No team needs to bounce back in 2021 more than the Jacksonville Jaguars. A year after the most downtrodden and catastrophic season in franchise history from a wins and losses perspective, the Jaguars want to quickly emerge in 2021 as an improved team.
But for the Jaguars to do so, they will need a few important players to have their own bounce-back seasons. Whether it is players coming off down years from a production standpoint or players who simply need to remain healthy, there are several clear bounce-back candidates on the Jaguars' roster.
Among those candidates, which five stand out the most? We examine below.
There is no player the Jaguars need to have a bounce-back season more than Josh Allen. The 2019 No. 7 overall pick was one of the NFL's best rookie defenders, setting the franchise rookie sack record with 10.5 and making the Pro Bowl. But injuries kept Allen from playing at a high level in 2020, limiting him to just eight games and 2.5 sacks. Allen's sack percentage, hurry percentage, knockdown percentage, and pressure percentage all decreased in 2020 according to Sports Info Solutions, showing that even when Allen was on the field, his production was dipping on a per-play rate.
But the Jaguars and Allen have reason to believe this will change in 2021. An emphasis on the sports performance program and a self-dedication by Allen to remaining healthy this offseason should help the third-year pass-rusher remain on the field and lead the team's pass-rushers in snaps and opportunities at the quarterback. Couple this with Allen shifting to his more natural position of 3-4 outside linebacker, and all the signs are there for Allen to bounce back in 2021.
DJ Chark was more or less the Jaguars' offensive version of Josh Allen in 2020. After a breakout 2019 that saw him set franchise highs, reach 1,000 yards and earn a Pro Bowl nod, Chark saw his numbers drop across the board last season as he struggled with consistency (in large part due to bad quarterback play) and his own issues remaining healthy and on the field.
Playing in 13 games last season, Chark saw his yards per reception, receptions, receiving yards, yards per target, and yards per route run all decrease substantially. He made fewer and fewer big plays down the field and had just three games with more than four catches.
This should all change in 2021, though it remains to be seen how significantly. The simple upgrade alone from Mike Glennon/Gardner Minshew/Jake Luton to Trevor Lawrence at quarterback should offer Chark better chances to produce in 2021. And like Allen, Chark has prioritized his durability this offseason, while also adding several pounds of muscle. Urban Meyer has challenged Chark to play better in 2021 and there are very few reasons to think he can't do that at the very least, even if he isn't fed targets like a No. 1 receiver.
Another young top draft pick, former second-round offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor has been a consistent presence in Jacksonville's lineup since he was drafted in 2019. He has started all 32 games at right tackle since he was drafted, but 2020 was a step back for him compared to his rookie season. According to Sports Info Solutions, Taylor's blown block percentage in pass protection rose from 2.9% as a rookie all the way to 6.1% last season, while he also allowed more sacks overall and on a per-snap basis.
Taylor has a good chance to bounce back in 2021 almost solely because of how much he struggled last season. He will get another year with offensive line coach George Warhop, who has been complimentary of Taylor's strides this offseason. And like Chark, Taylor will likely benefit a good deal from Lawrence taking snaps under center compared to last year's trio of starting quarterbacks. If Taylor can become more consistent as a pass blocker, he has a chance to solidify himself as the team's long-term right tackle.
Now that James O'Shaughnessy is another year removed from the ACL injury that ended his 2019 season, the veteran tight end should be expected to be better this year than he was as the team's No. 2 tight end last season. O'Shaughnessy was an afterthought in the offense under former coordinator Jay Gruden, playing behind Tyler Eifert each week and seeing just 38 targets in 15 games.
Now that O'Shaughnessy should have a more defined role in the Jaguars' offense under Darrell Bevell as the team's top 'F' tight end. He will see more action in the passing game than potentially even Chris Manhertz, which alone should make him a candidate to have a much-improved season compared to last year. And like every other player on the offense, the upgrade at quarterback could do wonders for O'Shaughnessy, who has drawn rave reviews from the Jaguars' coaching staff this offseason.
The only 2020 draft pick on this list (though a good case could be made for K'Lavon Chaisson), CJ Henderson almost has to have a bounce-back season in 2021 after the Jaguars invested the No. 9 overall pick in him a year ago. Henderson flashed serious talent as a rookie and his two best games came against talented veteran receivers (T.Y. Hilton and Davante Adams), but he only appeared in eight games due to injuries and his consistency was up and down.
If Henderson can remain healthy in 2021, he has a good chance to improve upon his rookie year. Henderson's rookie marks of six pass deflections and one interception should be easily surpassed as long as he is on the field, especially considering he will draw much easier matchups this year than he did as a rookie. With the addition of Shaquill Griffin in free agency, Henderson won't have to face the opposing team's top wideout each week like he did as a rookie, which could aid his consistency issues.