JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' wide receivers as the 2020 offseason ends and the '20 season approaches
Position: Wide receiver.
Projected starters: DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley.
Others: Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault Jr., Collin Johnson, Michael Walker, C.J. Board, Terry Godwin, Josh Hammond, Marvelle Ross.
2020 offseason additions: Shenault (second-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Johnson (fifth-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Hammond (collegiate free agent), Ross (collegiate free agent).
2020 offseason departures: Marqise Lee (released, signed with New England).
Offseason overview: The Jaguars have focused primarily on drafting and developing this position in recent seasons, and that remained the focus this offseason as they used one of their prime draft selections on the athletic Shenault. The Jaguars projected Shenault as one of the best receivers in the draft, and they followed that selection three rounds later by selecting the athletic, imposing Johnson from Texas in Round 5. Another move of note was the release of Lee, a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft who missed all but six games the last two seasons with knee and other injuries.
Oehser analysis: This is something of a mystery position entering 2020, a group that has potential and a Pro Bowl selection but also one that as a group must improve the production and consistency it showed a year ago. This is a mammoth year for much of this group individually. Chark must show he can handle increased emphasis from defenses following a Pro Bowl season in 2019, and Westbrook must show he's the playmaking receiver he has been in flashes in three NFL seasons. Conley had a career season last season in his first season with the Jaguars after signing as a free agency, but could still be more consistent and make more big plays – and Cole must continue the progress he made last season after struggling in his 2018 sophomore season. The most intriguing – and most important – player in this group is Shenault. He projected as a potential Top 10 selection after his sophomore season at Colorado, and is an aggressive, physical playmaker who could be key in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense. The Jaguars talked following the draft of Shenault being a perfect fit for Gruden, who likes to scheme and create matchups with multiple looks and formations. If Shenault is such a fit, this group could be vastly different and more productive in 2020.
Sexton analysis: Funny how everything can change in a year's time. Wasn't it just before training camp began a year ago that the Jaguars receivers were thought by many to be a below-average group without a lot of upside? All it took was a Pro Bowl season from Chark in his second year, a career-best season from Conley and a young quarterback who wasn't afraid to let it fly. Chark has everything it takes to be a No. 1 receiver and I'm eager to see his confidence level after a trip to the Pro Bowl in January. Conley provided much more than anyone could have expected in his best professional season and he showed with a 70-yard touchdown against the New York he is capable of big plays. All eyes are on Westbrook, who was the Jaguars' No. 1 target when 2018 ended, but whose production took a hit with Chark's rise. Westbrook is quick and understands the game well; if he can develop a rhythm with quarterback Gardner Minshew II there isn't any reason he can't be a terrific slot option. Well, maybe there is one reason: Shenault figures to see plenty of action this fall and he's a bigger receiver with good speed and playmaking skills. Westbrook is going to have to fight Shenault for those quick-hitting, underneath throws that both are well equipped to make plays with. You have to figure that another rookie, Johnson, will create a role for himself helping move the chains in the middle of the field and hauling in the red-zone jump balls just made for his six-foot six-inch frame. Cole has a nice blend of size and speed and we've seen the hands; his inconsistency since breaking through as an undrafted rookie in 2017 brings him to this point in his fourth NFL season. Wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell has a room full of guys he likes and has shown since taking the job in 2017 he is an excellent teacher. It will be almost as much fun to watch him on the sidelines with his crew as it is to watch them on it.