Each week this season, I’ll be highlighting a few specific Jacksonville Jaguars players that I’ll be keeping my eye on based on how they’ve played so far and how I expect them to play in the future.
With the Jaguars (1-10) coming off a close loss to the Cleveland Browns, there are several players worth tracking over the course of the week. Here is who I’ll be watching for in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.
C Brandon Linder
This section is admittedly serving as an appreciation post for center Brandon Linder, who simply doesn’t get enough recognition from national media or Jaguars fans alike for his consistently great play (and theatrics).
Linder currently ranks second in Pro Football Focus grade among centers (seventh among all interior offensive linemen). He is an excellent run blocker, as he ranks third in PFF run block grade and ninth in ESPN’s run block win rate among centers this season, but he’s truly elite against the rush, as he ranks first in both PFF pass block grade and pass block win rate among centers.
Linder has committed just one penalty and one blown block in nearly 400 snaps this season (per Sports Info Solutions), and his three pressures allowed is the fifth-least among all offensive linemen this season (he’s allowed zero sacks). This dominance isn’t anything new, as Linder allowed just 10.3 pressures per season in his previous six years- for reference, New York Giants rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas allowed nine pressures in a single game this season- and he’s graded as a top-10 center each season he’s played the position (he played right guard his first two years in the league).
The Pro Bowl-worthy center frankly hasn’t been featured in this column yet because his play is so consistent. Linder has just two career games with a PFF grade under 50.0, one of which was his first career start back in 2014- for reference, Jawaan Taylor has four such games this season alone. Linder should continue his excellent play against the Minnesota Vikings, whose Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson rank 44th and 128th, respectively, among 140 qualifying interior defensive linemen in PFF grade this season.
RB James Robinson
Linder has played phenomenally this season but is the only Jaguars offensive lineman who hasn’t blown multiple run blocks or have a 70.0-plus PFF run block grade. Jacksonville ranks 20th in team run block win rate and 24th in team pass block grade, which makes running back James Robinson’s rookie campaign even more remarkable.
Robinson had a career day last week against Cleveland, as he ran for a personal-best 128 yards on 22 carries and added a touchdown. Last Sunday was the team’s best game on the ground this season in terms of Football Outsiders’ DVOA (and second-best in terms of Expected Points Added per play). Robinson now has 1,170 yards from scrimmage, which is on pace to break undrafted rookie records.
The Illinois State product currently has 890 rushing yards, and another big performance this week could make him the third running back in the league to reach 1,000 rushing yards on the season and Jacksonville’s third such running back of the past decade (Maurice Jones-Drew had 1,000 rushing yards in 2010 and 2011; Leonard Fournette reached the mark in 2017 and 2019).
Robinson was aided last week by a porous Cleveland rushing defense, but he’ll be facing a similarly susceptible Minnesota rush defense this week, as the Browns and Vikings are tied for last in team run stop win rate this season. The Jaguars ran on 59% of neutral situation early downs on Sunday (per RBSDM.com) and should be expected to continue riding on the back of Robinson.
LB Myles Jack
After playing like the best off-ball linebacker in the league in the first month of the season, Myles Jack has played good-but-not-great since. In Weeks 1-4, Jack was PFF’s highest-graded linebacker and ranked top-five in run defense grade, pass rush grade and coverage grade among 85 qualifying players, while ranking eighth in tackles among all defenders.
Unfortunately, Jack injured his ankle against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4 and consequentially missed Weeks 5 and 8. Since that Bengals game, Jack ranks 117th in tackles among all defenders (partly due to missing time with his injury) and 24th in PFF grade among 91 eligible linebackers. He’s remained dominant against the run, ranking third in PFF run defense among that group, but has dropped off against the pass, ranking outside the top-30 in pass rush and coverage grade.
Jack hasn’t been listed on the injury report since Week 9 but is playing as if he is still hampered by an ankle injury. He’ll need a big performance this week, though, against a Vikings offense that has a similar outside zone running scheme as last week’s opponent (the Browns).
Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 29 carries and 206 rushing yards (7.2 yards per carry) against Jacksonville. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, who ranks top-five in rushing yards, yards per carry, broken tackles, PFF run grade, and, well, just about any other running back metric, is in line for a monster game on the ground unless Jack and the rest of the Jaguars defense can play better against outside zone than they did last week.
CB Tre Herndon
Last week’s edition of this column highlighted Jacksonville’s concerning secondary depth after a myriad of injuries sent Sidney Jones, C.J. Henderson, D.J. Hayden and Daniel Thomas to injured reserve. Luq Barcoo and Josiah Scott, who had 24 combined snaps of NFL experience prior to Sunday, assumed cornerback duties along with veteran Tre Herndon against the Browns.
Barcoo and Scott understandably struggled, allowing eight of 10 combined targets in their direction to be caught for 111 yards and a touchdown (per PFF) as Browns receiver Jarvis Landry recorded season-highs in targets (11), receptions (8), receiving yards (143) and touchdowns (1). Landry did most of his work against Barcoo, but Herndon also struggled, as he allowed four of six targets to be caught for 48 yards and a touchdown.
All three corners generated PFF coverage grades of less than 40.0 and passer ratings allowed of 115.0 or more. Herndon now ranks bottom-20 in each of those statistics for the season among 133 qualifying cornerbacks.
Improvements from Barcoo and Scott would be nice, but considering the pair’s lack of experience as respective undrafted and fourth-round rookies, it’s unlikely. Herndon specifically has to at least have some resemblance of an NFL player worthy of seeing the field if the Jaguars are going to have any shot against Justin Jefferson (the one who got away) and Adam Thielen (assuming he returns from the COVID list), each of whom ranks top-three in PFF receiving grade this season.