We have been waiting all offseason, and now only a day away from the season opener for the Jaguars, many Jags fans are filled with optimism with a combination of anxiety. If the Jaguars want to dig themselves out of the bottom third of the league, they will have to win, and compete in games against top tier teams like the Green Bay Packers. The Packers, as of what we know right now, are the better team. However, if the Jaguars can get certain personal to perform well, they will stand a chance. If the Jaguars want to win this game, these 5 players will play a big role in their potential victory.
1. Malik Jackson
Malik Jackson was the key free agent signing for the Jags this offseason, and he will have to make his presence felt immediately after landing the biggest free agent contract in Jags history. With the lack of experience of edge rushers the Jags have, they will be leaning heavily on the likes of players like Jackson to create pressure up the middle. With the Packers surprise release of long time guard Josh Sitton, Lane Taylor, who has only started two games in his career, will fill in. Though the Packers relationship with Sitton may have been tainted, he was still one of the better guards in the league at this point in his career, and his loss will be felt, especially as Taylor has to adjust. Jackson will have the opportunity to feast on the inside, and create the pressure the Jags sorely have needed the last few years.
2. Yannick Ngakoue
While Dante Fowler Jr pulls in a lot of the hype for the Jags, especially among national media, Ngakoue may be just as important to this years defense. Ngakoue doesn't posses some of the physical skills Fowler does, but Ngakoue has a quick first step, and knack for getting to the quarterback. Ngakoue showed some flashes in the preseason, recording a sack, and showing some nice bend of the edge. While having Malik Jackson and Sen'Derrick Marks in the middle is nice, the Jags will need some pressure from the outside to keep the Aaron Rodgers honest. Ngakoue will get a decent amount of one on one match ups, and he will need to win some to make the impact that is needed.
3. Kelvin Beachum/ Luke Joeckel
There was no way to create this list without mentioning the biggest storyline of all of training camp and the preseason. Kelvin Beachum, whether people like it or not, is the starting left tackle for the Jaguars for the foreseeable future this season. Beachum will have a huge challenge in front of him his first game back since an ACL tear last season, facing Pro Bowlers in Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Beachum has had limited reps this whole preseason, with less than 40 real snaps at left tackle. How quickly can Beachum adjust to a full game load? And will he start to fatigue late rin the game?
Luke Joeckel does not win a popularity contest on this website, but his contributions will be important if the Jags want to take the next step this season. The big question with Joeckel is, can he limit the amount of plays where he gets flat out embarrassed? It doesn't matter how solid he can be most of the game, having plays where he gives up easy pressures or sacks, can change the course of a game, especially against a team like the Packers. Mike Daniels is one of the more underrated interior lineman in all of football, and Joeckel will be matched up with him quite a few times on Sunday. If he can hold up, and avoid an disastrous plays, it will be a win in the Jags eyes. Joeckel may not be happy about the outcome of the competition, but he will have to prove his worth this season in his contract year.
4. Chris Ivory
Ivory was a bit of luxury signing for the Jags this offseason, but games like this are when his presence needs to be felt. The Packers gave up the 12th most rushing yards last season, and ranked 19th in DVOA rushing defense, according to Football Outsiders. With BJ Raji gone, and inexperience at the middle linebacker position, the one hole in this Packers team may be their run defense. Ivory can wear a defense down on a good day, and in the heat of Jacksonville, the Jags can do something they haven't done in awhile; physically dismantle an opponent. If Ivory can pound the ball, and punish the Packers defense, it could open up for some big plays, to an offense that already has such big play potential .Ivory also needs to show up in the red-zone, where the Jags mightily struggled last year, only scoring 3 rushing touchdowns. Blake Bortles may throw less touchdowns this year, but if it s because Ivory has 8-9 rushing touchdowns, most Jags fans will easily take that.
5. Tashaun Gipson
While Malik Jackson may have been the biggest money signing of the offseason, Tashaun Gipson may have been the most important addition to this defense this offseason. It seems like it has been forever since the Jaguars had a safety that could roam the field, and be a playmaker on the back at. The days of running out Sergio Brown, Josh Evans, Chris Prosinski, and Winston Guy are over. Gipson has a knack for making big plays, and the chess game between him and Aaron Rodgers will be one of the most interesting aspects of the game on Sunday. if Gipson can play the middle of the field, and make Rodgers think twice about throwing the ball downfield to the likes of Jordy Nelson it could give players like Jalen Ramsey, and Davon House the opportunity to make aggressive plays on the ball underneath. Gipson will also allow Jonathan Cyprien to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and make an impact in the run game.
Bottom line, the Jaguars have made key additions this offseason, and have gotten the talent of this roster to the level where it should be competing in every game. This game will be a good litmus test to see where the Jaguars are, and how much faith the team should have in Gus Bradley as a head coach.