Column: Why Laviska Shenault Having Breakout 2021 Season is Vital For the Jaguars

With the Jaguars having question marks surrounding the wide receiver room after 2021, strong play from Laviska Shenault is as important as ever.
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Laviska Shenault is a tantalizing weapon on paper. He has the size, strength, speed, and hands to win in virtually every facet as a receiver, and his college and rookie seasons are filled with highlights after highlights. 

But as former Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden learned last year, it takes more than envisioning ways to get Shenault involved in theory. It takes more to talk about all the ways he can help the offense. 

It takes crafting a defined role for the talented former second-round wideout and simply letting him do best: as a wide receiver making plays up and down the field, not just restricted to screens and throws near the line of scrimmage.  

This is a role the Jaguars must see Shenault thrive in throughout his second season. The future of their wide receiver unit very well may depend on it. 

For the Jaguars today, the wide receiver room is considered beyond a strength. It is considered by many to be the best position group on the entire roster, a unit that is anchored by Shenault, veteran receiver Marvin Jones and former second-round pick DJ Chark. 

For 2021, the Jaguars won't have to lean just on Shenault. They won't need him to be a bonafide No. 1 pass-catching threat who can be a go-to weapon. The current roster has two capable playmakers at receiver besides Shenault, with Chark already having a Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season under his name and Jones having a reputation as one of the most consistent producers at the position in recent years.

Over the next 17 games, the trio of Shenault, Chark and Jones will be the ultimate key to their offensive success and whether No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence can find touchdowns and wins in bunches as a rookie. 

But what about beyond 2021? What about past Lawrence's rookie season, when the quarterback should begin to hit his stride as an NFL quarterback? For as strong as the Jaguars are at receiver today, there are more questions than answers beyond the upcoming 17-game regular-season.

For one, Chark will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021. The Jaguars very well could retain him, but any time a player enters year four in his deal at the same time a new regime comes in (see, Allen Robinson), it becomes more of a toss-up whether that player will be retained.

Chark has the talent to merit the Jaguars, Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke offering him a new multi-year contract, but it shouldn't be considered a surefire outcome, especially not after Meyer has already stated he didn't like how Chark played in 2020. Chark will likely have to stand out in a big way in 2021 to please Meyer and earn a new deal. While this isn't impossible or even improbable, it is a situation that doesn't yet have a clear answer. 

Then there is Jones. Jones is likely going to have a tremendous impact on the Jaguars' passing game in 2021 thanks to his contested-catch ability and his leadership, as well as the fact that he knows offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's offensive scheme like the back of his hand.

But unlike Chark and Shenault, Jones is closer to the end of his prime than to the middle of it. The 31-year-old receiver is the second-oldest player on the team behind just Tim Tebow, and his two-year contract is structured in such a way that the Jaguars could feasibly have him on the roster for just one year. 

According to Spotrac, Jones' cap hit will exceed his dead cap in 2022, giving the Jaguars a potential out on his deal. A scenario in which the Jaguars enter the 2022 offseason without both Jones and Chark on the roster may seem unlikely, but it is a scenario in which the Jaguars must prepare for.

In the event Chark and Jones aren't on the roster entering next offseason, the Jaguars' top three receivers would be Lavika Shenault, Collin Johnson and Jamal Agnew (Phillip Dorsett is also a free agent after 2021). To say that isn't feasible would be an understatement, especially entering year two of the Lawrence era.

In short, a stagnant Shenault in 2021 could spell disaster for the future of the Jaguars' receiver room -- or at the very least force the Jaguars to overpay for another possible No. 1 option. 

But if Shenault develops like the Jaguars believe he can, he can be that player. He can be the top dog in the passing game. He just needs to show it.

The Jaguars need Shenault to develop into a true downfield and intermediate threat in 2021. They need him to truly have the breakout season everyone has predicted for him to have. They just need Shenault to make plays. 

Shenault's talent already made him one of the Jaguars' most important players entering 2021. But the state of their wide receiver room past 2021 makes him even more important beyond this season.