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Previewing 2020: Tight ends

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 06, 2019, in Cincinnati. The Cardinals won 26-23. (Aaron Doster via AP)
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 06, 2019, in Cincinnati. The Cardinals won 26-23. (Aaron Doster via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' tight ends as the 2020 offseason ends and the '20 season approaches

Position: Tight end.

Projected starter: Tyler Eifert.

Others: Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy, Charles Jones, Tyler Davis, Ben Ellefson.

2020 offseason additions: Eifert (unrestricted free agent, Cincinnati Bengals), Davis (sixth-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Ellefson (2020 collegiate free agent).

2020 offseason departures: Seth DeValve (free agent, Carolina Panthers), Nick O'Leary (free agent, Las Vegas Raiders), Matt Sokol (released, Detroit Lions), Geoff Swaim (released), Ben Koyack (free agent).

Offseason overview: The Jaguars revamped and retooled this position in the offseason, parting ways with a slew of players who played various roles at an injury-plagued spot last season and making a high-profile move in March to sign Eifert. Perhaps the most notable departure: the release of Swaim, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys last offseason before playing just six games in 2019 because of injuries; he started twice with 13 receptions for 65 yards. The Jaguars also parted ways with Koyack, who spent all or parts of the last five seasons with the team after Jacksonville selected him in Round 7 of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Oehser analysis: This is the ultimate wait-and-see position for the Jaguars entering 2020, with the injury history of the key players making it difficult if not impossible to project how the position will fare. It's critical that the position improve in 2020, with the Jaguars being inconsistent at tight end in recent seasons and searching for a pass-receiving option there for much of the last decade. Eifert is a former Pro Bowl selection who could be one of the Jaguars' better players at the position in recent memory, but he played 16 games for the first time in his seven-year career last season and has played more than eight games just three times. Coaches believe Oliver, a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, can be a very good all-around tight end, but he missed 12 games because of injuries last season. O'Shaughnessy was having the best season of his career last season until a torn anterior cruciate ligament cost him the final 11 games of the season. If all three of those players remain healthy and play to their potential, this could be the best group of tight ends the team in a half-decade or more. If not, it could be the same unproductive and frustrating position it has been for the past several seasons. As tight ends coach Ron Middleton put it recently, this group has to "stay on the grass." Stay tuned.

Sexton analysis: This is a position of extreme need for the Jaguars. In 2019 seven tight ends on their roster combined for just 49 receptions, only 459 yards and a paltry three touchdowns. O'Shaughnessy's torn knee ligaments in Carolina in October did as much to curb this position group as anything. He had quickly developed a relationship with then-rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II and looked like he was ready to make a move. They hope to have him back and able to pick up where he left off this fall, but they're not relying entirely on the former journeyman. The coaches were excited about what Oliver showed them last offseason, but a torn hamstring kept him off the field for all but a handful of plays last year. He has the tools to make a big jump in 2020 if he's over his injury. Injuries have conspired to prevent Eifert from returning to the Pro Bowl status he earned after making 52 catches in Cincinnati and scoring 13 touchdowns in 2015. He stayed on the field for the Bengals in 2019 and nearly equaled the numbers of the Jaguars' tight ends combined. He knows what new Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants – having played for Gruden in Cincinnati as a rookie – and he understands what a quarterback needs, so he might be the guy who finally gets the room up and running. Davis has the staff's full attention despite being a late-round addition while Jones and Ellefson will have to make their moves on special teams to find a job on the roster this season.

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