For every one of the NFL's fanbases, each new season represents one thing: Hope.
Hope for a Lombardi Trophy. Hope for more wins than a year ago. Hope for the future.
That hope is often built upon the NFL's youth movement, with more and more young players taking centerstage upon the top of the NFL's hierarchy. Stars under the age of 25 have changed the entire trajectory of franchises in recent years, making it more important than ever to build a talent group of young players.
So, who are the best players on the Jaguars' roster who will be under 25 before Week 1? I put together a top-10 below, though a caveat is needed that zero rookies were considered to be added to the list. It just doesn't feel fair to rank them, even if Trevor Lawrence would be near the very top of the list.
No. 1: Josh Allen
Jacksonville's best pass-rusher over the last two seasons despite missing eight games last year, Josh Allen flashed All-Pro potential as a rookie when he recorded 10.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles en route to a Pro Bowl appearance. Allen flashed a spend of explosiveness, speed and power that the Jaguars' base hasn't truly seen in the past. While Allen does not yet have the production of Yannick Ngakoue, he presents a more balanced skill set and a higher ceiling.
Allen, 23, took a step back in 2020 due to injuries, recording just 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and two tackles for loss in eight games, but the talent never went away. As long as Allen is healthy, he makes an impact on the Jaguars' defense both against the run and the pass. Urban Meyer has already signaled him out on several occasions as one of the team's core leaders as well, only adding to his importance and value in the long term. Allen needs to get back to his rookie form -- and even exceed it -- but the former No. 7 overall pick is the Jaguars' best player under 25 years old.
No. 2: DJ Chark
No other offensive player on the Jaguars' roster has proven to be the big-play threat at the NFL level that DJ Chark has over the last three seasons. Even when he was primarily a special teams player as a rookie in 2018, he made big catch after big catch when given the chance to. He then exploded onto the scene in 2019 with Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew passing him the ball, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdown as he earned a Pro Bowl nod.
Chark's numbers took a step back in 2020 as the Jaguars' passing offense crumbled throughout a 1-15 season, but that is as much a result of the Jaguars' dreadful quarterback performances as it was on Chark. Heading into 2020, Chark was seen as one of the NFL's top young receivers and a potential No. 1. Those things don't change just because of a down year in 2020, and getting an improved quarterback in Trevor Lawrence should only help matters.
No. 3: Laviska Shenault Jr.
2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault, earns the third spot on this list in part due to potential and projection, but in part due to the impressive flashes he displayed throughout his rookie season. While Shenault has been mislabeled a gadget player throughout his college and NFL career, the 22-year-old-receiver and breakout candidate has shown all of the required skills of a playmaking wideout.
In 14 games last season, Shenault caught 58 catches on 79 targets (73.4% catch rate) for 600 yards (10.3 yards per catch) and five touchdowns. He also recorded 33 first downs through the air, 7.6 yards per target, 18 rushes for 91 yards, and 298 yards after the catch according to Pro Football Reference. Among rookies, Shenault finished seventh in catches, eighth in receiving yards, seventh in yards per game, and first in catch percentage.
Shenault was arguably the Jaguars' most impressive player throughout organized team activities and minicamp this summer, frequently making big catches and showing off his combination of power, size, explosiveness, and quickness. If Shenault can remain healthy, he has No. 1 receiver potential.
No. 4: James Robinson
While it remains to be seen what kind of role James Robinson will play in Jacksonville's backfield moving forward after the addition of Travis Etienne at No. 25 overall, there is no denying the second-year running back is one of the Jaguars' best young players. Heck, he is one of the team's best players overall, carrying an otherwise stagnant offense on his back during the team's best offensive performances a year ago.
Robinson carried the ball 240 times for 1,070 yards (4.5 yards per carry) for seven touchdowns as a rookie, while also leading rookie running backs in receptions (49) and touchdown receptions (three) and recording 344 yards. In 14 games, Robinson finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving), the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era. He was also the only rookie in the NFL to average more than 100 scrimmage yards per game this season.
Robinson might not continue as Jacksonville's workhorse running back, but he still should play an important role in their rushing success considering his talent and production. If Robinson can play even better in 2021 than he did in his impressive and record-setting rookie version, he will force the Jaguars to continue to give him reps, even with Etienne in the fold.
No. 5: K'Lavon Chaisson
While K'Lavon Chaisson, 21, recorded only one sack as a rookie, he displayed the traits and increase in production toward the end of 2020 to suggest he could be an impact player if he continues to develop. From weeks 13-16, PFF had him tied for the seventh-most pressures (16) among edge defenders during that period. He was also tied for the second-most quarterback hits (six).
Chaisson still needs to improve at finishing his pass-rushes and closing in on quarterbacks for the sack, but he was extremely disruptive once he got more comfortable at the NFL level. With a full offseason under him giving him a chance to get stronger and work on his technique, Chaisson is one of the Jaguars' top breakout candidates in 2021. The Jaguars badly need Chaisson to become a difference-making pass-rusher across from Allen. If he can continue his upward trajectory, he has a chance to do just that.
No. 6: CJ Henderson
Like a few others on this list, CJ Henderson has a chance to climb even higher. In fact, Henderson has the natural talent to join Allen at the very top -- his performances against T.Y. Hilton/Philip Rivers and Davantae Adams/Aaron Rodgers proved that. With that said, those performances were sandwiched by quite a few lulls in production and performance from the 22-year-old rookie.
If Henderson can remain healthy in 2021 and erase some of the down moments in coverage that surrounded his rookie season, he has the ability to grow into a playmaking No. 2 cornerback across from Shaquill Griffin, while still having No. 1 cornerback potential.
Henderson, who was drafted No. 9 overall a year ago, but played in just eight games and recorded one interception as a rookie due to injuries, which later required labrum surgery. Henderson finished his rookie season with 36 tackles, six passes defended, one forced fumble and one interception, albeit while giving up four touchdowns in eight games.
No. 7: Jawaan Taylor
A player with pressure riding on him to take a step forward in 2021, Jawaan Taylor, 23, has the talent to climb even higher on this list. If he played in 2021 like he did as a rookie, he likely would crack the top-5 and potentially even higher. Taylor was still a solid run-blocker last season, but his pass-rushing efficiency took a major step back as he looked even more inconsistent in terms of protection than he did as a rookie,
Taylor has the talent to be a long-term starter at right tackle, and his 32 starts at the position in the last two years show he has the durability and experience for the Jaguars to want to bet on in 2021. Taylor is far from a lost cause considering the disadvantages the Jaguars' offensive line faced in 2020, so an improvement in his third year would likely shoot Taylor up even higher on this list.
No. 8: Daniel Thomas
One of the Jaguars' best rookies a year ago, Daniel Thomas, 21, has the potential to skyrocket up this list if he can continue to make an impression following a terrific offseason. Thomas excelled in multiple facets as a rookie, whether on special teams with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, against the run with solid downhill fits or against the pass with two pass deflections and an interception.
The potential downside, of course, is that it may be hard for Thomas to find the field. The 2020 fifth-round pick has an uphill battle toward becoming a full-time player in Jacksonville's defense, even more so than he did as a rookie. The Jaguars drafted Syracuse safety Andre Cisco at No. 65 overall in this year's draft, while also signing safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Rudy Ford in the offseason. Jenkins will be a starter and it won't take long for Cisco to do the same, creating a limited chance for impact by Thomas in 2021.
No. 9: Collin Johnson
A big-play threat as a rookie (his 15.11 yards per catch was 12th among NFL rookies with at least 10 targets), Collin Johnson will have to earn a role on the Jaguars' offense in 2021. Despite Johnson being one of three players on this list who is a backup, Johnson's potential and combination of speed and size make him one of the team's most intriguing depth players, especially at receiver.
Johnson, 23, ended his rookie season with 18 catches for 272 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns in 14 games. He didn't see many reps as a starter due to his status as the Jaguars' No. 5 receiver, but he at least gives them a high-ceiling weapon to develop behind their veteran receivers for the future.
No. 10: DaVon Hamilton
DaVon Hamilton likely would be even higher on this list if not for an injury during the second half of the season. The 24-year-old third-round pick from a year ago was arguably the Jaguars' second-best defensive lineman behind Dawuane Smoot as a rookie, even though Hamilton only played 11 games and started six. Hamilton's status as a nose tackle, and place as a backup on the depth chart, push him down on this list some, but he still deserves a spot and some recognition.
Hamilton had a bit of a slow start to the 2020 season but began to flash legitimately game-wrecking potential following the bye week. Hamilton dominated the Los Angeles Chargers in one of the best performances any 2020 defensive rookie had, ultimately recording five quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and one sack in 2020. If Hamilton can continue to earn snaps in 2021 behind Malcom Brown, he could become a key piece to the Jaguars' defensive line.