Another week, another tough showing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After letting up 491 total yards to a Jake Browning-led Cincinnati Bengals offense in Week 13, the Jaguars laid another clunker of a performance against Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns. The defense let up over 300 yards passing to Flacco - the Browns’ fourth quarterback this season - while the offense appeared incapable of holding onto the ball or throwing to anyone not named Evan Engram without injured WR Christian Kirk.
For the second week in a row, the Jaguars were missing numerous key starters, however, this again allowed a few more rookies to see the field. Their performance was a mixed bag, featuring key turnovers on both the offense and the defense. Let’s see who stood out this week, for better or for worse:
Anton Harrison: Harrison delivered a very mediocre performance against the Browns. While he didn’t regress to the complete incompetence he demonstrated against Chris Jones or Nick Bosa, he finished the day with the lowest pass-block grade of any Jaguars starting OL after allowing 3 pressures on 58 pass-blocking snaps. On the bright side, none of these pressures resulted in a sack, as Trevor Lawrence was able to get the ball out pretty quickly throughout the game. To be fair, the Browns defense is a top-3 defense in the league, led in large part by their formidable defensive line, however this has been a common trend, as Harrison has yet to deliver a strong performance against an elite defensive line. He will need to continue to hone his performance against the top-tier pass-rushers of the league if he hopes to be a leader on the Jaguars offensive line for years to come.
And in case you’re wondering, he did grade out better than 4th-string OL and future roster casualty Blake Hance, who allowed 8 pressures and scored a 0.0 PFF grade, coincidentally the same grade I would receive if I played OL for the Jaguars.
Parker Washington: This was the second straight week that Washington had a fumble. This was also the second straight week that he made a beautiful touchdown grab. Washington continued to deliver a mixed-back performance, finishing the day with 2 receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown and 63 yards on 5 punt returns. The entirety of his first-half action was on punt returns, where he made some nice catches but fell prey to rookie indecisiveness and started the day with returns of 6 and 0 yards. He followed this up with a nice 26-yard return and an 11-yard return on the next two Browns punts to close out the half. Washington started the second half with his worst gaffe of the day: an 8-yard reception turned fumble at the Jaguars’ own 22-yard line, leading to a Cleveland touchdown seven plays later. Washington salvaged what would otherwise be an abominable performance with a nice touchdown reception in the 4th quarter, pulling the Jags within a score of the Browns. He also notably received a look in the end zone late in the 4th quarter and drew a pass interference call to take the Jags to the 2-yard line. Overall, Washington continued to balance rookie mistakes with key flashes of playmaking ability. In fact, Washington has arguably offered the most dependable hands of the Jaguars wide receiver room these past couple of weeks. If he can continue to clean up his mistakes, Washington may earn himself more looks from Lawrence as the season progresses.
Antonio Johnson: Johnson delivered perhaps the strongest performance of all the Jaguars rookies on Sunday, filling in beautifully for Andre Cisco, who left the game early with a groin injury. Johnson was solid in coverage and made two key plays on the day: a strip sack of Joe Flacco leading to a Jaguars touchdown drive and a pass break-up on a 3rd down pass to Amari Cooper leading to a Browns punt. He finished the game with 2 tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble, earning him a respectable 79.2 PFF grade. While Johnson’s performance was not enough to overcome an otherwise abysmal performance by the Jaguars secondary, it should give Jags fans hope that we may have a future defensive starter from this year’s rookie class after all.
Tyler Lacy logged a QB hit on the day, despite only receiving 10 snaps. Elijah Cooks had a block in the back that negated a 26-yard punt return by Parker Washington. Yasir Abdullah was a healthy scratch. Christian Braswell and Brenton Strange remained out with injuries. Tank Bigsby who? Oh, him. He had 1 snap and 0 touches.
In a week that provided Jaguars fans little reason for optimism, the Jaguars’ 5th and 6th round picks of the 2023 NFL draft provided a wee bit of solace. Parker Washington and Antonio Johnson both should be exciting to watch as the season progresses, and both are certain to receive playing time with Christian Kirk on IR and the ‘Jags' secondary struggling.
While much of the fan focus now seems to be either on making the playoffs or on whom the Jaguars will sign in free agency (depending on one’s confidence level in this team), this year’s rookies seem to be making a final push for recognition. Who knows, we may get a future starter or two out of this year’s rookie class after all...
Jags fans, which of the Jags rookies do you think starts next season?