The last two wide receivers the Jacksonville Jaguars selected in the second-round became impact players at one point or another during their rookie contract and now the team is hoping this year's second-round investment will pay off in similar fashion.
When it comes to second-round wide receivers, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell can hang his hat on the successes of Allen Robinson (No. 61 overall pick in 2014) and DJ Chark (No. 61 overall pick in 2018). But will Laviska Shenault, the No. 42 overall pick in this April's draft, be able to make a similar name for himself early on his career?
In our series reviewing the possibilities of how some of Jacksonville's top 2020 NFL Draft picks can match franchise rookie records, we have already taken a look at cornerback CJ Henderson and edge defender K'Lavon Chaisson. Now, we will move onto Shenault and the chances he has to write himself into Jaguars' history in his first season.
Shenault will play a number of different roles for Jacksonville early on, which could help his chances to match any record since it will increase the chances for him to get the ball in his hands. Versatility was Shenault's calling card at Colorado, with the Buffaloes using him as a pass-catcher, tight end, running back and even wildcat quarterback.
While Shenault's exact role in Jacksonville remains to be seen, there is some indication the Jaguars could look to use the rookie wide receiver in a similar type of role in 2020.
“I talked to him. Obviously, we feel he has the size and the speed to play outside. After we had drafted him and I got on the phone with him, both [Offensive Coordinator] Jay [Gruden] and I had a plan. We talked about how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to use him. I told him, I said, ‘Look, we have some plans,’ and you can put him in the backfield, he can play Wildcat, you can put him as the F-tight end, you can do a lot of things with him," head coach Doug Marrone said following the drafting of Shenault.
"You see it on his tape in 2018 and 2019. That’s one of the things that we looked at; we went back there, and I said, ‘Look, we can do all those things, but the whole key is going to be how well you grasp it, how well you pick it up.’ Because if he can, make no mistake about it, we want to be able to do those things.”
The current Jaguars rookie receptions record is held by 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon, that year's No. 5 overall pick. As a rookie, Blackmon caught a team rookie record 64 passes, accumulating 865 yards and five touchdowns. The next closest player was Willie Jackson, who caught 53 passes in 1995. Aside from Blackmon and Jackson, only two rookie receivers (Allen Hurns and Ace Sanders) have eclipsed 50 receptions in the franchise's 25-year history.
Could Shenault reach this mark? It is hard to see him doing so if Jacksonville's veteran wide receivers in front of him all remain healthy. While Shenault will likely play a good amount of snaps, only two wide receivers on the entire team reached 64 or more receptions last season and neither were rookies, while the leading four wide receivers from the 2019 season are all returning.
In Chark, Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole, Jacksonville will be returning 207 receptions among its receiver group in 2020, so Shenault will have to find some way to take targets away from a veteran. This will also make it hard for Shenault to match the team's rookie receiving yards record, which is currently held by Blackmon, who recorded 865 yards in 2012.
But the records Shenault could have a solid chance to match? The team rookie records for touchdown receptions and for yards per reception. Presently, Hurns holds the receiving touchdowns record after catching six touchdowns in 2014, while Cole holds the mark for yards per reception with 17.80 in 2017.
Why does Shenault have a better chance to match these records than the records for receptions and receiving yards? Because these records are less about volume and more about role and skill set.
With Shenault set to play a multi-faceted role (if all goes well) for the Jaguars' offense, he has the chance to be Jacksonville's moveable chess piece to create mismatches at all levels of the field, specifically in the red zone. With his size, ability to play all over the formation and yards after catch style, Jacksonville could see him as a 50/50 ball target in the red zone, something that could greatly boost his chances to match Hurns' touchdown record.
Add in the fact that Shenault is perhaps the top receiver from the 2020 class in terms of yards after catch ability thanks to his explosion, size, strength, and physicality, and it is hard to not think Shenault has a chance to contest either of these records. He has the type of skill set to take a screen, drag, or slant and turn it into a huge gain, giving him a big advantage heading into the season. Throw in some impressive traits as a vertical threat and Shenault could be a real threat for Hurns' and Cole's records.
"It is awesome, know it is something that the defense has to really prepare for. It is nice throwing a 5-yard ball and him taking it 50, it definitely makes the quarterbacks job a lot easier so I am definitely excited to have, to add a guy like that into the room," quarterback Gardner Minshew said about Shenault in May.
Whether Shenault matches any rookie records in 2020 will largely depend on how he is used in Jay Gruden's offense and how often he actually sees the field. There is a crowded group of receivers in front of him, but the Jaguars spent the No. 42 pick on Shenault for a reason. After finishing 2019 as the 26th ranked scoring offense, the Jaguars shouldn't be hesitant to get Shenault involved early on this season, giving him a chance to match a few records.