On a team filled with talent at every offensive skill position, it's hard to decide who the outright most important offensive player is.
But, the funny thing is, if you don't include quarterback Blake Bortles (because QB is the clear-cut most important on any team and that would be unfair), none of the Jaguars' offensive skill guys are as important as Kelvin Beachum -- the team's new left tackle...
...to me, at least.
This isn't a knock on any of the other members of the Jaguars' offensive core: Allen Robinson is a Pro Bowler and a serious threat down the field; Allen Hurns is emerging as a top-tier possession receiver who can extend the field; Julius Thomas is another Pro Bowler who thrives in the red-zone -- and so on.
All of these guys are top notch performers who are keys to this team's success, but I think the player who can take the offense from "emerging" and "good" to "great" and "elite" is none other than Beachum.
It's not only kind of funny, but weird to grasp, if you think about it -- a non-skill player is more important than all of the skill players on an electric offense.
Why, you might ask?
I'll ask you a question first: what held the Jaguars' offense back from being great last year?
My opinion would be the offensive line held the offense from being great, as run protection was simply average in opening holes to allow 4.2 yards per carry as a whole, which is alright, but can be improved -- and pass protection was very inconsistent, as Blake Bortles was sacked 51 times.
Some of the offensive line's problems were due to injuries and inexperience. Brandon Linder tore up his shoulder early on in the 2015 season, which resulted in the team losing their best offensive lineman. Rookie A.J. Cann was thrown into action at right guard and showed lots of promise at the position, but still has steps to take in order to being a major piece of the offensive line due to his experience.
The offensive line started the 2015 season as so:
Left tackle - Luke Joeckel, left guard- Zane Beadles, center- Stefen Wisniewski, right guard- Brandon Linder, right tackle- Jermey Parnell.
This past offseason, Beadles was let go, Wisniewski wasn't re-signed, Linder moved to center, and A.J. Cann was named the starting right guard.
Additions were made as well, as the team signed Mackenzy Bernadeau to add depth to the line and battle for the left guard position, and Beachum was signed to compete with Joeckel at left tackle.
All in all, the offensive line has received a much bigger face-lift this past offseason than what people think, and should start the 2016 season as so:
LT- Kelvin Beachum, LG- Mackenzy Bernadeau, C- Brandon Linder, RG- A.J. Cann, RT- Jermey Parnell.
*In my best George Costanza voice* Yada yada yada... what makes Beachum so important, even with all of these changes?
Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line:
A team can add players across the whole offensive line to try to make improvements, and that can very well lead to an improved offense, but you don't get anywhere without an average-at-very-least left tackle.
The left tackle anchors the left side of the line, and is one of the biggest bodies along the line. His job to protect the quarterback's blindside against each defenses' primary pass rusher in most cases is one that should not be underestimated. This job does not replace any job that all other lineman serve, but is instead added to the list: open holes in the run game and create an open pocket.
Essentially, the left tackle is responsible for the most amount of protection across the entire line. The main skill a left tackle is supposed to have in his arsenal is power, and lots of it.
The Jaguars are clearly not confident that Luke Joeckel can handle these responsibilities:
Luke Joeckel certainly looked better last season than he did in his prior season, but struggled immensely with using strength and power at the position -- ironic, some would say, as the left tackle is supposed to be the most powerful player on the line.
Joeckel has a solid football I.Q., and can move well when he's on the field, but he's missing that key attribute: power.
The team decided to sign Beachum in free agency to battle for the starting gig at left tackle with Joeckel, and Beachum displayed power, and lots of it, during his time in Pittsburgh -- thus giving Beachum that advantage.
What gives us confidence that Beachum can do what Joeckel can't?
Beachum was a top-10 tackle during his time with Pittsburgh, and he was only getting better. He's young, entering his fifth season at the age of 27, and has a very high ceiling to solidify the left side of Jacksonville's line.
Beachum started six games in 2015 for Pittsburgh before tearing his ACL in week six, ending his season. Before that, Beachum had started 33 out of 38 career games that he played in, and seemed to play stronger and more powerful at left tackle week after week leading up to his injury.
He signed with Jacksonville on a one year, $4.5 million deal to prove himself to be 100% healthy and back to his all-star level of play. General manager Dave Caldwell seems confident in Beachum's health, and he backs that up with the four year, $40 million team option on the end of Beachum's contract.
Beachum is confident that he is 100% recovered from his injury. Dave Caldwell seems confident that Beachum is 100% recovered from his injury. And those are the two most important opinions.
If Beachum is 100% recovered, as he and the team believe, then it is safe to presume he will return to the caliber player he was in Pittsburgh: a rising all star at left tackle. If that's the case, Beachum can be for Jacksonville everything Joeckel hasn't been: great.
And with how important the left tackle is to an offense, a great Beachum can turn this offense into something we fans desperately want: great.