As the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2023 offseason, its wide receiver room was perhaps the most contentiously debated position group among fans.
It is true that free agency acquisition Christian Kirk was a solid enough WR1 last season, ranking 13th in yards and 8th in touchdowns among all receivers, but he is not (yet) quite at the level that most fans and analysts would call “elite.” Additionally, while Zay Jones proved he was more than worth his three-year, $24 million contract, he too falls short of that top talent tier.
While our fortified passing offense made monumental strides last season from a historically awful 2021 season, we still ranked behind other top passing attacks in the AFC. Beyond the luxury of additional years in the same scheme (which is not to be undervalued), there is one common thread among these top-tier offenses: the presence of an elite pass-catcher.
Let’s consider the four quarterbacks consistently listed as the top 4 QBs in the NFL, such as in this ranking by NFL analyst Marc Sessler: Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. Mahomes has Travis Kelce, Burrow has both Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, Allen has Stefon Diggs, and Hurts has both AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Looking at the quarterbacks on this list, two of their situations earlier in their careers were particularly similar to that of Trevor Lawrence: Allen and Hurts. While Mahomes entered an offense with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, and Burrow entered an offense with Higgins and returned from injury to the addition of Chase, both Allen and Hurts entered offenses lacking an elite weapon. Both also struggled to make the leap to stardom in their first couple of seasons. However, there was a notable jump in performance somewhere within the first few years of their development. The common denominator? The arrival of a true alpha pass-catcher.
Let’s compare some quarterback stats during the years immediately prior to and immediately following these wide receiver acquisitions:
|Josh Allen 2019||58.8||3089||20||9||85.3|
|Josh Allen 2020||69.2||4544||37||10||107.2|
|Jalen Hurts 2021||61.3||3144||16||9||87.2|
|Jalen Hurts 2022||66.5||3701||22||6||101.6|
Though more likely to be called “very good” than “elite,” we can also see a similar impact on Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa’s performance following the addition of Tyreek Hill.
|Tua Tagovailoa 2021||67.8||2653||16||10||90.1|
|Tua Tagovailoa 2022||64.8||3548||25||8||105.5|
From these stats, the impact of an alpha receiver on a young quarterback’s development is apparent. While an elite wideout will not necessarily make a Super Bowl contender (see: Justin Jefferson on the Vikings, Davante Adams on the Raiders), one almost seems necessary to pair with a top-tier QB in order to compete for a ring in a league of elite passing attacks.
Enter Calvin Ridley.
Prior to his suspension, Ridley was well on his way to being a top 10 receiver in the game, if he’s not already there (Adams recently ranked him at 4).
With reliable hands, high-end speed, and elite route-running ability, Calvin Ridley brings a game-changing element to the offense that we have not seen since Allen Robinson.
Considering Robinson helped take Blake Bortles to an AFC championship and helped transform him from the WOAT to the BOAT in the eyes of Jaguars fans, the potential impact of pairing Calvin Ridley with Trevor Lawrence is nothing short of thrilling.
While the question of whether Ridley can return to pre-suspension form remains to be seen, if there’s anything we can glean from other QB’s past situations, there is immense reason for optimism.
Jags fans, what are your predictions for our dynamic duo?