Last season was, for all intents and purposes, a disappointment for Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook. While at times he showed flashes of brilliance, the third-year player out of Oklahoma simply did not reach the lofty expectations he, the team, and fans set for him in 2019.
Originally a fourth round selection, Westbrook has had a solid career thus far. In 2018, Westbrook led the team in receptions (66), receiving yards (717), and receiving touchdowns (five) all while suiting up as the team’s number one receiver. With quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler throwing to him, the thought was, with better quarterback play Westbrook would easily surpass his sophomore year numbers.
Entering 2019 as the team’s clear-cut number one receiver, Westbrook had anything but a breakout campaign. With a new franchise quarterback in Nick Foles, Westbrook was primed for success, however, due to a shoulder/neck injury and the rise of sophomore wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., the former Sooner would be relegated to a fringe number two role with the bulk of his repetitions coming out of the slot position.
Under former Jaguars offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Westbrook accounted for 66 receptions, 660 yards, and three touchdowns in 2019. On the surface, while considering injuries and a quarterback change, his production seemed moderate, however, where the Jaguars failed appeared to stem from how Westbrook was used.
In 2019, Westbrook was tied for 80th in the NFL for receivers with at least 36 targets on the year with 1.2 yards-per-route-run (YPRR), according to Pro Football Focus. YPRR takes into account total route-running snaps and is a better barometer for production efficiency than yards per target. For context, Saints receiver Michael Thomas led the league in that metric with 2.88 YPRR and Chark Jr. tied for 36th in the NFL with 1.69 YPRR.
After injuries to the tight end position and veteran receiver Marqise Lee, Westbrook played in the team’s ‘F’ position, which is a position primarily played in the slot by a tight end or a bigger slot receiver as the position typically deals with a lot of traffic. While Westbrook is incredibly tough for a receiver — listed at 6-0, 178 pounds —, he is better used in space rather than closer to the line of scrimmage.
According to NextGenStats, Westbrook averaged a lowly seven average targeted-air-yards (TAY) — the average passing air yards per target — for the receiver in 2019. Westbrook was not set up to succeed as he had been in college, nor in 2018 with the Jaguars when he averaged 8.5 TAY. For reference, in 2019, Westbrook accounted for the third-fewest TAY for a wide receiver — only Miami Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson (5.2) and Oakland Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow (6.6) averaged less.
Under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Westbrook’s role should change in order to get the most out of the gifted receiver. In 2016, former Washington receiver Jamison Crowder averaged 1.59 YPRR during his best campaign under Gruden, according to PFF, compiling 67 receptions for 847 yards and seven touchdowns. Crowder accounted for 8.7 average TAY during the same campaign.
Gruden was able to artificially create space for Crowder allowing him to use his RAC (run after catch) ability in a much more efficient way than Westbrook was under DeFilippo.
While using Westbrook outside against press corners would not be ideal due to his size, playing him in space to separate himself from a crowded front-seven should be the primary goal next season. Entering the final year of his contract, change will be is good in Westbrook’s case and having Gruden in the fold should help tremendously as he continues to progress in his career in Jacksonville.