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Why the tight end position should be more productive for the Jaguars in 2022

NFL: London Games-Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since the Jacksonville Jaguars have had a featured tight end in the offense. The team has not had a player at the position catch more than 37 passes or record 350 or more receiving yards in a season since Julius Thomas in 2015 (46 receptions for 455 yards and five touchdowns). Thomas’ tenure in Jacksonville flamed out rather quickly, too.

The most productive tight end the Jaguars have had recently is Tyler Eifert, who recorded 36 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns during the 2020 season, which was considered a disappointing campaign by many fans.

Additionally, the Jaguars have not had a single tight end record five touchdown receptions in a season since Marcedes Lewis in 2017 — and three of those scores came in one game against the Baltimore Ravens in London.

This should change in 2022 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, new head coach Doug Pederson has a history of featuring the tight end position in his offense, and he has prominently used 12 personnel sets — one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers — throughout his career. Secondly, the tight ends room seems to be a better overall group in 2022, with solid starters/contributors and good depth.

The tight end position seems to be one of the more underrated and less talked about groups for Jacksonville entering the 2022 season. While injuries and other things could happen, it would be surprising to not see more production from this group this season.

As mentioned, Pederson seems to favor the tight end more so than many other coaches around the league. Pederson’s last year as head coach was with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. The Eagles lined up with two tight ends in 12 personnel on 35 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, according to Sharp Football Stats, which was tied with the Tennessee Titans for the most in the NFL that year.

The year before that in 2019, it was Philadelphia’s most frequently used grouping, as the Eagles lined up in 12 personnel a whopping 52 percent of the time — easily the highest number in the league with 608 total snaps. The same was true in 2018, when the Eagles lead the NFL in 12 personnel groupings at a 36 percent clip and 411 total snaps.

In 2020 under Pederson’s tutelage, Dallas Goedert ranked second on the Eagles in both receptions (46) and receiving yards (524), while also scoring three touchdowns. That same year, Zach Ertz recorded 36 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown. Richard Rodgers also contributed 24 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. So, just those three tight ends combined for 106 catches for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns in that single season.

For comparison, Jacksonville had five tight ends combine for 74 receptions, 750 yards and two touchdowns in 2021 under head coach Urban Meyer (and interim head coach Darrell Bevell). Under head coach Doug Marrone in 2020, four tight ends for the Jaguars combined for just 68 catches, 637 yards and two touchdowns (both by Eifert). History points to Pederson utilizing the tight end a lot more frequently, and with his disciple Press Taylor taking the reins at offensive coordinator, that should remain the same in 2022.

As it pertains to this coming season, the Jaguars added Evan Engram as a free agent to pair with Dan Arnold. At least on paper, this gives Pederson and the Jaguars a solid duo in two-tight end sets.

Engram likely doesn’t bring much to the table as a blocker, but gives the Jaguars something the team has been lacking for several years: a playmaker at the tight end position. Engram, at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, brings plenty of speed. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine, and has since made several highlight plays throughout his NFL career.

However, while he is known as a receiving tight end, Engram has been plagued by drops. He dropped 11 passes in 2020 and six in 2021. Additionally, Engram dropped six balls combined in 2017 and 2018.

Engram has played in 65 career games, which all came with the New York Giants. He amassed 262 receptions for 2,828 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns (he also scored a rushing touchdown in 2020) through five seasons. Most recently, Engram tallied 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns in 2021.

The Jaguars traded for Arnold in September of 2021. He showed flashes as a reliable target for Trevor Lawrence last season. Arnold led Jacksonville’s tight ends group with 28 receptions and 324 yards. He also caught a two-point conversion against the Indianapolis Colts.

However, a grade 2 MCL sprain suffered in late November held Arnold to just eight games in 2021. Arnold has recorded 86 catches for 1,123 yards and seven scores in 42 career games. He has nice hands and brings more as a blocker than Engram. Together, Engram and Arnold should make up a nice tandem for Lawrence and company.

Additionally, the Jaguars have blocking tight ends Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell on the roster. Manhertz has a reputation as one of the leagues best-blocking tight ends, and should still factor into the rotation, especially on running downs.

As a rookie last season, Farrell recorded seven catches for 56 yards. During Manhertz’s first season in Jacksonville, he tallied six catches for 71 yards.

The Jaguars currently also have undrafted free agent signees Gerrit Prince (UAB), Naz Bohannon (Clemson) and Grayson Gunter (Southern Mississippi) on the roster. Each of those three players will have an uphill battle to make the final roster, but each will look to earn a spot or make the practice squad and provide additional depth.

For all of those reasons mentioned, it is more than fair to expect better production out of Jacksonville’s tight ends in 2022.