Letting Mike Sims-Walker go hurts the offense. There's no doubt about that, but the focus will, as it should, remain on the defense. That's the identity that the Jaguars want to rebuild most, and I think that will continue to be the focus for Gene Smith. The Jaguars have many needs, but when I look at the current roster, I get the feeling that a couple of players at each of those positions of need will put this team in the playoffs. I don't want that statement to be confused with the mentality that the Jaguars were one or two players from being Super Bowl contenders. I don't think the Jaguars should go into free agency with the mindset of spend big and reap big rewards, but this team looks worse on paper than it actually is.
The Jaguars' defense ranked 28th in yards allowed in 2010. Back in 2006, the height of the Jaguars' defense, they ranked 2nd only to the Ravens. Since then, the defense has dropped in overall ranking every year. With not much farther to drop, I think it's time that they start turning it around.
The Chiefs became the surprise winners of the AFC West in 2010. They were just the latest "worst to first" scenario in the NFL. The Jaguars would've claimed that distinction if they would have swept the season series with the Colts, but the point here is that teams frequently jump in rankings from one year to the next in both record and statistics.
In 2009, the Buccaneers were just 3-13, but they improved to 10-6 in 2010. The only reason they missed the playoffs was because they play in a ridiculously tough division. The Jaguars have all the look of that young, up and coming team that could steal a division title in 2011. Check that. The Jaguars would be more likely to take the division by force. The difference? Many, myself included, think the Chiefs improved, but shouldn't have won their division. I tend to think that the Chargers lost the division. I think the Jaguars could win the division in 2011 by winning on their own, not by having the Colts lose.
Now let's bring this all together. The Jaguars' receiving core hasn't been decimated by the departure of Mike Sims-Walker. He leaves a gap, but that just means the other players have to step up. Hill has shown deep ball promise, but we haven't seen enough of him to know how good he really is. Underwood has also shown deep ball promise, but he's been incredibly inconsistent. Mike Thomas has developed into a solid receiver. He'll, no doubt, be the new number one guy. Marcedes Lewis is one of the best receiving (and blocking for that matter) tight ends in the league. Zach Miller is coming on as another solid TE. Everyone will have to step up their game to keep the offense headed in the right direction, but I have confidence that this team is still firmly on the rise. The bulk of the problems continues to be the defense, and that's what must be addressed this off-season.