July represents a myriad of things in the United States. The country’s independence comes to mind. The summer time vacations with the family is another thought. Taking trips to beach is also a July ritual. In the field of sports, July is annually known for the NFL training camp. All 32 teams open their facilities to hundreds of NFL players to get ready for the grueling 17 week NFL season.
Every team is optimistic of its chances to making an appearance at the Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter if you had a loosing record last year. That’s the beauty of the NFL. Every year is different and every team has a legitimate chance to make it to the big dance. Look at last year’s Cincinnati Bengals. They had a loosing season prior to last year and they were a drive away from winning the Super Bowl trophy. That’s indicative of the parity that lies in the NFL. Every team has big and fast athletes. But, it’s the training camp and preparation that separate the teams in the summer from the teams in the fall. For this issue, we look at two teams that may be a surprise to NFL enthusiasts as the season progress. Those two teams are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Jaguars come into the season with a new head coach in Doug Pederson. They were also honored with back to back first pick in the NFL draft. Last year, they took college football sensation Trevor Lawrence. He had an average rookie season due to turmoil and lack of leadership in former head coach Urban Meyer. Coach Meyer was fired during the first season of his multiple year deal with the Jaguars. Things were so bad under Meyer’s leadership, most players and media literally believe that the entire year was a “red shirt” year for the ENTIRE team. None of the players progress and their was cloud of controversy around the team every week. Meyer’s firing lead the way for the hiring of Coach Pederson who played in the NFL as a quarterback, offensive coordinator under Andy Reid and a Super Bowl winning coach. His resume is stellar and he has the vision to shape the Jaguars to contenders.
The Jaguars once again held the first pick in the NFL draft. They ended up selecting outside linebacker Trevon Walker with the pick. Walker is consider a raw, but physical gifted athlete. Standing at 6’5 and 275 pounds, he moves as fast a wide receiver, posting a 4.5 40 time at the NFL Combine. His upside rivals that of former NFL player Julius Peppers. Pairing Walker with pro-bowler Josh Allen (6’5 / 262 pounds), the Jaguars have two stalwarts for the immediate and longterm future at the outside linebacker position. The Jaguars also added Delvin Lloyd (inside linebacker) in the first round to pair with newly signed free agent Foyesade Oluokun (led the league in tackling last season). Through all the changes in free agency and the NFL draft, the Jaguars has totally revamped its struggling defense. With high athleticism and good coaching, this unit can easily shoot to the top 15; escaping its basement position it held since the 2017 season.
The Jaguars offense is poised to make quantum leap. Under Coach Pederson’s watch, we should see a much improve version of Trevor Lawrence. For starters, Lawrence will not be forced to answer distracting questions about leadership every single week. Coach Pederson is truly a professional NFL coach. Having played the quarterback position and coach players, he should be able to give Lawrence all the small nuggets and details to make him an exceptional NFL quarterback. The additions of Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Brandon Scherff should be day one impacts. Plus, first round draft pick Travis Etienne is coming back from injury. He did not play his rookie season due to a foot injury. The offense should be better. I expect them to be middle of the pack.
Overall, the Jaguars will surprise some teams this season in terms of wins and losses. They will be certainly be prepared and their roster could rival any roster in the NFL. We’ll see.
Last season, the Eagles traded their oft injury quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. This move cemented Jalen Hurst as the face of the franchise. Although he was consider raw coming into the NFL, he did lead the Eagles to NFL Playoffs. They end up loosing to the former Super Bowl champions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a blowout fashion. The team has since retooled. Essentially resigning most of its own free agent, the Eagles made a splash in the draft by trading for stud wide receiver A.J. Brown. This gives Jalen Hurst a true number one receiver which would allow second year player, DeVonta Smith, to flourish. Zach Pascal is a sleeper pick up. He possesses sure hands, good route running and he’s an excellent blocker.
The Eagles got younger in the middle of its defense with the selection of massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean. Adding these two players with perennial all-pro Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham and Haason Reddick should make this one of the top 10 defenses in the league. The Eagles also signed James Bradberry to pair with pro-bowler Darius Slay. This move should thrust the team to having one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.
If the team can build on what they did last season, this could be one of most dangerous teams in the league. We’ll know by October.