-round pick on Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison, who is likely to step right into the starting lineup given the free agency departure of Jawaan Taylor and the season-opening four-game PED suspension of Cam Robinson. On the second day of the draft, the Jaguars continued to build up Lawrence's arsenal, taking Penn State tight end Brenton Strange in the second round and Auburn running back Tank Bigsby in the third. A pair of fourth-round picks, Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller and Oklahoma State defensive end Tyler Lacy offer immediate depth to the front seven and could challenge for starting spots earlier in their careers.

Jacksonville made 13 picks in the 2023 draft overall, including fifth-rounder Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson, who was widely expected to be taken on the second day of the draft.

2023 Departures

As noted above, right tackle Jawaan Taylor departed for the Chiefs in free agency, getting a four-year $80 million deal to join the defending champs. The Jaguars other big loss in free agency was edge rusher Arden Key, whose 4.5 sacks last year look more impressive when combined with his 15 quarterback hits and 44 pressures. Key took a three-year deal in Tennessee.

The Jaguars cut cornerback Shaquill Griffin two years into his three-year deal to open up cap space and Griffin subsequently took a one-year contract in Houston. Wide receiver Marvin Jones, who was fourth on the team last year with 46 catches and had 73 grabs in 2021, went back to Detroit on a one-year deal. The Jaguars also tight ends Dan Arnold and Chris Manhertz sign with Dener and Philadelphia, respectively, but those two only combined for 15 receptions last year.

When McManus became available and the Jaguars swooped in, the team then flipped its kicker from last year, Riley Patterson to Detroit in a small trade for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2026.

Other Noteworthy Developments

While the Jaguars didn't do much outside shopping in free agency after their big (and largely successful) 2022 haul, they did manage to re-sign or hand out extensions to a number of their own players, including defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, nose tackle DaVon Hamilton, safety Andrew Wingard, cornerback Tre Herndon, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, running back JaMycal Hasty and quarterback C.J. Beathard.

While wide receiver Calvin Ridley is technically not a 2023 addition – the Jaguars traded for him last November during his year-long suspension for violating the gambling policy – he will be making his debut for the team in 2023. The NFL lifted his suspension in March. Ridley only played in five games for the Falcons in 2021, but he racked up 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games in 2020.

After his 73-catch season on a one-year contract in 2022, the Jaguars elected to use their 2023 franchise tag on tight end Evan Engram. Engram has not as of the start of July signed his tender offer to play on that tag in 2023 or gotten a new long-term contract. He and the Jaguars have until July 17 to work out a new deal; otherwise, Engram's only options will be to play on the one-year tender offer or sit out. Engram chose to sit out the Jaguars' voluntary offseason workouts. Using the tag on Engram meant the Jaguars could not put it on Taylor to prevent him from leaving in free agency.

The Jaguars declined to exercise the fifth-year option on the contract of 2020 first-round pick outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson, meaning he is entering the last season on his rookie deal. Chaisson has had exactly one sack in each of his first three NFL campaigns.

Pressing Questions

Is Trevor Lawrence poised to become a top-five NFL quarterback?

Lawrence's struggles as a rookie in 2021 – 12-17 TD-INT ratio, 71.9 passer rating – are easy to pin on the failed Urban Meyer experiment, and sure enough he was significantly more successful in his second season under Pederson. Prior to the 2021 draft, Lawrence was considered the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Andrew Luck in 2012 and the Jaguars surely expected that they had landed their franchise passer for the next decade or so. His huge step forward in 2022 makes that seem even more likely.

Can Lawrence take another step into the very upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks in 2023? He essentially was in that category for the second half of last year when, as noted, he led the league in passer rating over the last nine weeks. Lawrence also showed impressive mental toughness when he rebounded from his terrible first half in the playoffs and rallied the Jaguars to victory over the Chargers with four touchdown passes. In all, Lawrence ranked ninth in passing yards, eighth in touchdown passes and sixth in interception percentage in 2022.

Will Travon Walker emerge as the pass-rushing complement the team needs for Josh Allen?

The Jaguars drafted Georgia's Walker over Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson with the first pick of the 2022 draft based more on his physical traits than his college production. Given his raw set of pass-rushing tools, it was no surprise that Walker topped out at 3.5 sacks as a rookie. However, he also logged 43 quarterback pressures, which ranked fourth among rookie edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Jaguars felt as if he was playing his best football at the end of the season.

Allen led the Jaguars with 7.0 sacks last year but the next two players on the list were Duwuane Smoot, who is an unsigned free agent, and Arden Key, who left for Tennessee. Jacksonville tied for 25th with 35 sacks as a team last year and finished 27th in sacks per pass play. The Jaguars want to improve on their 28th-ranked pass defense from a year ago, and that starts with more pressure up front. More production from their former first-overall pick could be the key to achieving that.

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