By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on April 6, 2014
Don't look now, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are quietly building something in North Florida. They may still be a couple years away from legitimately competing in the AFC South and have yet to identify a franchise quarterback, but they're a young team that is getting better every Sunday. To make the jump from a bottom feeder to a middle-of-the-road type squad or better in 2014, these five players will be relied upon for breakout campaigns.
Jonathan Cyprien put up some good numbers as a rookie, headlined by 104 tackles, but he really struggle in coverage. Cyprien conceded 409 yards in coverage last season and ranked 84th in overall efficiency among qualifying safeties according to Pro Football Focus. Still, the Jaguars hope his extensive experience during his first year will yield huge dividends down the road, beginning in 2014.
The 25-year-old receiver from Liberty began to make plays during his second season in Jacksonville. Mike Brown produced 32 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns in only 11 games and six starts in 2013. If Justin Blackmon is forced to miss any more time because of off-field issues, Brown could become one of the Jaguars' top targets.
Another emerging young pass catcher is Ace Sanders, who caught 51 passes for 484 yards as a rookie. At only 5-foot-7, Sanders isn't much of a red-zone target for quarterback Chad Henne, but he's incredibly quick when operating out of the slot. Few defensive backs can match his ability to change directions, which makes him a difficult matchup for most.
Despite the addition of Chris Clemons, the Jaguars will be relying on consistent pressure from defensive end Andre Branch in 2014. Branch didn't start a game last season, but still managed to sack the quarterback six times. He has the size and athleticism to continue to improve as an edge rusher, and could threaten a double-digit sack total during his third year with more snaps.
In eight starts as a rookie, cornerback Dwayne Gratz intercepted two passes and broke up another three. According to Pro Football Focus, Gratz was the 38th-most efficient cornerback in the entire NFL in 2013 -- an impressive feat for a rookie. If he was that equipped to succeed during his first year in the league, he appears poised for a big jump in Year 2.
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