Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk is coming off a career year and is primed for another big season. With career highs last season for targets (133), receptions (84), yards (1108), touchdowns (8), and first downs (55), is he flying under the radar?
The summer of Calvin Ridley is in full swing and Evan Engram’s contract extension have been getting much-warranted attention to begin training. And while both Ridley and Engram will look to play a big part in the 2023 Jaguars offense, Kirk seems to be the forgotten man.
Are we overlooking how valuable a chess piece Kirk will be for Doug Pederson and Press Taylor?
One way he could be utilized this season is likely out of the backfield. Last season, Kirk was lined up in the backfield 18 times, including two receiving touchdowns. His second TD came in the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Trevor Lawrence & Christian Kirk (10-yd TD)— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 21, 2023
Kirk is the first wide receiver in the NGS era with multiple receiving TDs out of the backfield in a single season, including playoffs.#JAXvsKC | #DUUVAL pic.twitter.com/8K63paYiLM
A quick, talented receiver coming out of the backfield presents many problems for defenses. First, it creates space at the snap. Kirk eats defenders up if given space. Without the possibility of being jammed, Kirk can set up his route and put defenders on their heels.
Second, and most important regarding Kirk, it allows for option routes galore. This makes life difficult for defenders. Guessing which way Kirk is going to break on the route will often leave defenders in no man’s land.
Pederson will also likely utilize this formation in the red zone. With defenses likely to play man coverage in the red area, a linebacker on Kirk is a win for the Jaguars. As KC found out.
Even if a defense plays zone and try to box Kirk with a slot defender outside and linebacker inside, he’ll eat up any space. Will we see more of that in 2023?
Christian Kirk coming out of the backfield pic.twitter.com/1oyOrnfPz0— Mark Dhooge (@Mark_Dhooge) June 8, 2023
Additionally, in 2022, Kirk was positioned in the slot for 754 snaps resulting in 61 receptions, 832 yards, and four touchdowns. Where the Jaguars can really take advantage here is lining Kirk up on the same side of the formation as Ridley. This will almost guarantee single coverage.
Defenses across the league will have a choice to make. With Ridley in line to see a lot of double coverage, how are they going to cover Kirk?
NFL coordinators will certainly try mirroring Ridley with their best CB along with a safety over the top. Whether in zone or man, that would likely leave Kirk lined up with each defense's best slot defender.
Another tactic teams could deploy is how the New England Patriots opt to handle talented outside receivers. Instead of no. 1 CB versus no. 1 WR, defenses could opt to man up Kirk with their best cornerback while doubling Ridley with their second CB and a safety.
The game within the game will be one to certainly pay attention to week to week. And with defenses across the league trying to keep everything in front to avoid the big play, there’s going to be a lot of room underneath for Kirk to take advantage. The Jaguars' leading receiver torched defenses last season under 10 yards.
If defenses overlook Christian Kirk like most have this summer, will the start receiver be in line for another career year?