Alas, all good things must come to an end.
After a much-needed bye week to recuperate from injuries, expectations were reasonably high for a Jacksonville Jaguars team in the midst of a 6-game win streak. Unfortunately, the Jaguars seemed to forget they were taking on a top-3 roster in the NFL hungry for a win after an uncharacteristic 3-game losing streak. The Jaguars were out-dueled on both sides of the ball on Sunday, and the rookies were no exception.
Sigh. Let’s break it down.
Anton Harrison: Considering Harrison’s up-and-down performance over the course of this season and a difficult matchup against Nick Bosa, some struggles for the rookie OL were expected. However, Harrison surpassed expectations on Sunday, and unfortunately not in a good way. Harrison struggled mightily to defend Bosa and his new teammate Chase Young, getting beat a total of 7 times on the day, allowing 2 QB pressures and 1 sack. He now sits at a less-than-ideal 7.7% beaten percentage on the season, good for 11th highest in the league. To be fair, these numbers are heavily skewed by particularly poor performances against the likes of Chris Jones and Nick Bosa, but ultimately, a quality OT needs to be able to block even the best pass-rushers of the league.
Of note, Harrison wasn’t alone. The entire Jaguars offensive line struggled last week, earning the lowest grade of any unit in the league.
On the bright side, Harrison seems to have cut down on the penalties that plagued him during the first few weeks of the season. Also, if the roller coaster of a season thus far for Harrison is any indication of what is to come, expect a much-improved performance over the next 1-2 weeks for Harrison.
Brenton Strange: The Jaguars’ 2023 second-round pick was once again unremarkable on Sunday, logging 14 total snaps with the offense, 7 of which he was lined up as a pass-catcher. He ended the day with 0 completions on 1 target. Interestingly, he received more snaps than fellow TE Luke Farrell for the first time since Week 6, despite a limited blocking role. Look for his snap count to increase as the Jaguars try to bolster their blocking and open up their passing game.
Tank Bigsby: Remember how Bisgby logged 3 turnovers on 23 touches over the first 8 weeks? Well, make that 4 turnovers on 27 touches. That’s, like, really bad.
He was largely responsible for the Jaguars’ first turnover when a ball bounced off his hands and into the arms of a 49ers defender for an interception. Sure, the pass was unscripted and had a bit more heat than a typical lob, but when your quarterback is scrambling your way and throws a catchable pass that hits you in the hands, you need to come down with it. At this point, Bigsby is the clear RB3 out of the 3 on the roster, and I’m not entirely sure he’s better than JaMycal Hasty, whom the Jaguars waived this past week. Granted, Bigsby is a rookie, and the Jaguars will certainly give him time, but considering the frequency at which rookie running backs make early impacts around the league, I’m sure the Jaguars front office and fans would like to see more by now.
Tyler Lacy: If there was one rookie bright spot (or at least a glimmer) on the day, it was the performance of DL Tyler Lacy, who managed to make a bit of an impact despite only receiving 16 snaps. He recorded his first QB hit and disrupted the pocket on another play, an encouraging improvement on previously quiet weeks.
Antonio Johnson almost had a good play on special teams. Elijah Cooks had 0 targets on 17 snaps (much to the chagrin of Jags Twitter). Yasir Abdullah, Parker Washington and Christian Braswell remained out with injuries.
When I volunteered to write this weekly column, I figured it would be an up-and-down year for the Jaguars’ rooks (I gave the Jaguars draft haul a C back in June). I just didn’t think it’d be this tough. Can I take over the Brandon McManus column? He’s been pretty good.
In all seriousness, this was perhaps the worst loss in recent memory for the Jaguars. Offensive turnovers, poor decisions, numerous sacks allowed, and blown coverages galore were the predominant themes of the day. Yes, they were taking on a top 3 team in the NFL (and my pre-season pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl), but this was more than a loss; it was an embarrassment.
Focusing on the rookies, we have yet to see strong proof that the Jags hit on any of their 13 draft picks. Their second-round pick has 34 receiving yards through 9 games. Their third-round pick is averaging 1 turnover every 6 touches. One fourth-round pick has spent the year on IR (no fault of his own, of course), and the other has been a mediocre rotational piece at best. Anton Harrison is the closest to a passing grade, and I do think he will turn out to be a solid starter in time, but even he has been more of a liability than an asset in tough games thus far. It’s too early to write any of these guys off as busts, but at some point, we need someone to step up.
Now, enough of the pessimism (or realism, depending on your perspective). On the bright side, the Jags are still a good team. While we just lost to an elite team, we have beat many other good teams and will likely sneak out a few more exciting wins before season-end. As of now, the Jags also lead the AFC South with a 6-3 record. With the Houston Texans nipping at the heels in the division, it should certainly make for an exciting end to the season. And yes, I fully expect the Jaguars to rebound next week against the Tennessee Titans in a fun division rivalry game.
On to the next!
Jags fans, what are your thoughts on the Jaguars’ rookie class?