The Jaguars’ first “big-news” roster move this offseason was sending tight end Julius Thomas to the Miami Dolphins for a 7th round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. At the same time, the Dolphins and Jaguars made a separate trade where the Jaguars sent Miami a 2018 7th round pick for offensive tackle Branden Albert.
Essentially, as it’s much more likely for a 7th round pick to not amount to much in their NFL careers compared to a higher pick, the Jaguars traded Thomas to the Dolphins for Albert to dump Thomas’ five year, $46 million contract and attempt to fix their sticky offensive line situation with help from the veteran Albert.
Thomas was a disappointment during his time in Jacksonville. After signing the largest contract for a tight end in the NFL, Thomas accumulated 76 catches for 736 yards and nine touchdowns in 21 total games. While those aren’t necessarily bad numbers, those statistics resemble what many projected Thomas’ season stats on a yearly basis with the Jaguars.
He dealt with injury issues to his chest, hand, groin, abdomen, elbow, ankle, and back, limiting him to 21 of a possible 32 games. All in all, things didn’t work out in Jacksonville for Thomas, and the team was lucky to clear his cap hit for the next three years and land fullback Marquez Williams out of Miami, who is expected to compete for the starting fullback gig.
However, although Thomas and his contract are no longer a burden on the Jaguars, the team still has a bit of a question mark at the tight end position, as it lacks identity.
The team still has life-time Jaguar Marcedes Lewis on the roster as he enters his 12th season in the NFL. He has regressed as a pass catcher with his age, but his 6-6, 280 lb frame comes in handy for blocking. Third year tight ends and former seventh round picks Ben Koyack and Neal Sterling remain on the roster as well.
Jacksonville added tight end Mychal Rivera in free agency about a month after the free agency kicked off. Rivera is more of a pass catching “move” tight end who carries a smaller, more athletic frame than generic tight ends, standing at 6-3, 245 lbs. In his four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, he recorded 146 passes for 1413 yards and ten touchdowns.
The team likely believes Rivera has potential to be a playmaker in passing situations, and should continue to utilize Lewis as a blocker both against the run and in pass protection. Koyack and Sterling flashed a bit last season, combining for 31 receptions, 271 yards, and a touchdown, but at the same time they haven’t contributed enough to be relied on.
The tight end position shouldn’t be expected to be a premier part of the Jaguars offense at this point. They haven’t attempted to add any star-power or rookie talent to build on since shipping Thomas out, and in installing a power run offense this offseason rather than their previous zone-blocking, pass heavy offense, quarterback Blake Bortles and the QB position is going to be limited going forward.
Jacksonville could have benefited from drafting a tight end in this year’s draft to develop into a solid role player and perhaps an all-around tight end rather than to rely on a committee, but here we are. Since the team is going to minimize roles for tight ends in the offense, they should be simply O.K. going forward at the position, however it would have been nice to have some more potential coming from the tight end spot.
All in all, I’d say the team is on par at tight end compared to how it looked at this point last offseason. Last year, it was questioned whether Thomas would live up to his contract and it created a bit of an uneasy feeling in observing the team. This year, the position lacks a “face”, and it will be interesting — a bit uneasy, but interesting — to see how Rivera, Lewis, Koyack and Sterling pan out in 2017 if all of them make the final roster.
How does the Jaguars tight end group compare to this point in the 2016 offseason?
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