Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 Year in Review: Can the Improvements Continue?
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, 2015, from a fantasy football perspective, was a boon year.
Despite finishing 5-11 and finishing third place or worse in the AFC South for the fifth consecutive year, Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns became darlings of both the year-long fantasy community and the daily fantasy community.
That said, at 5-11, the Jaguars will need to continue to make significant strides to remain competitive in the division. With the Texans making huge quarterback and running back signings and with the Colts expecting Andrew Luck to return, the AFC South is set to be a fairly competitive division.
The question for the Jaguars will be whether or not they can make improvements in other aspects of the game similar to the strides they made through the air last year.
What Went Right?
Last year, Blake Bortles defied a lot of critics and vaulted himself into a tremendously relevant fantasy quarterback -- but his leap on the field was also impressive.
Our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), is used to determine how many points a player earned for his team above or below expectation level. There's more in our glossary, but essentially, NEP is used to tell us how much of a benefit or detriment a player was to his team.
Among Jaguars quarterbacks since 2000 with at least 480 dropbacks, Bortles ranked first in Passing NEP per drop back. In fact, it is actually not all that close between Bortles, and number two Mark Brunell in 2000, back when NEP was much harder to come by given the league's rules.
Bortles' Passing NEP per drop back in 2015 was 0.07, and Brunell's in 2000 was 0.03.
More startling is Bortles' own increase year to year.
In 2014, Bortles had a Passing NEP per dropback of -0.18. Comparing that to his 0.07 in 2015, that means, from 2014 to 2015, just on a per drop back basis, the Jaguars could expect to score over 0.2 points more every time Bortles dropped back to pass. That does not seem like a lot on its face, but Bortles averaged just around 40 drop backs per game, and so the Jaguars could expect to score eight more points each game, just on Bortles' improvement alone.
Of the Jaguars' five wins, four of them were by fewer than eight points. That's an enormous swing, just on one player.
It should not be surprising, then, that Bortles' wide receivers had monstrous years as well. Of all Jaguars players with at least 64 receptions in a season (4 per game over 16 games) since 2000, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson finished first and second in 2015 by Reception NEP per target. In other words, among this volume of receivers, Hurns and Robinson were the most effective and second most effective receivers the Jaguars have had in 15 years.
In fact, among the 46 players in the league last year with at least 64 receptions, Hurns finished 3rd in Reception NEP per target, behind only Doug Baldwin and Odell Beckham. Robinson finished seventh, ahead of both Antonio Brown and Brandon Marshall.
Even when adjusting for opponent's strengths, the passing game saw a massive improvement over 2014.
When adjusting for strength of schedule, the Jaguars in 2015 had an Adjusted Passing NEP per play of 0.02 -- a massive improvement over their -0.15 in 2014 and the Jaguars' best year since 2008.
In other words, even when we adjust our metrics for strength of opponent, the Jaguars had their best passing attack in nearly in seven years. The quarterback play improved tremendously, and the Jags sported the most lethal dual receiving combination they have had in 15 years.
What Went Wrong
Here's where things get ugly. For as good as the passing game was compared to other Jaguars' teams, the Jaguars' passing game still ranked 28th overall in Adjusted Passing NEP per Play.
Sure, the Jags improved year-over-year, but there's still a ways to go for the entire passing offense to be even top half overall. Bortles' improvement is nothing to sneeze at, but on a league-wide basis, he still is pretty far below the median.
Of the 21 players with at least 480 drop backs last year, Bortles ranked 17th in Passing NEP per drop back. A lot of that is attributable to turnovers. Despite improving in a lot of ways last year, Bortles' 18 interceptions thrown last year were one more than he threw last year, and "good" enough for the dubious distinction of most interceptions thrown in 2015.
Bortles tied for third in that same metric last year. He needs, desperately, to cut down on the turnovers for the Jaguars to take the next step forward.
The Jaguars' rushing game was of essentially no help last year. The Jaguars ranked dead last in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play (-0.10). That number represents the second-worst rushing attack that Jacksonville has had since 2000.
The Jaguars' lead rusher, T.J. Yeldon, was categorically bad for the Jaguars. Of Jaguars rushers with at least 160 carries in a season since 2000, Yeldon had the second-lowest Rushing NEP per rush, trailing only Maurice Jones-Drew in 2013. Of the 27 rushers with at least 160 carries in 2015, Yeldon's -0.06 Rushing NEP per rush had him ranked 18th.
Yeldon's Success Rate -- his percentage of carries that added to his team's NEP -- was 35.16%, good for only 23rd among that same group of 27 rushers.
The Jaguars' passing defense also saw a steep decline from 2014.
Last year, the Jaguars' Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play went from 0.07 in 2014 to 0.20 in 2015. In other words, per passing play, the Jaguars allowed 0.13 more points in 2015 than they did in 2014. That's about five more points allowed per game for the Jaguars' passing defense.
The Jaguars last year had three losses by five or fewer points -- that drop in defense could have been the difference between an 8-8 season and a 5-11 season. The rushing defense more or less held steady, finishing with a mark of 0.00 in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play in both 2014 and 2015.
Where to Next?
The Jaguars do have a lot of cap room, and with free agency the Jaguars were not shy about getting in the hunt.
The first move was to attempt to improve the last-in-the-league rushing attack by adding Chris Ivory.
Our numbers are not kind to the Jaguars on this front -- Ivory was actually worse in Rushing NEP per play than T.J. Yeldon -- though perhaps splitting carries would be good for both players' effectiveness. That said, we've written more extensively about the signing -- coming to the conclusion ultimately that the Ivory signing is, at the least, puzzling.
The Jaguars also made a huge splash by signing Malik Jackson from the Denver Broncos. Jackson was a pretty critical part of the Broncos' defensive line, which was the star of the Super Bowl champions. The Jaguars will also hopefully see Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in 2015, finally play, as he sat out in 2015 with an ACL injury. These two additions should help improve the pass rush, which should make life easier on the secondary.
There's probably a few more additions the Jaguars will look to make. According to OverTheCap.com, the Jaguars still have the most cap space in the league even with 72 men on the roster. They need a lot of improvements, probably particularly along the offensive line, to help improve the abysmal running game. Bortles has the wide receiver talent to succeed, and the Jaguars will return tight end Marcedes Lewis for a bit of continuity on that front.
But Bortles absolutely has to cut down on turnovers if the Jaguars hope to compete in the AFC South.