2021 NFL Preview: Trevor Lawrence is a shining light for Jaguars, but is Urban Meyer?

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Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2021 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 4, the day before the Hall of Fame Game.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

The success of an NFL team starts with the coach and quarterback. Other jobs in the organization might be somewhat close in value to those two, but it's hard for any team to win without competency at QB or head coach. 

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a clean slate this offseason at both spots. The quarterback piece was easy to figure out. Trevor Lawrence was one of the best quarterback prospects ever, the Jaguars had the first pick and there wasn't any suspense with that selection. 

When it came to head coach, the Jaguars were an attractive destination. They had a great quarterback prospect on the way. They had dug out of a salary-cap hole that was created by some bad decisions, which started with picking up Blake Bortles' fifth-year option. The Jaguars were going to have many attractive candidates interested in their job. 

And the Jaguars made a hire that feels like it'll either be genius or a disaster, with no in between. The early returns are a bit troubling. 

Urban Meyer hadn't coached in two years. He had never coached a day in the NFL. He was a great college coach, but plenty of great college coaches have washed out in the NFL. The fatal flaw for many of those failed college legends is they didn't adapt to the NFL, due to hubris. Meyer's first few months seemed to follow that path. 

Meyer hired Chris Doyle as the team's director of sports performance, then Doyle resigned after criticism of him being accused of racial remarks while at Iowa. It was a tone-deaf move that might have played at the University of Florida or Ohio State. Star coaches are more likely to get away with things like that in college. The Jaguars used their second first-round pick on Clemson running back Travis Etienne was questionable, considering the fact that running backs are devalued, James Robinson is coming off a fantastic rookie season and the Jaguars also signed Carlos Hyde, who Meyer coached at Ohio State. Then Meyer said Etienne was a third-down back, strangely lamented that he lost out on picking Florida receiver Kadarius Toney with that pick (making the Etienne pick look like a panic move), and used Etienne at receiver to start the offseason. 

Then there was the coup de grace, signing Tim Tebow to play tight end. Not much more needs to be said about that move, other than it will likely raise eyebrows in the locker room. Meyer said on Cris Collinsworth's podcast that he told the Jaguars staff about Tebow, “Guys, you don’t understand, now this guy is, he’s the most competitive maniac you’re ever going to talk to," which is unlikely to go over well. All NFL players are competitive and don't want to be told a 33-year-old minor-league baseball refugee is trying harder than them. But how would Meyer know that? 

While there are some bad early signs, Meyer hasn't coached a game yet, and he can coach. He was 187-32 in college, one of the best coaches in the modern era. He has Lawrence, who is in the Namath/Elway/Luck stratosphere of prospects. The Jaguars lost 15 in a row to finish last season and have lost 10 or more games in nine of the past 10 seasons, so the bar isn't high for Meyer's first year or two. They have a great cap situation for the next few years. It's not a roster teeming with young talent, but Jacksonville has a window to ascend fast. No matter what has been said about Meyer to this point, he has a great opportunity in front of him and can obviously prove he was a great hire. 

If Lawrence is the real deal, the Jaguars will be set up well for the next decade or so. They'll need to have the right coach to pair with their young quarterback. There are certainly questions if they have the right one now. 

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is going to test himself in the NFL. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is going to test himself in the NFL. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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Trevor Lawrence is the headliner and while it wasn't exactly a brain-buster to take him first overall, adding him bumps up the grade. The Jaguars lost a lot of games last season but that 1-15 season will pay off. The Jaguars spent a lot of money in free agency and a lot of the deals are overpays. They added cornerback Shaq Griffin (three years, $40 million), safety Rayshawn Jenkins (four years, $35 million), defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris (three years, $23.4 million), receivers Jamal Agnew (three years, $14.25 million) and Marvin Jones (two years, $12.5 million), tight end Chris Manhertz (two years, $6.65 million) and running back Carlos Hyde (two years, $4.5 million). The Jaguars needed to add talent and did so, but it's not like they got great value out of most of those deals. Jacksonville also franchise tagged left tackle Cam Robinson for about $14 million, which is another overpay. Still, the roster is better and mostly because of Lawrence. 

GRADE: B

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The chances of Trevor Lawrence being a total bust are pretty low. Mel Kiper Jr. has been covering the draft for a long time for ESPN, and here are his top 10 highest-rated QB prospects (in order): John Elway, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Lawrence, Jim Kelly, Andre Ware, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Troy Aikman, Josh Allen. Lawrence could be a Ware or Leaf, but the other seven quarterbacks on that list all had plenty of success in the NFL (Allen already had a near-MVP season, he qualifies as a success). Not all No. 1 overall picks do well, but not all No. 1 picks are equal either. Lawrence isn't David Carr or Jameis Winston. He's in a rare tier, one of the highest-rated prospects ever. Prospects who are graded that high typically have at least solid careers. Even if Lawrence has a Bledsoe-type career, that's a pretty good outcome for Jacksonville. And he might have an Elway-Manning-Kelly type career. It will be exciting to see it unfold. 

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Jacksonville's win total at BetMGM is 6.5. It's not unprecedented for a team to improve by six or more wins. The 2008 Miami Dolphins improved by 10 wins after a 1-15 season. But it's a lot to ask. I don't love all the Jaguars' signings from a cost standpoint, but the roster is better. Urban Meyer may be doing things that indicate he might not understand the NFL, but his coaching resume is hard to deny. Trevor Lawrence makes a big difference. I'll lean to the under but wouldn't be too surprised if the Jaguars go over. 

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From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "James Robinson was a fantasy smash last year, an undrafted back who wound up sparking the Jaguars offense and rising to RB7 by year's end. But Robinson did all that with a different coaching staff and a different set of starting quarterbacks; the new regime has stocked the backfield with challengers. This is the type of Cinderella story that often turns into a pumpkin season for Year 2; although Robinson's Yahoo ADP is in the mid-60s, I can't view him as a proactive pick. I suspect Urban Meyer & Co. are going to sink or swim with their own hand-picked players.

"If you'd like a Jacksonville sleeper, consider second-year WR Laviska Shenault; Meyer had a ball scheming for Percy Harvin back at Florida, and Shenault's skill-set has some overlap to Harvin's."

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James Robinson had 1,414 yards from scrimmage last season, which broke Dominic Rhodes' NFL record for an undrafted rookie. That's what all teams dream of when they scoop up undrafted free agents. Yet, the Jaguars signed running back Carlos Hyde because he played under Urban Meyer at Ohio State and then drafted running back Travis Etienne in the first round. Those additions made little sense considering Robinson's success last year. Robinson was a revelation, a great story for a team that needed some breaks, but it seems like he'll have to give away many touches under a new coaching staff. 

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Will a defensive scheme change make a big difference?

The two most important players on the Jaguars' defense are edge rushers Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson. Both were first-round picks. Allen had a very good rookie season in 2019 but just 2.5 sacks last year. Chaisson had a very quiet rookie season last year with just one sack. 

Both were playing out of position last season in a 4-3 scheme. This season, they'll be standing up as outside linebackers as Jacksonville uses more 3-4 looks, and perhaps that leads to a couple of breakout seasons. 

“We have a whole new different group, we have a whole new different scheme, we have a whole new different coaching staff that’s going to help us get to where we need," Allen said, via Jaguars Wire. "Game one, we’re going to get right and we’re going to apply a lot more pressure.

“We’re all going to get better for that, and I can’t wait.”

If Allen and Chaisson thrive in a new scheme, that will set a much-needed foundation for the defense. 

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Unlike some other teams this low in the rankings, we can dream of a scenario in which the Jaguars take a big leap like the 2008 Dolphins. Trevor Lawrence could be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks right away, with some good talent around him like receiver D.J. Chark. The defense could improve with a scheme change and some free-agent additions. Urban Meyer won everywhere he went in college. It's not the most likely outcome, but could the Jaguars be playoff contenders this season if everything breaks right? It's possible. 

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The Jaguars were very lucky to go 1-15 last season. In their only win, Week 1 against the Colts, they were out-gained 445-241 and grabbed one of the most fraudulent wins of the entire NFL season. There were some depth-filling moves in the offseason and obviously Trevor Lawrence could make a huge difference, but it's not like the Jaguars added a ton of blue-chip players to a team that was the worst in the league. To think the Jaguars can go from one very fortunate win and 15 losses last season to a team flirting with .500 this season is putting a ton of expectation on a rookie quarterback. Having a two- or three-win season with a new star quarterback and vanity hire at coach would be a big disappointment to excited Jaguars fans, and it's in the reasonable range of outcomes. 

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The Jaguars have perhaps the widest range of reasonable outcomes in the NFL. Urban Meyer has been a great head coach, and Doug Marrone was not. Regardless of some unusual offseason moves, it's possible Meyer's talent on gameday shines through in the NFL like it did in college. It's also possible Trevor Lawrence has a record-breaking rookie season. If everything clicks, the Jaguars could be playoff contenders. Then again, maybe Meyer is Steve Spurrier 2.0, Lawrence's rookie season has way more downs than ups and a team that went 1-15 last season is the worst in the league again. It will probably be somewhere in between — four or five wins with more competitive losses than last season — but if nothing else, at least the Jaguars are interesting again. 

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32. Houston Texans
31. Detroit Lions

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