The Jacksonville Jaguars are no longer on the clock. The 2021 NFL Draft is finally, officially complete, and rookie minicamp will begin in two short weeks (May 17).
The Jaguars left the draft with nine of its original 11 draft picks entering the offseason. It traded no. 229 to the New Orleans Saints in March for defensive tackle Malcom Brown, and traded no. 130, 170 and 249 to the Los Angeles Rams for no. 121 (Jordan Smith) and 209 (Jalen Camp).
Teams can still make trades and add free agents, but the bulk of offseason roster changes is complete. Here are Jacksonville’s biggest winners and losers following the draft:
Winner: Laviska Shenault Jr.
All offseason long, slot receivers were being mocked to the Jaguars in the first or second round. Head coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that he is prioritizing speed throughout the entire roster, but adding an explosive offensive weapon (à la Percy Harvin or Curtis Samuel) who could work out of the slot seemed like a priority for Jacksonville.
That assumption almost came to fruition until Florida’s Kadarius Toney was drafted 20th overall by the New York Giants 20th overall. Meyer admitted to being heartbroken over not being able to draft Toney, but with its 25th overall pick the Jaguars opted for big-play potential at a different position by drafting Clemson running back Travis Etienne.
Jacksonville did add a wide receiver in the draft, but not until the sixth round when it drafted Georgia Tech’s Jalen Camp with its final 2021 pick. The lack of a significant investment at the receiver position is great news for all of Jacksonville’s current pass-catchers since that means less competition for snaps and targets, but perhaps no player benefited more from Jacksonville’s 2021 draft class than Laviska Shenault Jr.
Other than receiving a massive quarterback upgrade, Shenault may be the favorite to lead the Jaguars in slot usage. He and Marvin Jones Jr. each spent just over 50% of snaps lined up in the slot last year according to Roto Wire, but while Jones was more productive in terms of volume, Shenault was one of the most efficient slot receivers in the league- he ranked sixth in both yards after catch per reception and contested catch rate on slot targets among 68 qualifying receivers last year per PFF. He also ranked 27th in yards per route run despite ranking second-to-last in average depth of target ahead of only Deebo Samuel, who literally averaged negative air yards on slot targets.
Shenault is talented enough to win on the perimeter, but his full potential may be unlocked by being Jacksonville’s de facto slot receiver. Finding cushions in zone and then taking eating up yards after the catch in space is a skill of which Shenault has already shown plenty. It’s unlikely that he’ll line up inside full-time, like Juju Smith-Schuster or Cole Beasley, but without a ‘true slot’ being added this season via free agency or the draft, Shenault has a great opportunity ahead of him in his sophomore season.
Loser: Opposing AFC South Quarterbacks
Okay, okay, some actual results should probably be seen before fear can be assumed for opposing quarterbacks. But Jacksonville’s secondary is the most revamped position group on the team, save for QB1, and a clear weakness has been turned into a borderline strength in one offseason.
After a free agency period in which the Jaguars made a cornerback (Shaquill Griffin) and safety (Rayshawn Jenkins) respectively its first- and third-most expensive signings, the team made a cornerback (Tyson Campbell) and safety (Andre Cisco) respectively its third- and fifth-highest draft picks. Those four defensive backs will join 2020 ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson, two-year starter Jarrod Wilson, and exciting young safety Daniel Thomas in the secondary.
Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen will now have plenty of chess pieces to align in the defensive backfield, which is encouraging given both the pass-heavy state of the league and his background in Baltimore, which uses dime packages and three-safety sets among the most in the NFL. Given Meyer’s comments on Campbell after the draft, he’ll likely be asked to play outside corner as well as at nickel once the coaching staff deems him ready for playing time.
The secondary now has the pieces in place to compete, and it’s up to the coaches to get maximum performance out of its players. If the unit meets even-tempered expectations, Jacksonville’s defense shouldn’t come close to allowing a 70% completion percentage like it did in 2020.
Winner: K’Lavon Chaisson
Outside linebacker was one of many roster positions that could have been upgraded over the offseason, but the only additions Jacksonville made were signing Jihad Ward to a one-year, 2.5 million dollar deal and drafting Jordan Smith in the fourth round, who Meyer is excited for but admitted is “very raw, [and] has a long way to go.”
Josh Allen is one of the best players on the roster and will be a major factor for Jacksonville’s defense, but across the formation, K’Lavon Chaisson will also have the opportunity to make a notable impact with no clear upgrades added to the position this offseason. The 2020 20th overall pick had a slow start but finished his rookie campaign strong- he registered 19 pressures and seven quarterback hits in the last five weeks of the season after recording 10 pressures and one quarterback hit in the first 11 games.
Chaisson is now expected to start across from Allen in the Jaguars’ new attacking, multiple 3-4 defensive scheme. The duo combined for just three sacks in 2020, but if Cullen is able to scheme up pass rushes the way that Wink Martindale did in Baltimore by putting stress on protection rules, the pair of former first-rounders could see those numbers spike.
Ward, Smith, and others will certainly get snaps as part of an edge rotation, but with the draft now complete Chaisson is the clear second option for opportunities to rush the passer.
Loser: James Robinson
One of the very few bright spots of the Jaguars 2020 season was the emergence of undrafted rookie running back James Robinson, who started all 14 games he played in and finished the year ranked sixth in both carries and rushing yards among all NFL players. The fact that Robinson was as productive as he was despite a brutal offensive environment (Jacksonville ranked 26th in ESPN’s run block win rate and 30th in scoring) is extremely impressive.
Robinson will continue to be a crucial part of the offense moving forward, especially considering that Meyer is dedicated to running the ball, but he’ll see far less opportunities following the selection of Etienne in the first round. Meyer called Etienne a third-down back, but while he will certainly do a lot of damage in the passing game, Etienne is a fair bet to rush the ball often as well and will be an important piece of the Jaguars offense.
According to Football Outsiders, Robinson played the fifth-highest rate of offensive snaps (61.8%) among all running backs last season. That number will definitely go down in 2021. Maybe the Jaguars will break out some nifty two-running back sets, but it’s hard to imagine that Meyer will want to take his hand-picked offensive weapon off the field too often. His priority is speed, which just happens to be Robinson’s biggest weakness and probably the reason he went undrafted. His 4.64 40-yard dash ranked in the 34th percentile among running backs, and he had 31 carries of 10-plus yards last season but just five went for more than 20.
With Shenault available as another occasional rushing option, plus the signing of former Buckeye Carlos Hyde, 2020 frankly could have been the most productive year of Robinson’s career from a volume standpoint. Again, he’ll continue to be a valuable part of the offense because he is a very good football player, but his opportunities will be limited with Trevor Lawrence’s backfield comrade now in town.