One year after a sensational Pro Bowl campaign where he had over 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. is having a down year, by all numbers imaginable.
This year, he’s only played in 11 of 14 games and has only 591 receiving yards this season, and five touchdowns. Last season he only had four games where he had under four catches. Through the 11 games in which he’s played, he’s had five such games, including a one-catch performance against the Los Angeles Chargers.
This has led to many on Jaguars Twitter calling into question the merit of Chark as a number one receiver in an NFL offense.
Call me crazy, but I still believe that Chark can be (and is!) a No. 1 receiver for the Jaguars.
But what has led to this regression? We’ll look into the numbers to find out.
Coming out of college, the onus on Chark was that he was a spectacular deep route runner. Sprinting a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Chark was able to win on deep passes at LSU, while not being able to create separation as well. This was a problem in college, and even in the NFL. Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network alluded to this when he wrote his third year breakout article on Chark in the offseason:
“Chark frequently fails to separate from man coverage outside of the numbers vertically and instead wins with great ball tracking and good physicality to give himself a shot at contested catches.”
When you examine the numbers and film this season, this lack of separation is clear.
According to NextGen Stats, Chark only gets a paltry 2.4 yards of separation. That’s comparable to a former Jags wide receiver who has continued to make name for himself outside of Jacksonville — Allen Robinson III, who gets 2.3 yards of separation.
Chark has dealt with many injuries, which could also be a part of the reason for his regression, but even still, he wasn’t that great at creating separation. In his Pro Bowl year, he only gained 2.8 yards of separation. What does this mean? This means that Chark wins in contested catch situations, where the quarterback gives him a chance of making a play using his sure hands (only two drops this season on 82 targets) and ball tracking ability.
Here is where we get the major problem — the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t have a single quarterback on the roster that can put him in those situations.
This season, according to Pro Football Reference, all three Jaguars quarterbacks have a bad throw percentage of over 15 percent. This means, taking Gardner Minshew for example, excluding spikes and throwaways, 19.7 percent of the time his passes are inaccurate. That’s good for seventh highest in the NFL (min. seven games). If you take out the minimum of games required, all three Jaguars quarterbacks would be in the top ten of bad passes, number one being Jake Luton, at an absurd 28.8 percent (FWIW, Glennon’s is 18.9 percent).
In addition, the deep ball hasn’t been working for any of the quarterbacks this year, which has made Chark’s numbers suffer as a result. According to Sharp Football Stats, all of the Jaguars quarterbacks most frequent passes come between 0-15 yards, with passes beyond 15 yards only having an 11 percent frequency.
This has severely affected Chark who, when targeted deep, is seeing Jaguars quarterbacks have a passer rating of 84 to the deep left parts of the field, and 65 to the deep right parts of the field.
To compare that to last year, Chark saw a passer rating of 124 when he was targeted to the deep right part of the field, an absurd number.
According to Football Outsiders, Chark’s catch rate is about 55 percent. This number is a percentage of passes completed to a receiver, not factoring in drops.
What does this mean? His quarterbacks aren’t even putting the ball in his area code.
For a guy who can’t necessarily separate, it’s important for Chark to get these jump ball catches down the field, passes that just have to be in the area, which will open up the amount of cushion he gets on the line of scrimmage. This year, Chark gets about 5.7 yards of cushion, according to NextGen Stats. That’s the exact same amount of cushion as Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki. With more cushion, he can run more underneath routes, which accommodates the current Jaguars quarterbacks.
The worst part of this mysterious disappearance of Chark from the Jaguars offense is that he’s getting open down the field. He still receives the most deep targets on the team by a large margin, but his quarterbacks have not been able to get him the ball. Solak again hits on this in his offseason article. He says that most of his success has come on the intermediate routes and deep routes, where he uses his “hand usage, and deceptive route stems”.
This is where Chark makes his money, but the quarterbacks he’s had haven’t been able to get him the ball. No amount of playcalling can fix that — although Chark’s average depth of target is 14.6, over three yards higher than last year. He’s running deeper routes, but nobody can get him the ball.
Therefore, in the curious case of Chark’s disappearance from the offense, it’s safe to say that it’s due to multiple things: regression from the quarterback position, lack of an ability to separate, and simply the sheer volatility in being as successful deep as he was last year. These issues are fixable, however.
Chark can learn how to separate better, and under wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, there’s no doubt in that. Getting a quarterback who can get him the ball downfield could also be easy. (Um... hello Justin Fields or Zach Wilson or Trevor Lawrence? Maybe?)
But to get the Pro Bowl D.J. Chark back, those are the critical things that need to happen.