JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It didn’t take a lot of deep thinking or evaluation for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson to make redoing the wide receiver room one of the team’s top priorities this offseason.
The Jaguars led the NFL with 39 drops, including a league-high 21 by just the wide receivers. And the group was hurt by injuries and the lack of a stable lineup; they were tied for the league lead with 10 receivers being targeted at least once, per ESPN Stats & Information. That made things pretty tough for rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and it had to change if he and the offense were going to improve in 2022.
“Looking at where we currently stand with where we are, that was an area we wanted to address,” Pederson said. “Receiver happened to be kind of the top of the list for us.”
Adding Christian Kirk and Zay Jones definitely upgraded the WR room. Kirk is coming off career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (982) with the Arizona Cardinals and can play in the slot as well as outside. Jones had a career-high 47 catches for 546 yards last season for the Las Vegas Raiders, and he can also play in the slot and outside, which gives the Jaguars a chance to move those guys around to create some mismatches they hope to exploit.
That goes the same for Marvin Jones Jr., who had the second-most catches of his career (73) for 832 yards with the Jaguars last season. He was Lawrence’s most dependable target and the only Jaguars player to record a catch in every game.
Kirk, Marvin Jones Jr. and Zay Jones may not be an elite trio, but it’s much better than what the Jaguars had on the field for much of last season. The team also brought back Laquon Treadwell, who led the team in receiving yards (405) and was tied with Jones Jr. for the team lead in catches (31) over the final seven weeks of the 2021 season.
The team didn’t bring back DJ Chark Jr. (signed with Detroit Lions), but if Jamal Agnew returns from the hip injury that cost him the final seven games last season and the Jaguars add another receiver in the draft, then Lawrence should make a considerable jump from the 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season.
“I think we've helped the team,” Pederson said. “Trevor is a big part of the team and the quarterback position, but it's something that you have to look at. You have to be honest with yourself, right? You know, when you have the quarterback element in place, what is around him? … The skill position is obviously a big component of that and felt like we did really well in solidifying some pieces around him.”
However, there is one player who isn’t benefitting from the influx of new players: Laviska Shenault Jr.
Shenault was tied for second in the NFL with eight drops and had some issues running the wrong routes, even late in the season. On the other hand, Treadwell was more effective over the second half of the season. It’s possible Shenault could go from being the team’s second-round pick in 2020 to fighting for a roster spot in training camp, though Baalke did say at the combine they’re still “high on Laviska.”
As far as the pecking order of the receivers, that will play out during camp and the preseason, but Pederson said it doesn’t really matter.
“You've got a [wide receiver] room now that anybody can get the hot hand in any given week,” Pederson said. “And it all goes back to game planning a little bit on how we want to use these guys. There's only one football. I wish I had five footballs, and they can all catch passes at once, but you can't. And I think as the season progresses, you'll see that somebody will probably -- okay, there's your [No.1], there's your guy, right?
“But, it's really hard to just put a number on it when anybody could make those plays in any given week.”
If that turns out to be the case, then Lawrence – and the Jaguars – should be markedly better in 2022.