Every team will harp on competition this fall as they have both new additions and old faces fight for roles on the depth chart and in the starting lineups. This is no different for the Jaguars, who brought a sea of change to their roster this offseason with over a dozen free-agent additions and nine draft picks.
But which battles will be the most important to watch in Jacksonville later this month and into August? Which will help determine how far the Jaguars can go in year one of a new era? We have picked five to evaluate and will do so individually over the course of the pre-training camp period.
We started with the kicker competition between Josh Lambo and Aldrick Rosas. Second, we looked at the backup quarterback battle between Gardner Minshew and C.J. Beathard, and then the three-way battle at running back between James Robinson, Travis Etienne and Carlos Hyde.
Now, we take another look at a battle that will help define the Jaguars' offensive efficiency through the air: The battle between Collin Johnson and Phillip Dorsett for the No. 4 receiver role, a spot that would make them the team's top backup receiver and a regular part of the offensive rotation.
The Jaguars clearly have their first three receiver spots filled. DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones will lead the team's passing attack on the outside, taking the first snaps with Trevor Lawrence and ultimately the majority of the team's receiving snaps.
But after that talented trio, the Jaguars still need to sort out the rest of their receiver room. The Jaguars' passing game will run through those three, but the Jaguars will still need to ensure they have depth at the position in the event injuries stack up.
When it comes to Dorsett and Johnson, the debate is an interesting one because it is one of contrasting styles and experiences. Dorsett is a veteran speed demon with experience under several different coordinators and quarterbacks. Johnson is a 6-foot-6 jump-ball specialist entering his second season
The two will battle throughout the course of training camp for snaps alongside the team's starting receivers and while it is early, there is a chance Dorsett could be the early leader for the role. He possesses the speed the Jaguars and Urban Meyer covet, while also having experience with multiple coaches on the Jaguars' offensive staff in wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"Yeah, speed is something I’ve always believed in and Phillip Dorsett answers that question," Meyer said following free agency in March. "His production, you can channel it—which I will channel it ... But he’s blessed with incredible physical qualities, he catches the ball well, on top of the fact, he’s [got] great speed."
Dorsett's best season in terms of volume production came in 2016 when he caught 33 passes for 528 yards, both career-highs, and two touchdowns. He caught five touchdowns in 2019, his final season in New England. He doesn't have the background of a starter, but he has made plays throughout the offseason and has already built some solid chemistry with Lawrence based on the offseason's organized team activities and minicamp.
Dorsett has yet to prove he can be a reliable starter in the NFL, but the Jaguars wouldn't need him to be that type of player. They wouldn't ask him to be one of the primary outlets of the passing games like the Colts did at the start of Dorsett's career -- they would instead ask him to take a more natural role as a part-time player who fills in to stretch the field and give the Jaguars a boost of speed when they need a big play.
The question with Dorsett throughout his career has been his ability to stay healthy. He has played just one 16-game season in his career and he missed all of 2020 with a foot injury, which is typically a red flag when it comes to smaller speed receivers. With this in mind, Dorsett looked completely healthy during the offseason and didn't look as if his 2020 injury impacted his explosiveness or long speed.
"The foot is great. I had a lot of time to rehab and I’m finally 100 percent," Dorsett said in March after he signed with the team in free agency.
"I mean, I just envision my role as just going out there and being a guy that can just help his team win. I mean, that’s all it is. I’m a team guy, I’m going to go out there and win. And that’s my thing, whatever I can do, whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to go do it, because I just want to win.”
Meanwhile, Johnson offers a much different skill set than Dorsett, all while in a younger package. Johnson has plenty of speed in his own right, but his best asset is his size and ability to win fights for the ball in the air. Johnson has eight inches and 30 pounds on Dorsett, all while being five years younger. He very well may be the better choice in terms of upside both in the short and long-term, especially after his performance as a rookie.
Johnson had immensely encouraging flashes as a rookie in 2020, catching 18 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns as a backup receiver on one of the NFL's worst offenses. His 15.1 yards per reception, 8.8 yards per target, and 1.60 yards per route run were all impressive numbers for a fifth-round rookie, especially considering the terrible situation Johnson was dealt in terms of quarterback play.
"He’s right in the middle of it. He’s had a very good offseason," Meyer said about Johnson immediately following the draft. "He’s been great. He’s been here the whole time and I’ve known him since his Texas days. He’s going to play bigger than he did last year and he’s getting stronger, but he’s right in the middle of this thing.”
The question is now whether Johnson's size or Dorsett's speed is more valuable to the Jaguars in a part-time role. Perhaps the Jaguars would be asking a different set of questions if they didn't already have three starting receivers firmly set in place. But now, the Jaguars need to determine which skill set is more important to implement into the offense little by little.
Dorsett should be the slight favorite entering camp, but don't count out Johnson. He had one of the best camps of any receiver on the roster last season and by all accounts is even stronger this year. If he can improve upon what he showed last year, he should be able to give Dorsett a run for his money.
Whichever receiver loses this battle will be slotted into the team's No. 5 receiver role and will likely still have a minor place in the offense. But the team's fourth receiver could realistically see more volume in the passing game than any of the team's tight ends, making this a depth spot that is a bit more important than it would be on most other offenses.