JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' tight ends in this position-by-position look at the '21 offseason
Position: Tight end.
Position coach: Tyler Bowen.
2020 starters: James O'Shaughnessy (13), Tyler Eifert (4), Ben Ellefson (4), Eric Saubert (4).
Others: Tyler Davis, Josh Oliver.
2020 at a glance: This continued to be an inconsistent position for the Jaguars this past season, with the group rotating a mix of veterans and rookies. Eifert, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in the 2020 offseason, played 15 of 16 games – therefore avoiding the serious injuries that had plagued him through his first seven NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals; he caught 36 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. O'Shaughnessy, who missed the final 11 games of the 2019 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, returned in 2020 to play 15 of 16 games; he caught 28 passes for 262 yards and no touchdowns. Ellefson, who signed as a collegiate free agent shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft, played in seven games and emerged as a solid blocker in the run game with Davis playing sparingly as a rookie and Oliver missing the season with a foot injury. Saubert spent time on the practice squad and active roster, catching three passes for 16 yards.
Offseason storyline: The Jaguars reportedly already have begun their offseason moves at this position, with reports late last month that they will not exercise a 2021 option on Eifert's contract. That means an approximate $5 million saving against the salary cap, a move that will become official on the March 17 start of the 2021 League Year. This figures to continue to be a major area to watch in the coming weeks, with O'Shaughnessy scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and with little experience at the position last season aside from Eifert and O'Shaughnessy. The Jaguars could enter the league year with Davis (a sixth-round 2020 draft selection), Ellefson (a 2020 collegiate free agent) and Oliver (a third-round 2019 draft selection) the only tight ends under contract. That could mean significant activity in free agency and/or the draft at a position many consider one of the team's biggest needs.
Free agents as of March 17: O'Shaughnessy, Saubert.
Bucky Brooks' top three free-agent tight ends: Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers; Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans, and Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams
Bucky Brooks' top three tight end prospects: Kyle Pitts, Florida; Pat Freiermuth, Penn State, and Hunter Long, Boston College.
Oehser analysis: The Jaguars have spent much of the last decade – and indeed, much of their history – searching for a front-line pass-catching tight end. That figures to continue to be a focus under Urban Meyer and General Manager Trent Baalke. Eifert flashed in spots last season, showing the athleticism and versatility that made him a one-time Pro Bowl selection in Cincinnati – and O'Shaughnessy's availability was impressive considering he was one year removed from a torn ACL. But the position has long needed depth, consistency and playmaking. The most intriguing player on the roster continues to be Oliver, who has impressive playmaking ability and athleticism – but who has played just four games in two NFL seasons. The Jaguars likely can't enter the 2021 season assuming he will be healthy and productive; anything from Oliver must be considered a bonus. Bottom line here: Other than quarterback, this remains the offensive position on the roster most needing an upgrade; addressing it in free agency and/or perhaps somewhere in the draft's first three rounds appears possible.
Brooks analysis: The evolution of the NFL game makes it imperative to have a pass-catching tight end on the roster. With a young quarterback, in particular, it is sensible to utilize a basketball player-like athlete to control the middle of the field and create mismatches on the perimeter. Although Eifert has played that role throughout his career, the Jaguars need more speed, athleticism and playmaking at the position. O'Shaughnessy has been a solid contributor as a TE2 but the team could look to upgrade the unit to provide offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell with enough options to build out a multiple tight end package. With more speed and athleticism on the field at the tight end position, the Jaguars can make the game easier for a young quarterback and create more one-on-one opportunities for wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and others on the outside.