The Jacksonville Jaguars have their 2021 roster ... sort of.
Rosters are extremely fluid at this point due to waiver claims and the practice squad, but the Jaguars announced their initial 53-man roster on Tuesday, giving us our first look at what the team may look like come Sept. 12.
What stood out about the Jaguars' roster moves? Which were the most shocking decisions, and which didn't come as much of a surprise? We break it all down below.
Jacksonville's most surprising decisions came at wide receiver
The biggest surprise of the initial 53-man roster is how the Jaguars approached their wide receiver position. Once considered the strong position group on the team by many, the wide receiver position has now been dwindled down to five players, resulting in head coach Urban Meyer calling the receiver room his "No. 1 concern" currently. Of the five receivers the Jaguars kept, three are currently injured but on track to play in Week 1 (DJ Chark, Marvin Jones, Tavon Austin), while a fourth receiver (Jamal Agnew) is essentially purely a return specilist. This leaves only Laviska Shenault as the Jaguars' lone healthy full-time receiver, though this should change in the coming days and weeks.
The surprises the Jaguars had in store for their base at receiver included releasing Phillip Dorsett and Laquon Treadwell and waiving 2020 fifth-round pick Collin Johnson, as well as keeping Austin as their fifth receiver. We predicted the Jaguars would keep six receivers, but the Jaguars seem to believe they can upgrade the receiver room on the waiver wire following injuries to Dorsett and a poor preseason from Johnson. Austin's odds to make the roster improved dramatically following the injury to Travis Etienne, though the former first-rounder is currently dealing with a quad injury.
“That’s concern number one for me. We have [Phillip] Dorsett [II] as dinged right now. We brought in Devin Smith, and he goes out there and makes a catch that I told him I haven’t seen our guys make, but he’s also had two ACL’s. He’s an older player, but he gives you the top end. He can knock the top off the coverage," Meyer said on Tuesday. "That’s my biggest concern, and also [having] three running backs with Etienne being out. That’s 24/7 conversation as we continue.”
The Jaguars reshaped the entire middle and bottom of their receiver room on Tuesday. They will be expected to bring some of these players back to the practice squad, of course, but ultimately the Jaguars weren't pleased with what they have seen from their receivers in camp and the preseason, a stark contrast from the expectations facing the group going into the preseason.
Expect for the skill groups to be prioritized during potential waiver claims
It would be a significant surprise if the Jaguars didn't add to the skill position group on Wednesday. They presently have just 11 skill players on the active roster: three running backs, three tight ends and five wide receivers. Considering both receiver and running back are positions that suffer frequent injuries, the Jaguars can be expected to prioritize both spots throughout the course of the waiver wire transactions. This is especially evident when you consider the lack of explosive options the Jaguars have at the three positions, with none of their three running backs offering true dynamic open-field ability, only one field-stretcher at receiver in Chark, and a trio of tight ends that features only one player who could be considered primarily a pass-catcher.
In short, the Jaguars need help on offense in terms of firepower. The loss of Etienne created a massive ripple effect throughout both the running back and wide receiver depth charts, with the Jaguars now being forced to look at discarded talent from other teams. Jacksonville needs to add both speed and bodies to their skill group, with their current groups lacking depth and top-end explosiveness. After an offseason where the Jaguars stocked up at running back and appeared content at receiver, they now have to go back to the drawing board with each, especially with their current offensive system.
Jaguars go heavy on the DL for a reason
The Jaguars are leaving Tuesday with 14 defensive linemen/edge players on their roster, a stark contrast from 2020 when they had just 10. Now, some of these players could get moved off the roster as the Jaguars claim players and activate A.J. Cann off the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but it is clear the Jaguars were always going to be a team that was built through the trenches. The Jaguars' best unit this preseason has been its defensive line and the Jaguars didn't do much to shake up that room on Tuesday, even at the risk of that changing as the Jaguars make more additions in the coming days.
“It’s still very fluid. A lot of guys aren’t out of the picture. We’re dealing with some injuries," Meyer said Tuesday. "We just felt we had a group of safeties, linebackers and d-linemen that we felt very strong about, but it’s still very fluid. We’re still very active. We’re number one on that claim, which is going to take place tomorrow, so that’s why.”
The Jaguars should be expected to keep the bulk of this room, though players like Aaron Patrick and Daniel Ekuale could find themselves on the outside looking in if/when the Jaguars add bodies at receiver, running back and tight end. But until those moves are made, this is the room the Jaguars feel the best about. As a result, it leaves Tuesday as the most crowded position by a wide margin.
Tre Herndon, Chris Claybrooks, Andrew Wingard all aided by positional versatility and special teams value
Three players who made the roster after many considered them to potentially be on the roster bubble were cornerbacks Tre Herndon and Chris Claybrooks and safety Andrew Wingard. All three of the players were kept in favor of other productive veterans and former starters at the same position, which gives us a good idea of what the Jaguars value in their backups across the board and especially in the secondary.
Herndon and Claybrooks made the roster because both are special teams aces who have the ability to cover on the outside and in the slot. Herndon was in the running to be a starter before his MCL injury in the first game of the preseason, while Claybrooks has impressed both at corner, as a gunner, and as a return man. As a result of their versatility, they were given the nod over Sidney Jones, who was traded to Seattle on Monday night,
“It was kind of hard to make it with CJ [Henderson], with Tyson Campbell, who was dinged up, but he’ll be back ready to go. We feel
good about him. He’s going to make a play down the field a little bit better than he did. With Shaq[uill Griffin], those are the top three and we feel really strong about Tre Herndon," Meyer said. We feel he’s done a lot of good things around here. There’s a good chance he’ll start at nickel or battle Tyson for that spot. We just felt that Sidney’s got some... might be the best opportunity for him too.”
This is the same reason Wingard likely made the roster over Jarrod Wilson, who has spent the last two seasons starting for the Jaguars at free safety. Wilson impressed both on defense and special teams in training camp and the preseason, but Wingard is a cheaper and younger player who is more of a true special teams specialist; Wingard is arguably the Jaguars' top special teams player who isn't Logan Cooke or Josh Lambo, which paved the way to him finding a spot on the roster for the third year in a row.
"Jarrod was a tough one, Jarrod Wilson, but I don’t think that one’s done. We’re still having conversations how to make that work. Then [Andrew] Wingard had an excellent game on Sunday," Meyer said.
Jaguars will hope to get many players back on their practice squad, but could find a hard time being able to do so with these players
When Meyer talked about the players the Jaguars waived or released, he talked about the potential to bring nearly all of them back as a result of the expanded practice squad the NFL has put into place. The practice squad can now hold 16 players, which means the Jaguars could try to keep veterans and young players alike on the practice squad. Players with fewer than four seasons accrued in the NFL are subject to waivers, while the Jaguars can sign other veterans immediately.
"The good thing is, this practice squad has been enhanced over the last year and a half. I think we had to trim by 27, but 16 of them are going to come back tomorrow at one o’clock, and we’re still working through that as we speak," Meyer said. "That was a little bit more easier to deal with than just see you later, so we have a good chunk of guys we plan on, if they don’t get claimed, coming back.”
The issue is, the Jaguars could have trouble keeping several of those players. Players like Doug Costin, Collin Johnson, Quincy Williams, and Tyler Davis are likely to draw interest on waivers. Then there is Wilson, who is an experienced and smart safety who could help out a lot of teams. Meyer wants the Jaguars to keep most of their same faces, but he could quickly find out how tough that is at times.