Mocking The Roster: Offensive Line Edition

Bob Self/Florida Times-Union

The 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars have a few lingering questions in need of answers up front prior to week 1. Let's take a look at where the offensive line stands today & where it's potentially headed.

The Trent Baalke iteration of the Jacksonville Jaguars have seemingly accomplished their goal to build out the foundation of a quality offensive line heading into the 2023 pre-season. In 2021 the Baalke drafted starting OT, Walker Little in the 3rd round of the NFL draft. In 2022 he drafted starting Center & Swing OG Luke Fortner (to replace the outgoing Brandon Linder) & signed OG Brandon Scherff in free agency. In two offseasons they improved 3/5 of the starting offensive line spots. I would argue that as a success (even in the midst of the Urban Meyer debacle). With a shiny, new, blond haired franchise QB in the garage the Jaguars had no choice but to answer the call about an auto warranty, right? Now that we have the guy the focus has to be on protecting him, and the Jaguars did just that.

The 2023 offseason has produced some pretty major drama up front, with the home team losing both Jawaan Taylor to free agency (Kansas City) & Cam Robinson for likely the first 6 games of the coming season. The Jaguars, being aware of the pending suspension made multiple moves to both build depth and potentially even raise the level of play for the offensive line. The team signed OT, Josh Wells in free agency from Tampa Bay. In addition, this offseason Jacksonville drafted OT, Anton Harrison & swing OG/OT Cooper Hodges to provide more competition and depth. Here's hoping that the Jaguars continue their recent trend of hitting on offensive line draft picks, as protecting the franchise QB is nearly as important as finding one (looking at you Russel Wilson Seahawks, Andrew Luck Colts, & Kyler Murray Cadinals). Let's break down where the Jaguars' offensive line currently stands:

Projected Starters:

LT: Walker Little/Cam Robinson (susp 6 gms)
LG: Tyler Shatley/Ben Bartch (competition winner)
C: Luke Fortner
RG: Brandon Scherff
RT: Anton Harrison

The left tackle spot is likely what will catch most fan's attention, seeing as this will be Walker Little''s first full offseason preparing to be "the guy." The additional elephant in the room is that the eventual return of Cam Robinson could create an embarassment of riches for the Jaguars at that position, while also potentially turning the left tackle "starting" label into only a 6 game audition for Little. All of this is predicated on the Jaguars not trading Cam away during the early portion of the season. For me personally, the Ben Bartch/Tyler Shatley LG competition is the primary position that grasps my attention. As we all remember, Bartch entered the 2022 season as the Jaguars' starting LG. He suffered a dislocated knee in Week 5 prior to being placed on IR. The front office has indicated that he was not expected to be ready in to return in the early days of training camp. With how Shatley performed in his 13 & 1/2 game audition in 2022 Bartch could have an uphill battle to earn back the starting role while returning to form. That's the spot to keep an eye on in my opinion. However, there is absolutely another position that's not guaranteed to be set in stone.

Projected Backups:

LT: Cam Robinson (susp 6 gms) or Cooper Hodges (swing OT/OG)
LG: Shatley/Bartch (competition loser)
C: Tyler Shatley
RG: TBD - Chandler Brewer, Blake Hance, Cooper Hodges (swing OT/OG)
RT: Josh Wells

I am not 100% sure that Anton Harrison is the week 1 starter at RT for the Jaguars, and you shouldn't be either. The interesting addition of Joshua Wells, the veteran, former Jaguar swing tackle who played in all four games in the Buccaneers' Superbowl playoff run, played in all 17 games as the primary swing tackle for Tampa in 2021, then suffered a Week 2 calf injury in 2022 before being placed on IR does add some intrigue. He could prove to be a more than capable RT option for the Jags if the rookie needs more time getting acclimated to the speed/strength of the NFL, geting accustomed to the right side (as he played mostly LT in college), or if he just needs time learning the new offensive protections and assignments. Do I believe that Anton has the ability and will more likely than not be the week 1 starter? Absolutely. Am I 100% sure of that? Absolutely not. It's really difficult to project a rookies acclimation period, compared to a solid NFL vet. We know Harrison has a high eventual ceiling nevertheless. The Jaguars are in good hands moving forward there.

Cooper Hodges truly has a prime opportunity to carve out a role for himself as a swing OT/OG prospect. Teams love when a player can provide average to above average play at multiple positions when it comes time to make those difficult roster decisions. His inside and outside versatility could provide pivotal in securing a roster spot.

Once Ben Bartch's knee injury has fully recovered, we may then get a better glimpse of what the final (IE: late season) offensive line could look like for the Jaguars - pending a winner of his and Tyler Shatley's LG competition. In addition to playing guard Shatley is also the team's backup Center for Luke Fortner. Fortner has played 11 career games at center (2017-2018 season playing for an injured Brandon Linder). On the off chance that Bartch wins the LG spot I am definitely hoping for a better year from Fortner in year two or that Shatley can push him in that role.

Fighting For Roster Clarity:

OG: Chandler Brewer

OG/OT Cooper Hodges

OG: Blake Hance

Given the surrounding circumstances of essentially losing both your starting RT & LT for the first 6 weeks of the coming season, the Baalke did a decent job of acquiring depth & bolstering competition in those two positions. Discounting any early season injuries (or future suspensions) the Jaguars will likely keep a minimum of 9 total offensive linemen with a ceiling of 10. Note: Cam Robinson does not count against the Jaguars 53 man roster until his suspension has been served (approx return: week 7). There is in addition to the (unlikely) possibility that Ben Bartch starts the season on PUP list if he suffers any recovery setbacks throughout the early weeks of training camp. Obviously, these two additions after injury or suspension could change the final roster math. As it stands there would seem to be 1-2 potential open roster spots available to be won in camp by these canidates.

On The Roster Bubble:

OT: Coy Cronk, Cooper Hodges
G: Cole Van Lanen, Blake Hance, & Samuel Jackson
C: Darryl Williams

As I stated above, there's certainly 1-2 spots open for one of these guys to make the final roster. The UDFAs of this group will likely be fighting for practice squad spots during the preseason.

My Prediction:

I would currently predict the final preseason roster to include:

LT: Walker Little, Cooper Hodges
LG: Tyler Shatley, Ben Bartch (assuming no PUP or setbacks)
C: Luke Fortner
RG: Brandon Scherff, Chandler Brewer, & Blake Hance
RT: Anton Harrison, Josh Wells

The return of Cam Robinson absolutely could push one of Chandler Brewer, Cooper Hodges, or Blake Hance off the 53 man roster (or force an early season trade of someone, if possible).

That's my current projection for the 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars starting offensive linemen roster. What are your week 1 thoughts & projections Jaguars faithful?

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