Monthly Archives: June 2021

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The 2021 offseason completely revamped the Jacksonville Jaguars. The maligned franchise had every aspect of its organization inspected, weighed, measured and often found wanting. A new head coach and fresh set of standards were the first steps. Then through the draft, free agency and ultimatums to current players, the staff put together what is essentially a brand new roster.

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After a season in which the Jags finished 1-15 (an unenviable feat but one that beget Trevor Lawrence), the club really has nowhere to go but up in the first season featuring 17 regular season games.

Head Coach Urban Meyer and players have said consistently this offseason that they’re working to win now. As admirable and understandable as that goal is, the reality is, this team is in a massive rebuilding process. When in the midst of a rebuilding process, every single piece counts and it’s ok to take time making sure each is perfect to do the job. This is especially true when rebuilding a team. Each player contributing will be of the utmost importance; but some will have the onus put on them more than others.

As we move closer to the 2021 schedule, we take a look at the 10 most important Jaguars for the coming season.

No. 10: Jamal Agnew
Special teams win ball games. It’s an old adage that often proves true. It’s one of the few reasons the Jaguars have even been able to hang around in games the past couple of years. But while they had the best kicker and punter combo in the league, the Jags lacked a dynamic returner.

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It was supposed to be DeDe Westbrook, but the former Heisman Trophy finalist plateaued then underperformed. He was not on the gameday roster for the first six weeks of the 2020 season. Once finally activated, he tore his ACL. Now he’s a free agent.

Chris Claybrooks was drafted out of Memphis to be an instant impact returner like he was in college. But throughout his rookie 2020 season, he was pulled for Keelan Cole and made a bigger impact on defense at corner.

Speaking of Cole, he was a welcome surprise as a returner in 2020, even notching the longest punt return in the NFL last year—a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. But it was a role he was shoe-horned in to, more so than intended to play. Then as a free agent this offseason, he signed with the New York Jets.

Head Coach Urban Meyer has put an emphasis on special teams at every stop he’s had in his career. That’s only been amplified since making the move to the NFL, something he’s made clear to special teams coordinator Nick Sorensen.

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“It’s a huge priority. Like I said, the players have been working hard, they’re all in,” Sorensen explained to local media at the end of the Jaguars mini-camp. “Everyone has been practicing and contributing on special teams and it’s just great when what you’re pushing, the coach is backing up and he’s all for guys getting out there, contributing in any way they can, and special teams is definitely a part of that.”

Whether starters or rookies, everyone contributing in any way they can is helpful. But there needed to be a centerpiece; an explosive returner to build around. Through free agency this offseason, the Jaguars were finally able to find that piece in Jamal Agnew.

Said Sorensen of Agnew, “Oh he’s a special guy. I mean, he has speed, he’s got contact balance, he’s explosive, he’s tough. He’s everything you want in a returner. He’s secure with the ball and he can do a lot of things.”

The former defensive back turned receiver has really made his mark on the game as a returner on special teams, officially becoming a valuable piece in every phase. He spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, where he averaged 25.8 yards on kick returns and 11.6 yards on punt returns, scoring five touchdowns total as a specialist. Now getting to play not only under his former offensive coordinator again, Darrell Bevell, but also a head coach that prioritizes special teams is an idyllic situation for Agnew.

“It definitely means a lot to me just to know my skill set is being valued as it is. I feel like special teams is a very important aspect of the game and you don’t really realize that until something catastrophic happens. But I want to come in and be that spark. I want to bring the juice. I want to create energy plays, spark plays. I love doing that, that stuff’s fun to me,” he said back in March, after being signed as a free agent.

Since he was drafted in 2017, Agnew has the most punt return touchdowns (four) over that time, as well as the four most punt return yards (857) and fourth-highest punt return average (11.6). Over the past four years, he’s the only player to record five special teams touchdowns.

During the 2020 season, Agnew posted 783 returns yards on kick-offs, third most in the NFL. He was fourth in the league, averaging 28 yards per kick-off return.

His teammate at both Detroit and now the Jaguars, receiver Marvin Jones Jr., has been in awe.

“The guy is dynamic,” said Jones of Agnew. “He’s one of the best return men that I’ve seen, but people don’t understand how smart this guy is. You’re talking about a guy who was on defense and made a change and seamlessly fit into our offense and what we had to do and provided us a big spark. So, you’re going to get a guy that’s going to come, and he has home run ability.”

The Jaguar’s “home runs” have been few and far between in recent years. Furthermore, the only notable one to happen was eerie, as Keelan Cole returned that touchdown in an empty stadium, and then did a Lambeau Leap to no one, as COVID-19 kept fans out of stands. With the Jacksonville Jaguars—and most NFL teams—planning on having 100% capacity again this fall, Jamal Agnew is already preparing to show fans just how special the Jags can be on special teams.

“It was kind of weird last year without fans. I’m running a big return back and it’s kind of quiet so it’s just like what’s going on? But I’m here, we’re going to have 100 percent capacity, so I can’t wait to house call that first one in this stadium.”

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Since the Jacksonville Jaguars used their second pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft to select a running back in Travis Etienne, a lot of questions have been raised about James Robinson’s future with the team. The undrafted running back out of Illinois State was one of the NFL’s biggest surprises in 2020, rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games.

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But now that the team invested the 25th pick in a high-profile player at his position, many in the national media think Robinson may not be Jacksonville’s RB1 of the future. Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report listed him as the player the Jags should consider trading.

James Robinson was a surprise star as an undrafted rookie running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, but the team just used a first-round draft pick on potential superstar Travis Etienne and when you invest that heavily in a back these days, he’s gotta be the focal point.

So while we wouldn’t fault the Jags for keeping the extremely inexpensive Robinson around as an insurance policy for Etienne, a team still lacking depth and overall talent would be wise to shop him following a 1,000-yard, double-digit-touchdown maiden NFL campaign at age 22.

Robinson will likely only lose value moving forward simply because he won’t get as many opportunities to shine. Dealing him now would be an example of selling high, even if the return wouldn’t be epic because he’s got just one strong year under his belt at a devalued position.

With the addition of Etienne, it’s fair to assume that Robinson will see a dip from the 17.1 attempts per game he averaged in 2020. But considering he led the NFL in carry percentage last year, he could afford to shoulder a little bit less weight.

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When you consider the fact that Etienne has a much different skill set than Robinson, being an explosive downfield runner with the chance to contribute in the passing game (not that Robinson isn’t effective in that regard), it makes a lot of sense to keep them both around.

It’s unlikely that the Jags will look to move Robinson anytime soon, and it’s interesting that he was the choice for Jacksonville instead of quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who has a much more difficult path to the field with Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. As a quarterback, Minshew would also demand more trade value than a running back would.

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It remains to be seen exactly how the carry distribution will break down between Robinson and Etienne (as well as free-agent addition Carlos Hyde), but it seems fairly clear that the coaching staff sees both being weapons to aid the offense.

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are slowly but surely marching along with the rest of the NFL to the start of the 2021 season, arguably the most anticipated season in franchise history. As fans count down the seconds until the debuts of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars are putting in time, energy and sweat to prepare for the season.

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From now up until the start of Week 1, we will see the Jaguars grow as a team in Meyer’s vision. The 90-man roster will be cut down as position battles take place throughout the roster.

As this offseason progresses, we will take a look at each position and give our best guess as to what the depth chart will look like come Week 1 — at least based off the information we currently have.

We have already hit the quarterback room. Now, we move onto the running back position.

The Jaguars had one of the NFL’s most productive running backs and one of the league’s best rookie performers in James Robinson in 2020. The undrafted running back rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a one-man show on an otherwise struggling Jaguars offense.

Despite Robinson’s stellar 2020, the Jaguars still opted to invest heavily into the running back position this offseason. General manager Trent Baalke emphasized getting faster while Meyer wanted to bring in a veteran voice.

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The Jaguars accomplished both of these goals, but what does it mean for how the running back room may shape up in September? We give our best educated guess below.

For some context, the Jaguars’ specific running back depth chart will be unique because Travis Etienne will also play split out wide at times and could very well get the most touches of any back in the offense while not being the starting running back. As a result, we are going to base this projection off of who we think takes the most snaps in the backfield as a natural running back.

No. 1 RB: James Robinson
Few players on the Jaguars’ roster had their roles questioned more frequently by outside observers this offseason than Robinson, though to no fault of Robinson’s own. Despite this, Robinson shouldn’t be considered down for the count when it comes to the starting role.

Robinson was a revelation for the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent last year, rushing for 1,070 yards (4.5 yards per carry) for seven touchdowns. He led rookie running backs in receptions (49) and touchdown receptions (three) while recording 344 yards. In 14 games, Robinson finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving), the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era. He was also the only rookie in the NFL to average more than 100 scrimmage yards per game last season.

On the surface, it may be surprising to some to see Robinson listed as the No. 1 running back when the Jaguars did nothing but add competition to Robinson in the offseason. The first round investment in Etienne alone suggests to many that Robinson could be on the outside looking in. But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has shown a past tendency to give more of his offense’s rushing focus to backs with skill sets similar Robinson in the past. Robinson is also the best pass-blocker of the group, is functional as a receiver, and has earned praise from the Jaguars’ coaching staff.

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“James Robinson is one of my favorite guys. I can’t name a harder worker right now on our team, and that started in January all the way through June now. So, I love that guy,” Meyer said on June 3.

Robinson should still be expected to be the top running back in terms of the depth chart, even if the Jaguars have bigger and more expansive plans for Etienne. Robinson should be expected to be the hammer of the offense, a role that is still supremely important. His role will likely be diminished compared to his rookie season, but he should still get his carries in the offense.

No. 2 RB: Travis Etienne
There is a very plausible scenario where Robinson edges Etienne out in terms of carries or snaps in the backfield while also being dwarfed by Etienne’s total impact or place in the offense. The No. 25 overall pick in this year’s draft, Etienne has been described by Meyer as the Jaguars’ “slash” player, seeing reps with the wide receiver group during rookie minicamp and flashing as a receiving threat throughout the entire course of the offseason program.

Etienne is the most productive running back in ACC history and has already been described by the Jaguars’ coaching staff as more or less a finished product as a rusher, but they are looking to add more and more to his plate as a receiving threat. The Jaguars will use him as a movable piece throughout the offense and he could be considered the favorite to be the Jaguars’ top receiving back, but he is still a rookie who is facing a learning curve that Robinson has already mastered. He will play a big role, but his time as a lead back may be more likely to be in 2022.

“He’s got the electric speed, he’s got the finishing speed, we know what he is as a runner, he’s amazing in space,” Jaguars passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said on Wednesday.

“And now it’s been kind of fun to try to take him and teach him some of the nuisances that go into the passing game because all we’re doing by doing that is adding value for him. And again, there’s been growth, we just had a great session outside, he was unbelievable with some of the things we were asking him to do in the passing game. As a coach, that gets you excited.”

No. 3 RB: Carlos Hyde
The veteran leader in the Jaguars’ running back room this year, the Jaguars have continued to mention Carlos Hyde’s name throughout the course of the offseason. As a result, it would likely be unwise to not consider him a candidate to be at least a rotational contributor at running back.

Snaps for Hyde could be few and far to come by considering Robinson and Etienne are younger and more explosive options, but Hyde could be in line to see a legitimately high volume of carries in any event that Robinson ever misses time. Robinson is a power back with explosion and receiving versatility, while Hyde is just a power back. Hyde will back Robinson up in that regard, but he shouldn’t be considered a threat to Robinson’s carries.

Hyde’s value to the Jaguars will likely come from his leadership and veteran presence in the running back room as opposed to his actual production. He will be in a prime spot to be a mentor to Robinson and Etienne and spell the two now and then during the season, but it is clear he is third in the pecking order for snaps.

No. 4 RB: Devine Ozigbo
This was a tough one and as of right now is based strictly off what I have seen during the team’s offseason programs. I ultimately think the Jaguars’ No. 4 running back spot will go to either third-year running back Devine Ozigbo or veteran backup running back and special teams ace Dare Ogunbowale.

For now, I lean toward Ozigbo as the more likely option to win the role. He is immensely comfortable as a receiving threat out of the backfield and could serve as a potential backup option to Etienne’s skill set the same way that Hyde does for Robinson. Ogunbowale is a serviceable receiver as well, but Ozigbo is the more explosive option.