That one hurt. A lot.
In what will go down as the biggest season choke in franchise history, and perhaps even in the entire league, the Jacksonville Jaguars completed their skid from first overall in the AFC, an 8-3 overall record, and a 99% chance to make the playoffs to missing the playoffs entirely following a 28-20 loss to their division rivals, the Tennessee Titans. In the biggest game of the year, the Jaguars could not overcome the lack of high-end roster talent and subpar play-calling, seemingly outplayed and out-coached on both sides of the ball.
While the entire roster shares a portion of the blame, a few Jaguars rookies were at least passable on Sunday, delivering starter-caliber performances amidst team-wide struggles. Other rookies floundered in pivotal moments, committing costly penalties and other crucial mistakes when the team needed them most. Let’s take a look at which rookies delivered in the season closer.
Anton Harrison: Week 18 was a mixed performance for Harrison. He was solid enough in pass protection, logging 1 pressure allowed on 48 pass-blocking snaps with a respectable PFF pass-blocking grade of 80.5. However, as has been the trend this season with the entire offensive line, Harrison’s run-blocking performance was abysmal with a PFF grade of 39.7. As a result of poor offensive line play, the Jags were unable to establish a run game, earning only 19 yards on 14 carries. Yikes.
Antonio Johnson: Johnson continued his trend of encouraging performances on Sunday, despite only playing in a rotational role. He allowed 2 receptions for 10 yards on 13 snaps in pass coverage and logged 2 tackles and 1 run-stop in 10 snaps defending the run. He also logged a PFF tackling grade of 75.4, second second-highest on the team. While his performance was by no means exceptional or sufficient to compensate for defense-wide struggles in both coverage and tackling, his multiple consecutive weeks of strong performances offer reason for optimism surrounding his role in the season to come.
Parker Washington: Washington gave a passable performance on Sunday, catching his only target for a nice 11-yard gain and a first down while also fielding 2 punts for 19 yards on the day. It was a fairly pedestrian performance on a day where the passing game struggled.
Brenton Strange: With the Jaguars’ season on the line, the Jaguars’s second-round pick in 2023 was a non-factor, finishing the game with 0 receptions on 3 routes run and only 12 total snaps. His most notable contribution was committing a crucial hold that negated a first-down play in the red zone. His only redeeming moment came on a botched Titans punt, during which Strange went unblocked and tackled punter Ryan Stonehouse after he fumbled the snap (despite Stonehouse carrying Strange a good 5 yards downfield, much to the amusement of Jags Twitter). He finished the day with a PFF grade of 47.5, the second lowest on the offense.
Tank Bigsby: I have to give credit where credit is due: Bigsby played hard again on Sunday. After starting off the season as the worst man on the roster and a huge liability every time he was on the field, Bigsby put together a couple of nice performances in the last two weeks of the season, including in Week 18. Though he didn’t get the 11 carries he received in Week 17, he finished the game with 3 carries for 16 yards, including a first-down run, and 0 turnovers.
Tyler Lacy: Despite logging only 8 snaps - 3 in pass-rush and 5 in run defense - Lacy logged 1 QB hit. It’s hard to judge his performance based on so few snaps, but I gotta give the guy props for making the most of his opportunities.
Grade: Insufficient data
Elijah Cooks received 0 targets on 5 routes run. Yasir Abdullah was a healthy scratch. Christian Braswell remained out with injury.
Unfortunately, there’s just not much to say here. The Jaguars were outplayed on Sunday, and while the rookies not named Brenton Strange evaded any crucial errors, no one delivered standout performances or made key plays to elevate the rest of the team. It was a rough way to end an up-and-down season, and it left fans with plenty to justifiably groan about entering the offseason.
Still, the season was not a complete bust for the 2023 Jaguars rookie class. Though the final game certainly left fans with a sour taste, a couple of rookies finished the final few games of the season a should be solid full-time starters next season.
An assessment of overall rookie performances will be discussed in a season-long rookie rundown released in the coming weeks.
Jags fans, what are your thoughts on the Jaguars rookie class moving forward?