JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- All that’s left for the Jaguars in the final weeks of their once-promising season is to start evaluating personnel for 2019.
One thing became pretty clear on Sunday: Dede Westbrook should be a significant part of their plans.
The second-year player has been the Jaguars’ best receiver this season, and during Sunday's 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins at TIAA Bank Field, he showed off some of the big-play ability that won him the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best collegiate receiver at Oklahoma.
Though he only caught three passes for 21 yards, Westbrook returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and had one carry for 20 yards -- and he was a shoestring tackle away from breaking free for another long touchdown.
“We’re always trying to look to find a way to get him the ball, whether it’s punt return, jet sweep,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Same thing [as to why] we put Leonard [Fournette] back there on kicks today -- trying to find ways to generate some offense or field position or do the things that we need to do to create more consistency.”
Westbrook leads the Jaguars (4-10) in receptions (56), receiving yards (662) and receiving touchdowns (five). With Marqise Lee missing the season due to a knee injury, free-agent signee Donte Moncrief a disappointment and Keelan Cole getting benched after dropping five passes and losing two fumbles in October, Westbrook has been the Jaguars’ most reliable offensive player; that’s even over Fournette, who missed six games because of a hamstring injury and was suspended for another.
The offense has a dearth of playmakers going forward too, because Moncrief signed a one-year deal, Lee will be coming off the major knee injury (and has been mainly a possession receiver) and running back T.J. Yeldon likely will leave in free agency. Cole has ball-security issues, and rookie receiver DJ Chark, whom the Jaguars took in the second round, has been a disappointment on offense and needs significant work to be a regular contributor.
Westbrook has elite speed -- he reached 21.8 mph on his punt return, per NFL NextGen Stats -- and elusiveness, and the Jaguars should get him more touches on offense as a runner or with receiver screens. Get him the ball in space to give him a chance to make a big play, as he did on the punt return.
“It felt good, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough,” Westbrook said. “The moral of the story is win. Obviously, we have to do that at all phases, and I’m glad that I was able to help my team on the special-teams side of it; but we’ve still got to execute defensively and offensively as well to get a win.”
The Jaguars also took looks at several other young players with an eye on 2019 on Sunday, making undrafted rookie running back David Williams and defensive lineman Lyndon Johnson, whom the team promoted from the practice squad on Friday, active against the Redskins.
The Jaguars went with Williams over Carlos Hyde, whom the team acquired from the Cleveland Browns in October for a fifth-round pick, and Williams ran five times for 32 yards. They also gave Williams both of the carries the team had in the third quarter, instead of Fournette. Fournette said after the game that he knew Williams getting work was part of the game plan this week; Fournette had 10 carries and three catches in the first half.
“Leonard had the carries early on, but we wanted to make sure we brought David up just to see,” Marrone said. “He’d been working hard. We didn’t think we were going to lose much [over Hyde], so we wanted to see him out there.”
Because of that move, it’s unlikely Hyde will be brought back next season, and the team also is unlikely to bring back Corey Grant, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in October. Like Yeldon, Grant is set to be a free agent after the season.
That would leave Fournette and Williams as the only running backs on the roster under contract for 2019.