JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 2022 NFL draft was barely a week ago, but it's already obvious that the Jacksonville Jaguars' focus in the 2023 offseason will be getting quarterback Trevor Lawrence more help.
The Jaguars did that in free agency by signing two receivers and a tight end, but after going defense with five of their seven draft picks and selecting only one skill-position player (a fifth-round running back), offense will be their top priority next year.
"I think the free-agent period allowed us some freedom to look at the draft a little differently than we might have pre-free agency, if that makes sense," general manager Trent Baalke said. "Again, dealing with [Head] Coach [Doug Pederson] and going through the process with the coaching staff, it's all about developing the best roster, the best 53. That's how we approached free agency, that's how we approached the draft.
"Obviously, you have to address needs and we felt we did that."
Adding receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram in free agency provided a significant upgrade in the Jaguars' passing game for 2022. With leading receiver Marvin Jones Jr. returning, receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. coming back, and tight end Dan Arnold recovered from the sprained MCL in his right knee that shelved him for the final six games of the 2021 season, Lawrence has a pretty good group of pass-catchers for 2022.
Beyond the upcoming season, however, things are murky.
Receivers Marvin Jones and Laquon Treadwell, who led the Jaguars with 416 receiving yards over the final eight games of 2021, are not under contract past next season. Neither are tight ends Engram, Arnold and Chris Manhertz, who is mainly a blocker.
That leaves Kirk, Jones, Shenault (who was tied for second in the NFL with eight drops and had issues with running the wrong routes) and Jamal Agnew (a converted defensive back who has been a receiver for only two seasons) as the only experienced receivers under contract in 2023. The Jaguars have just one tight end under contract beyond this season: Luke Farrell, who caught seven passes for 56 yards last season.
It's unlikely Marvin Jones and Manhertz will be back, and Shenault's greatest impact has been on quick throws that allow him to break tackles, since he's not a speedy receiver. The Jaguars will have to either try and sign a receiver in free agency or, more likely, go heavy on the position in the draft.
There is a pretty good group of receivers who are scheduled to become free agents in 2023: Deebo Samuel (if he's not traded), Terry McLaurin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DK Metcalf, Mecole Hardman and Diontae Johnson. The pool will shrink, though, as teams use the franchise tag or players sign extensions.
An early look at the potential receivers available in the 2023 draft class -- with Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba atop the list, going No. 4 overall in ESPN NFL analyst Todd McShay's early 2023 mock draft. -- isn't as impressive as the 2022 class of receivers.
Engram signed a one-year deal, and the Jaguars hope he'll have a big year and re-sign, but if he doesn't, there are several good tight ends scheduled to become free agents: Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, David Njoku, Dawson Knox and Maxx Williams. Notre Dame's Michael Mayer, Clemson's Davis Allen, Miami's Will Mallory, and Alabama's Cameron Latu are among the top draft prospects for 2023.
This was the 14th time in the past 15 years the Jaguars have picked in the top 10 and the second year in a row they've picked first overall. Because the franchise has missed on so many of those first-round picks and continues to chase mistakes, the roster has a lot of holes. It's impossible to address every need in one offseason, but the Jaguars' new regime of Baalke and Pederson addressed some key spots this offseason: offensive line (guard Brandon Scherff and center Luke Fortner), pass rush (defensive end Travon Walker), linebacker (Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma) and cornerback (Darious Williams).
Kirk, Zay Jones, Engram and the return of healthy running back Travis Etienne Jr. also should make things easier for Lawrence in his second season.
"We like this team, and we like the group that's there, obviously, but as I've always said, you never not stop looking, never stop looking to improve each room and try to make it as competitive as you can," Baalke said.
That's especially true for 2023.