JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Rookie quarterbacks, no matter how talented they are, need lots of help.
Good offensive tackles are pretty important, but so is a veteran wide receiver the quarterback can rely on in critical situations, whether it’s third down, in the red zone, or bailing him out on a scramble drill. That’s one of the reasons why the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Marvin Jones Jr. and Phillip Dorsett in free agency last week.
Those additions to a young receiving corps that includes fourth-year player DJ Chark Jr. and second-year players Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson will be a boost for rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence or whichever player the Jaguars draft first overall. And they’ll be able to help the younger receivers, too.
“I’m still here and I’m still playing at the top of my game,” Jones said. “I just met everybody, met the young receivers and they didn’t know I was 31. They were like, ‘Man, you look like us.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. I’ll show you the way. I’ll show you how to get there.’
“I’m here, I’m here to be that mentor and for them to follow me. I love that and I love that type of pressure.”
New Jaguars coach Urban Meyer said before free agency began that he wanted to add speed to the receiver room and accomplished that by signing Dorsett, who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine in 2015. Despite being a first-round pick, Dorsett has been a complementary receiver in his stops in Indianapolis and New England and has 124 catches for 1,634 yards and 11 touchdowns in five seasons.
But it was the signing of Jones that may turn out to be one of the most significant offseason moves in the AFC South. It was a bit of a surprise because Jones has spent the first eight years of his career with two of the NFL’s worst franchises over the past decade and instead of signing with a team that has a chance to compete for a championship, he chose the Jaguars, who have lost 10 or more games in nine of the past 10 seasons.
Jones said he chose the Jaguars because it’s close to his family’s home in Miami, he loves playing in coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense (he was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the past two seasons), and he wants to be part of what Meyer is building in Jacksonville.
“I think it wasn’t necessarily the offense, but obviously that’s a big factor and I think you want to go somewhere where you’re comfortable and I could do my thing,” Jones said. “I don’t go into any situation being like, ‘OK, this is how it’s going to be, and this is how it’s going to be.’ It’s like no, I’m going to come in here and I’m going to do what I can to help the organization.
"Obviously, the location [helped] as well. My family, we’re in the Miami area as well. I just got on a flight, it’s a 50-minute flight, [six]-hour drive. As a family, this was kind of No. 1 [and] coming in with the camaraderie that I already have with some of the coaches. I just ran into [defensive line coach] Tosh Lupoi. We kind of started off together when I was at Cal. Tyson Alualu, all our kids were at the Cal games. They were pregnant at the same time and stuff like that. When you look at things like that, that ties into the decision-making.
“But I’m not coming here saying, ‘This is how we’re going to be.’ I’ve come here to be great, and you expect that from everybody else on the team. It’s a new kind of regime obviously, it’s a new energy, and you can come here, and you can feel that from all the coaches, so I’m just excited to be here.”
Jones thrived under Bevell with the Lions, posting two of the top three receptions totals in his career. He’s coming off a career-high 76 catches for 978 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020 and had 62 catches for 779 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019.
Jones has 51 touchdown catches in his eight seasons and he’s able to line up in multiple spots. Chark may be younger and a little faster, but he had an up-and-down season in 2020, missing three games because of injury and he let his frustration at the lack of consistent quarterback play show several times. He still caught 53 passes for 706 yards and five TDs, but those numbers were a significant drop-off from his Pro Bowl season in 2019 (73 catches, 1,008 yards, and eight TDs).
So Jones should enter the season as the Jaguars’ top receiver -- and the biggest help for the Jaguars' rookie quarterback.
“You start looking at the value, which is a term that I’ve learned to really appreciate. Value, the value player,” Meyer said. “And I think Marvin [Jones] is at an extremely high value for how we came across that. Of all the guys we signed, there were two -- he’s one that my phone has blown up over the last few days from colleagues and friends that I’ve known that tell me about what kind of, not only player, but leader [that he is].
“[He’s a] heck of a player, too. I mean, on videotape, I really love watching that guy play.”