As the Jaguars enter the season, there are few positions with starters set in stone. Prior to the start of training camp, now is a good time to go over the various positional battles that will likely take place in July and August before the regular season opener against the Washington Commanders on Sept. 11.
The right tackle spot is probably the most interesting position to watch in training camp. It is a two-man competition between Jawaan Taylor and Walker Little.
After being drafted by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft (No. 35 overall), Taylor found an immediate starting role at right tackle as a rookie. Taylor has since started all 49 of his career games in three seasons for the Jaguars, but consistency has escaped him.
In 2021, Taylor started all 17 games. He was called for 11 penalties (three false starts and eight holding calls), which resulted in the Jaguars losing 95 yards, according to the Washington Post. He recorded a rather pedestrian overall grade of 60.4 and allowed six sacks, per Pro Football Focus. While many fans have voiced their displeasure for Taylor’s performance, the Jaguars’ brass thinks he has more to offer, and he could very well still be the starter in 2022.
Walker enters his second season. As a rookie in 2021, he appeared in nine games and started three contests. Walker was not called for a single penalty in 237 total snaps (225 on offense, 12 on special teams) and allowed two sacks. He had an overall grade from PFF of 68.6. While Taylor has experience on his side, Walker is considered by many to have the greater potential. Whether or not he can unlock that potential and unseat Taylor as the starter remains to be seen, but regardless of if he starts or not, Walker should see plenty of reps in 2022.
Sticking with the offensive line, the center spot is another position to keep an eye on during training camp, following the retirement of Brandon Linder. The Jaguars re-signed veteran interior offensive lineman Tyler Shatley in February, and drafted Kentucky interior offensive lineman Luke Fortner in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The starting center job is likely between those two.
Shatley, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson by the Jaguars in 2014, enters his ninth season in Jacksonville in 2022. He has appeared in well over 100 games and has started 33 contests, including 18 starts in the past two seasons. Shatley, listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, is extremely versatile and has played at center and both guard spots. Given Shatley’s experience and versatility, the starting center role appears to be his to lose. He allowed zero sacks and was called for just three penalties in 532 offensive snaps in 2021.
Fortner, the rookie who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, will look to push Shatley, however. Like Shatley, Fortner is also versatile, as he played both right guard and center for the Wildcats. He played in 55 career games with 36 starts for Kentucky, and earned second-team All-SEC honors by Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele in 2021.
Shatley will likely go into training camp taking first-team reps, and has the obvious experience factor, but if Fortner is the player who head coach Doug Pederson and the rest of the staff believe him to be, then Shatley doesn’t have the job 100 percent locked up just yet. Once Fortner is able to master the playbook and get used to the speed of NFL practices and games, he may very well earn significant playing time.
Yet another spot on the offensive line up for grabs is the left guard position. As of press time, the job seems to be Ben Bartch’s to lose. However, if Fortner loses the center battle, he could factor into the left guard conversation — although the staff sees him primarily as a center. On the other hand, Shatley could also play left guard. Or if Little loses the right tackle battle, could it be possible he slides to guard? It is not a spot he has much experience at, though, so I wouldn’t personally count on that.
Will Richardson was re-signed by the Jaguars in March. He has played in 44 career games, with five starts, and has played both tackle and guard. Richardson could push Bartch for a starting spot. KC McDermott is another guy who will be hungry for a more prominent role. He has played in 16 games for Jacksonville over the past two seasons, including one start in 2021.
However, unless the Jaguars add more competition at the spot through free agency or a trade, all signs point to Bartch starting at left guard. Bartch — who was selected by the Jaguars out of Division III Saint John’s (Minnesota) in the fourth round of 2020 NFL Draft — has played 28 games for Jacksonville in two seasons. He has started 12 games, including 11 contests in 2021. Last season, he played 705 offensive snaps, allowing just three sacks and being called for only two penalties.
While Bartch has the upper hand here, it seems the only thing certain on the offensive line, is that Cam Robinson will start at left tackle, after receiving the franchise tag in March, and Brandon Scherff, who signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Jaguars during the offseason, will start at right guard, assuming they both stay healthy.
Two of the starting wide receiver spots are locked up with Marvin Jones Jr. (on the outside) and big-money free agent addition Christian Kirk (likely working out of the slot). However, Zay Jones, who also signed as a free agent this offseason, and Laviska Shenault Jr. will be battling it out for the third spot. The Jaguars also brought back Laquon Treadwell, who could also push for more playing time.
Zay Jones played for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, catching 47 passes for 546 yards and one touchdown. He also only recorded two dropped passes. He started his career with the Buffalo Bills and has amassed 171 receptions for 1,884 yards and 11 touchdowns in 79 career games.
Shenault is a talented receiver, who had a promising rookie season in 2020 with 58 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to 91 rushing yards. He was expected to take a big leap in 2021, but ended up really struggling instead. Shenault’s final stat line last season was disappointing, as he recorded 63 receptions for 619 yards and zero touchdowns. He also had eight drops. Shenault is looking to put last season behind him and have a strong campaign in 2022.
Treadwell played in 12 games, with seven starts, for the Jaguars in 2021. He recorded 33 receptions for a career-high 434 yards and one touchdown. Treadwell has also spent time with the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. He has played in 70 career games, and has made 104 receptions for 1,184 yards and five touchdowns.
The Jaguars will likely employ two-tight end sets on a fairly regular basis, so perhaps the “starting” tight end designation isn’t as important at this position, but it will be interesting to see who plays more snaps out of free agent addition Evan Engram and 2021 acquisition Dan Arnold. Jacksonville also still has blocking tight end Chris Manhertz and now second-year player Luke Farrell on the roster, among others.
Engram provides speed and play-making ability at the tight end spot that the Jaguars did not have last season. However, he’s had an inconsistent career. In five seasons (65 games) with the New York Giants, Engram put up 2,828 yards on 262 receptions and scored 17 total touchdowns (one rushing). The 2021 season was a bit of a disappointment for Engram, who caught just 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Drops have plagued Engram throughout his career, as he dropped 11 passes in 2020 and then another six in 2021.
Arnold was acquired by the Jaguars via trade in late September of 2021. He quickly built a connection with rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but a knee injury in late November limited Arnold to just eight games last season. Still, Arnold led all Jacksonville tight ends in receptions (28) and yards (324). Throughout his career, Arnold has recorded 86 catches for 1,123 yards and seven scores in 42 games.
As a rookie last season, Farrell recorded seven catches for 56 yards, while Manhertz, in his first season with Jacksonville, caught six passes for 71 yards.
The Jaguars are expected to be a 3-4 base team under defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, although the unit may show multiple different looks. Due to that scheme, the defensive end position is difficult to peg because many of the defensive linemen could also be used as outside linebackers/standup edge rushers or defensive tackles.
The Jaguars appear to have a much-improved defensive line overall compared to last season. With free agent signee Foley Fatukasi likely to start at nose tackle, and Malcom Brown probably seeing reps there, too, the defensive end spots will more than likely be secured by Roy Robertson-Harris and perhaps DaVon Hamilton (who could also play at nose tackle). However, players like Arden Key, Dawaune Smoot, Adam Gotsis and even Jay Tufele could push more playing time here.
A lot of these players are versatile and can play multiple positions on the defensive line, or as mentioned, as stand up edge rushers, depending on the defensive package. With Smoot and Key in particular, it would not be surprising to see the coaching staff use each player as both a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end and a stand up pass rusher throughout the season. It will be interesting to see how Jacksonville uses its many defensive linemen.
Safety is another intriguing position. Rayshawn Jenkins is coming off of a season-ending ankle injury late in the year, and his play was up and down in 2021, but if he is healthy, he is likely penciled in as one of the starting safeties. If so, the competition is at the other safety spot between Andre Cisco, who is entering his second year in the NFL, and Andrew Wingard, who is entering his fourth year with the Jaguars.
Wingard has experience in his favor, starting 15 games last year and playing in 44 total games for the Jaguars since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He ranked third on the team last year with 88 total tackles and also recorded a sack and interception. However, he has struggled in coverage at times.
However, despite Wingard’s experience, Cisco seems to be in the driver’s seat for the starting role in 2022. He was selected out of Syracuse in the third round of the 2021 Draft, and appeared in all 17 games with three starts. Cisco recorded 26 total tackles, two passes defended and two forced fumbles. He appears to have a high ceiling and has recently caught the attention of his coaches.
Fellow safeties Daniel Thomas and Rudy Ford will also be looking to earn bigger roles in 2022.