Jaguars rookie receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is becoming more than simply a get-it-to player for Jacksonville. Drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, his calling card has been well documented, he’s a playmaker, who happens to play wide receiver. Now, it appears, he’s taking the next step in an NFL offense.
On Sunday, Shenault’s receiving prowess was put on full display as he was able to haul in five passes for 86 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals, topping his previous high this season of 37 yards in the team’s season-opener versus the Indianapolis Colts.
Not used in his otherwise typical fashion much as a utility player, Shenault was able to catch meaningful passes, showcasing the receiving ability Jaguars coaches knew he had in him.
“[He’s grown] a lot and I think we’ll see a lot more,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said on Wednesday when asked about Shenault’s growth. “I think Laviska is a guy we’re just going to continue to work with and he’s going to get better and better the more he does and the more he sees. He’s coming off that double core surgery that he had in college. I can’t wait to see him at full strength.”
While Gruden would later say he believes that Shenault is at full strength since recovering from the previously alluded to “double core surgery” the rookie receiver had following his career at Colorado, the Jacksonville offensive coordinator also stated that Shenault still can become stronger and even more productive.
“We’ve taken a little bit off his plate in that regard because James [Robinson] has preformed so well. I think we can utilize him a little bit more,” Gruden continued. “I think the more healthy he gets, the more confidence he has in the system, where to line up, how to play, he’s going to be a factor for this football team for many years to come.
“We’re just scratching the surface with him, but we love the way he works in practice and his production on game day has been excellent so far. It’s our job to get him more touches.”
In the first four games of the season, Shenault has accumulated 244 yards from scrimmage, including 191 receiving yards and 53 rushing yards, a dual-threat player. However, his fellow receiver, DJ Chark Jr. has seen growth from the rookie as an NFL receiver, specifically his understanding of what he sees on the field.
DJ Chark Jr & Laviska Shenault Jr rank among the top WR receiving grades thru 4 weeks— PFF JAX Jaguars (@PFF_Jaguars) October 6, 2020
Chark 80.1 (T-9th)
Shenault 77.0 (17th)
(out of 99 WRs with min. 10 targets) #Jaguars #duuuval pic.twitter.com/UBDkkqAnQ1
“The main thing that I’m always on him about is just knowing exactly what to do, not only knowing what you have to do but knowing what the defense is doing to take you away and that’s something that he’s gotten way better at, his understanding of it,” Chark said on Wednesday.
“Since he’s been here, he’s been a good route runner. He’s been physical, you’re not going to press him. He’s really physically gifted and he uses that to his advantage. He gets open and catches the ball very well.”
While the team hasn’t been able to utilize Shenault much as the “good receiver that he is,” Chark says, his performance against the Bengals should raise some eyebrows.
“He makes all his plays look easy, so that’s one thing I do envy of him. I take some hits, but [for] some reason it seems like he doesn’t really get hit as hard.”
Crisp route-running here. Something that coaches have wanted him to work on, but he already had a lot of it from Colorado: pic.twitter.com/yVMc5aAuOf— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) October 8, 2020
Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II has certainly been happy with the team’s latest addition at receiver. Able to depend on a player who can win at another level than typical for a rookie, or even a receiver in general, is special.
“He’s a guy that we obviously know what he can do with the ball in his hands and he’s working every day to be a better, more complete receiver and I think he’s doing a great job with that, creating separation, catching the ball,” Minshew said on Wednesday. “His hands are great and we’re going to look to continue to build on his role and get him the ball as much as possible.”
The separation Minshew is talking about was on full display on Sunday. According to NextGenStats, Shenault had the most average separation among all players in week four with 5.9 yards. As the team moves forward, the Jaguars will be able to utilize that, especially with Chark on the opposite side of the field.
“I think it’s another thing that the defense has to prepare for each week,” said Minshew of Shenault’s play-making ability as a receiver and a utility player. “You never know really how we’re going to use him. He’s a guy, for me, I know give him the ball in his hands and I don’t think I’ve seen him yet not make at least one guy miss. He’s really, really good like that and it’s huge to have when you can throw a 5-yard pass and it turns into 20.”