JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars, focusing this week on the Jaguars' 2020 rookie class…
1.James Robinson is the clear and obvious choice. This "Quick Thoughts" assesses the Jaguars' 2020 rookie class as the holidays approach – and as the regular season approaches an end. You can't discuss the class without lauding running back James Robinson, who not only is the Jaguars' best '20 rookie but one of the best first-year players in the entire NFL. Robinson through 13 games has 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns rushing and should receive legitimate Pro Bowl – and possible Offensive Rookie of the Year – consideration. He reached 1,000 yards rushing faster than any previous undrafted player in NFL history, but Robinson is important to the Jaguars for more than numbers and accolades. He is a consistent, mature player – a remarkably complete, durable back for a rookie. He also is a smart runner who consistently gets the most from every carry – a running style that should translate however the offense and team look in future seasons. Not enough has gone right for this team this season, but there may be no brighter spot – rookie or not – on the team than Robinson.
2.Watch out at receiver. The Jaguars' '20 draft class hasn't had the impact the team hoped, but that's true of the entire roster. One area where there have been enough flashes to cause optimism: wide receiver, where the emergence of two drafted players – Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson – will be key to the position's core moving forward. Shenault, a second-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, has shown impressive athleticism and playmaking ability; his task will be staying healthy as he has missed two of 13 games and has been hampered at times with nagging injuries. Shenault has 42 receptions for 441 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson, a fifth-round selection who has 17 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games, has flashed in recent weeks – and his athleticism and 6-feet-6, 222-pound frame make him one of the team's most intriguing young players. Both Johnson and Shenault must continue developing as route runners. That's a common task for young NFL receivers; if the duo achieves it, the Jaguars could feature one of the NFL's better young receiving corps sooner than later.
3.Stay tuned… This focuses on the Jaguars' two first-round selections – No. 9 overall cornerback CJ Henderson and No. 20 overall defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson – but it applies to the entire draft class. The group overall must further develop, and that's particularly true of Henderson and Chaisson. Henderson had a monster Week 1 with a game-turning interception in the Jaguars' lone victory of the season; injuries cost him at least five games and valuable repetitions as he learns more about playing the ball in the air and defending elite receivers. Chaisson, an athletic pass-rusher, struggled at times early learning the nuances of NFL pass rushing; as is the case at receiver, that's not unusual at the position. But Chaisson has registered seven quarterback hurries in the last two games, his best two-game stretch of the season and has shown promise in December.
1.Numbers. The Jaguars drafted a dozen players in April; nearly all contributed in some way during their rookie season. The 2020 season was about roster replenishment and fixing the salary cap –and nothing helps the latter better than the former. Young, inexpensive talent on both sides of the football combined with the prospect of 11 more draft choices in the April 2021 NFL Draft gives me great hope for the future, rather than despair for the present.
2.BIG GUYS. The NFL is a size, speed, strength league – and while there is always room for an undersized receiver with great speed, it's generally better to have a roster filled with the big guys. Chaisson didn't have a breakthrough season as a rookie, but he has great talent. Defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton didn't finish his rookie season, but it's pretty clear he's going to be a good player and a building block in Jacksonville for years to come. The same can be said of guard Ben Bartch, whose entry onto the field came later than either Chaisson or Hamilton; it's obvious watching him that he has what it takes to play and only needs more time on task to be a starter.
3.Shenault and Johnson. Big receivers who are also big playmakers are at a premium in today's NFL; the Jaguars have never had two, let alone three. Shenault has great playing speed and the strongest hands I've seen since Justin Blackmon's rookie season. Johnson's size is self-evident, but his speed was surprising on the long touchdown against Cleveland and in Minnesota. Now mix those two with Pro Bowler DJ Chark Jr., and you've got a wide receiver corps that can be the equal of any. They're going to be a matchup nightmare for any defense, especially when they're blessed with consistent quarterback play.