JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' tight ends in this position-by-position look at the 2020 offseason
Position: Tight end.
2019 starters: James O'Shaughnessy (5), Seth DeValve (5), Ben Koyack (6), Nick O'Leary (3), Geoff Swaim (2), Josh Oliver (1).
Others: Charles Jones, Matt Sokol.
2019 at a glance: This area struggled in terms of production much of the season, largely because of injuries to the preseason projected top players at the spot: O'Shaughnessy, Swaim and Oliver. O'Shaughnessy caught 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns before a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in Week 5. Swaim, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas before the season, caught 13 passes for 65 yards while playing just six games because of injuries. Oliver, a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, caught two passes for 10 yards while missing 13 of 16 games because of hamstring and back injuries. Jaguars tight ends overall caught 53 passes for 459 and three touchdowns.
Offseason storyline: This appears to be an obvious area of need, with the lack of a big-time receiving tight end in the middle of the field hampering the offense much of the last two seasons. The Jaguars did address this last offseason with the selection of Oliver, but it has been 14 seasons since the team used a first-round selection at the position. That player was Marcedes Lewis, who played 12 seasons with the Jaguars and who has been with the Green Bay Packers the past two seasons. Whether Oliver develops or the team uses free-agent or draft equity on the position, this is a spot that must be more productive in 2020.
Free agents as of March 18: O'Leary, Koyack.
Oehser analysis: Here's what the Jaguars must decide: Can Oliver turn into the receiving threat at tight end the team has lacked for the better part of a decade, or do they need to invest an early-round selection or major free-agent equity in the position? Oliver was impressive during the offseason program in May and June last year but sustained a hamstring injury early in training camp and never played enough as a rookie to indicate how he will fare for the long term. O'Shaughnessy had the best start of his NFL career before his season-ending torn ACL – but aside from Oliver and O'Shaughnessy, no player at the position showed signs of being a long-term solution. Addressing the position early in the draft could be difficult – not just because of obvious needs at other positions, but because this isn't considered an ultra-talented tight end class. How the Jaguars handle the position in free agency would be key, with players such as Austin Cooper of Atlanta and Hunter Henry of the Los Angeles Chargers scheduled to become free agents. The Jaguars don't likely have the salary-cap room to be major players in free agency, which could make hoping Oliver develops and O'Shaughnessy returns to pre-injury level effectiveness the most likely route here.
Sexton analysis: O'Shaughnessy looked like he could be a 10-touchdown guy early last season with rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II at the helm. The two connected early against Tennessee in Week 3 and the next week in Denver before O'Shaughnessy's season ended in Week 5. The Jaguars after that essentially played without a tight end, getting only 29 yards on three catches a game from the position in the final 11 weeks of the season. Maybe Oliver will emerge in his second season – if he can stay on the field. There currently isn't another viable tight end on the roster, so finding guys to compete here is critical. General Manager Dave Caldwell took a lot of heat for the perceived oversight at the spot, but the team had tight end T.J. Hockenson cued up with the No. 7 overall selection last April and were going to take a major swing before defensive end Josh Allen slid down the board; you don't pass on a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end for a tight end – even if the tight end thought to be a future star. The role of the tight end in the running game is often overlooked and we saw how difficult the quarterback's job was without a viable threat in the middle of the field. They must find a guy – maybe two – to help move the chains and create mismatches in the red zone.