I cannot recall any injury in Jaguars history that elicited as much dread as Jacksonville Jaguars fans felt as we watched Trevor Lawrence slam the ground in frustration and attempt unsuccessfully to walk on his own after his ankle was stepped on by left guard Walker Little.
Fortunately, what was initially presumed to be a season-ending injury now appears to be a high ankle sprain that will sideline Lawrence for only a week or two. Unfortunately, Trevor was not alone. Over the course of the game, the Jaguars also lost their most dependable wide receiver, Christian Kirk, to injury, as well as Tre Herndon, Walker Little, and Angelo Blackson.
While these injuries were costly in the team’s overall performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, leading to an eventual 34-31 loss in overtime, they allowed some new rookies to play in their stead. Let’s break down how they performed.
Anton Harrison: In a tough matchup against a solid Bengals defensive front featuring Trey Hendrickson, BJ Hill, and Sam Hubbard, Harrison performed quite well once again, allowing only 2 pressures throughout the game. In fact, Harrison logged the highest PFF pass-blocking grade (74.0) among the entire offensive line. Rather, the greatest threat to Harrison’s performance was the referee who made the atrocious holding call that negated a deep completion to Calvin Ridley and likely cost the Jaguars the game. While I am not one to blame the reffing crew for a team’s poor performance, and any reader of this column can attest that I rarely cut Harrison any slack, you can’t fault the guy for a non-hold, particularly when the Bengals offensive line had been doing far worse to Josh Allen and Travon Walker all game long. Harrison honorably took responsibility for the play, as good sportsmen do, but Jags fans know what really went down. So for once, Harrison, I applaud you. Keep it up.
Parker Washington: In what was otherwise a painful game, Washington was perhaps the Jaguars’ greatest bright spot on the day. He finished the day with 6 receptions (2nd most on the team) for 61 yards and a slick touchdown grab. In fact, Washington was thrown 2 contested catches, of which he caught both. And let’s not forget his recovered fumble after CJ Beathard lost the ball on the first play of the final drive.
Parker Washington did not have a catch all season before today.— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2023
He has four (and his first career TD) today
: #CINvsJAX on ESPN/ABC
: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/JZL7uE8ZOm pic.twitter.com/KyKZVXA81l
For fans who had been pushing to see some more playing time from our sure-handed rookie (see here for his pre-season breakdown), this was an exciting debut.
Was he perfect? Certainly not. He muffed a punt return (which he managed to recover quickly), and both he and the coaching staff admitted to a couple of errors in his routes. However, considering this was his first start - and an unexpected one, at that - Jags fans have reason for excitement to see what the coming weeks bring for Washington.
Antonio Johnson: After Tre Herndon went down with a concussion early in the first quarter, Gregor Junior was the first up to fill his shoes. However, when Junior also went down later in the game due to what the coaches described as “cramping”, Johnson was given his time to shine, ending the day with a season-high 19 snaps. Johnson managed to impress during his time on the field, logging 5 tackles and a PFF grade of 78.1. Though he was the closest one in a blown coverage on Ja’Marr Chase’s 4th-down reception in the red zone, it is hard to pin that on Johnson considering a poorly designed defensive scheme that was unable to contain the Bengals wide receivers at any point during the game. Overall, it was an encouraging first extended performance from the Jaguars’ 2023 5th-round pick. Look for Johnson to get more playing time this upcoming week.
Tank Bigsby took 2 snaps on Monday, one of which was on a QB sneak for a 4th down conversion. Tyler Lacy failed to log a tackle or pressure on only 3 snaps. Elijah Cooks and Yasir Abdullah were healthy scratches. Christian Braswell and Brenton Strange remained out with injuries.
Remember last week when I said Week 12 may have been the strongest performance for the Jaguars’ rookies thus far? Well, scratch that. Week 13 can now claim that prize.
As starter after starter went down during the Jaguars’ loss to the Bengals, rookies were called upon the take their place. And no, not the 2nd and 3rd-round draft picks that were supposed to be making an impact throughout this season, but rather the 5th and 6th-round picks who were often described in the offseason as potential special teams players on the fringe of a roster spot.
Parker Washington and Antonio Johnson both made their mark this week, performing quite well in their first starts, particularly considering that they did not expect to be filling in at the time of kickoff. Ironically, both Johnson and Washington entered the NFL draft with might higher consensus projections than their actual draft spot. Washington was often projected to go in the 4th round (drafted in the 6th), and Johnson was projected as high as the 2nd round (drafted in the 5th).
Of course, I would be remiss to omit recognition of Anton Harrison, who continued his solid stretch of performances for some welcome stability on the Anton-Harrison-Rookie-Rollercoaster (not yet trademarked).
Now, as we have discussed in previous weeks, the Jaguars' rookie class has overall been disappointing. Of the whopping thirteen draft picks the Jaguars accumulated in the 2023 NFL draft, only one of them had made a net positive impact prior to Week 13. Their second and third-round picks have both been filling situational roles at the bottom of the depth chart, and the remainder have barely seen the field. This has been a particularly tough pill to swallow when comparing our class to the Texans’ or Lions’ dominant draft classes, two teams often compared to the Jaguars when discussing young up-and-coming teams. However, amidst the devastation of 6 injured starters, the Jaguars found some new bright spots in the rookies who took their place, and fans have every reason to be excited to see what the coming weeks bring.
Jags fans, what are your projections for Parker Washington and Antonio Johnson for the remainder of the season?