The past four weeks have been a rough awakening for Jaguars fans.
After being atop the AFC just four short weeks ago, the Jaguars have since slid to the edge of playoff contention and are currently at risk of losing their division lead to the Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans in the coming weeks. In the process, the Jaguars have delivered poor performance after poor performance, seemingly losing any of the dominance they portrayed in early wins against the Buffalo Bills or Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars’ most recent 12-30 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was perhaps the worst spectacle thus far, as they appeared outclassed in every way against a team that, on paper, they should’ve beaten handily. Though “any given Sunday” is certainly true in the NFL, the Jaguars have seemingly regressed to delivering poor showings every given Sunday.
If there is any glimmer of optimism to be gleaned from this past Sunday’s performance (you have to squint really hard), one could point to the rookie performances and the emergence of a fan-favorite from preseason minicamp.
Anton Harrison: Harrison delivered the strongest pass-blocking performance of any offensive lineman against the Buccaneers’ defensive front, allowing 0 pressures on 27 pass-blocking snaps and earning himself a 77.1 PFF grade before leaving the game with a back injury. Unfortunately, his run-blocking left much to be desired, as he logged a terrible PFF grade of 35.5 amidst a struggling run game. However, it is difficult to gauge Harrison’s performance in isolation considering a similarly poor performance from the rest of the offensive line. Overall, Harrison has been a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming Jaguars rookie class. In the past few weeks, Harrison has seemingly established himself as a solid pass-blocker for the Jaguars and offers fans ample reason for optimism moving forward.
Parker Washington: It was another quiet game for Washington, who finished the day with 2 receptions for 19 yards on 4 targets and 35 routes run. Of note, he took 27 of these snaps from the slot and saw an average depth of target of 5.7 yards, the lowest of any Jaguars wideout this past Sunday. On the bright side, he was at one point able to evade a tackle for some additional yards-after-catch (YAC) and ran past the sticks for a nice first-down reception.
Antonio Johnson: It was a quieter day for Johnson, who has essentially played himself into a starting role in recent weeks. He took most of these snaps from the slot and finished the day with 2 tackles, 1 missed tackle, and 3 receptions for 24 yards allowed on 4 targets in coverage. Despite the “down game” for Johnson, he possesses the lowest passer rating allowed while in coverage this season of any Jaguars defender.
Tyler Lacy: Lacy had a relatively strong showing on Sunday, logging 2 run-stops, a QB hurry, and a tackle for loss despite only receiving 11 snaps - 6 against the run and 5 against the pass. In fact, Lacy logged a PFF defensive grade of 84.9, the second-highest of any Jaguar this past Sunday.
Elijah Cooks: Yes, fellow Jaguars fans and OTA enthusiasts, you read that correctly. Elijah Cooks makes his first appearance in the “notable performers” section after catching all 3 of his targets for 38 yards. In fact, despite limited snaps, Cooks logged 4.22 yards per route run, the highest such figure for any Jaguars wide receiver in any game this season. While 3 catches may seem minor, it was nice to see Cooks finally deployed after impressing onlookers all preseason long.
Elijah Cooks with his first catch of his career pic.twitter.com/wsykjgfeJF— Jefferson Gibson (@rumandcokejefe) December 25, 2023
Brenton Strange had 0 receptions on 5 routes run and struggled mightily in pass-blocking. Yasir Abdullah was a healthy scratch. Christian Braswell remained out with injuries. Tank Bigsby logged zero snaps.
Contrary to what the preseason hype may have had people believing, this much is evident: the Jaguars are not a great football team.
While the roster features a few high-end talents, namely Josh Allen and Trevor Lawrence (though his superstar status is somewhat questionable as of late), as well as a super-bowl-winning head coach, the Jaguars are handicapped by a lack of elite personnel, poor roster depth, and mediocre play calling. That’s not to say the Jaguars are bad, but Josh Allen’s career season can only do so much when no one else on the defensive line can get consistent pressure. Nor can Trevor Lawrence’s supposedly elite arm talent compensate for an offensive line made of Swiss cheese and a wide receiver room currently highlighted by a WR2 coming off a year-and-a-half hiatus from football, a 6th-round backup slot receiver, and a UDFA who had his first reception this past Sunday.
Still, sometimes an average group of starters can be elevated by masterful play-calling. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Jaguars, whose offense and defense alike are often left looking like the island of misfit toys (*cue holiday reference*) and certainly not like the super-bowl-caliber squad that Jaguars management seemed to portray in the offseason.
The Jaguars’ rookie class has been similarly underwhelming. Much like the rest of GM Trent Baalke’s roster decisions, there have been a couple of good choices sprinkled amongst a sea of mediocrity or sheer incompetence. First-round pick Anton Harrison is shaping up to be a solid starter and arguably the best draft pick of the last couple of years, while second and third-round picks - Brenton Strange and Tank Bigsby, respectively - have barely been deserving of a roster spot this season. In fact, I would argue that only two of the Jaguars’ thirteen draft picks can be reliably expected to be on the Jaguars roster next year, though likely more if Baalke is retained.
Still, with the wheels falling off the truck and wide receiver injuries galore, the last few weeks may continue to feature new players in elevated roles, giving coaches and fans alike an opportunity to assess the rookie class and their potential future with this organization.
Jags fans, with two weeks remaining, what are you hoping to see out of the Jaguars’ rookies?