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Jaguars' 2020 Superlatives: Who's Who On Offense

With the 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars season over, Jaguar Report looks back and highlights certain players and moments, discusses the most disappointing players and moments and gives a nod to those who held our attention the most.

The Jacksonville Jaguars 2020 season had highs, lows, and head-scratching moments that won't long be forgotten. Hindsight is 20/20 (we're sorry for the cliche pun) so Jaguar Report's John Shipley and Kassidy Hill look back at all aspects of the season to award some of the best, some of the worst and some of the most memorable players and plays. 

First up, we look just at the offense.  

MVP 

Hill: James Robinson 

The only difficult part of this one was trying to think of someone BESIDES James Robison, just to be fair. But to ignore him would be even more unfair. What James Robinson did this season was beyond special and we’ll discuss it more throughout this series. But in terms strictly of being the MVP, no one did more on offense than Robinson. Even missing the final two games with injury, Robinson was still single handily responsible for 26% of the offense.

Robinson (30) runs past J.J. Watt (on the ground). Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson (30) runs past J.J. Watt (on the ground). Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

He finished with 1,414 total yards (1,070 rushing,  344 receiving) and 10 touchdowns; and that’s not even accounting for the multiple touchdowns he had called back because of a teammate drawing a holding penalty.

To do this as a rookie—coming from Illinois State no less—when most are still adjusting to the speed of the game is nothing short of inspiring.

Shipley: James Robinson

This one is as obvious as it gets. There were other considerations, of course, but it was clear all season who Jacksonville's most important player on offense was. James Robinson's 1,414 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns as an undrafted rookie on one of the NFL's most pass-heavy offenses is nothing short of astonishing. 

Center Brandon Linder could have made a strong argument for this award had he played closer to a full season than he did. Linder was on his way to having arguably the best season of his career before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. Keelan Cole was consistent all season long, but his numbers simply just don't come close enough to Robinson and his impact. 

Robinson was Jacksonville's best player on offense from Weeks 1 to 17, even if he missed the last two games. It was clear all year long, earning him the distinction of the offensive MVP.

Most Improved Player 

Hill: Laviska Shenault

The rookie receiver/do it all weapon was able to rely primarily on talent alone in college at Colorado. When he arrived at Jacksonville, he jumped out quickly against the Indianapolis Colts with a touchdown and 47 all-purpose yards in his premier. After another strong performance in Week 2 versus the Titans, as the season wore on—and the Jags offense struggled—Shenault plateaued (as did many of his teammates).

Then versus the Minnesota Vikings, Shenault exploded once again for the luckiest touchdown you’ll see this side of the Mississippi and accumulating 68 total yards (38 receiving, 30 rushing) with a 100% target-catch ratio.

Shenault scored four touchdowns over the final five games, all in a variety of ways as the second-rounder became more adjusted to the NFL game style. He was already one of the most electrifying prospects in this past year’s rookie class and he ended his season on an upward trajectory that makes him one of the most exciting Jaguars to watch going into the offseason.

Shipley: Keelan Cole

Keelan Cole may not have put up some of the volume numbers that he did as a rookie in 2017, but 2020 was clearly the best he has ever played from a consistency standpoint. Cole had a solid 2019 season in terms of taking advantage of limited opportunities, but 2020 saw his role increase and he stepped his game up as a result. 

Cole caught a career-high 55 passes on 88 targets in 2020, recording 642 receiving yards and a career-high five touchdown catches. 34 of his 55 receptions went for first downs, while he also moved to a full-time slot receiver role for the first time in his career. His route-running and over playmaking ability took a jump in 2020, leading to him being my pick here.

Most Interesting Storyline

Hill: Robinson Risk Paying Off

When the Jaguars waived running back Leonard Fournette this offseason, it did more than raise eyebrows; it kick-started the conversation that the Jaguars were tanking before the season even began. And while the club couldn’t avoid the tanking allegations after going 1-15 and securing the No. 1 overall pick for the 2021 NFL Draft, they did prove themselves right with the decision to cut Fournette and keep rookie undrafted free agent James Robinson in his place. 

Coaches took a risk on James Robinson and it paid off. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches took a risk on James Robinson and it paid off. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

While Fournette became a rarely-used piece for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (144 total touches, compared to 234 for Ronald Jones, including dropped passes) Robinson received 300 total touches on the season. He was third in the season and on pace to break the undrafted free agent rookie rushing record before his injury.

There were a lot of things the Jaguars did wrong this past calendar year, but waiving Fournette and keeping Robinson wasn’t one of them. That might have just been the biggest risk pay off in franchise history this decade.

Shipley: Quarterback merry-go-round

If anyone had said entering the 2020 season that Gardner Minshew would only start half of Jacksonville's games at quarterback, they would have likely been met with intense scrutiny. Minshew was the face of the 2020 Jaguars, at least during the offseason. The entire real point of the season was to find out if Minshew could be a franchise quarterback the Jaguars could build around. 

But things went off the rails at the bye. Minshew started the first seven games of this season but had limped into the Week 8 bye with three consecutive poor performances (and four in the last five). Minshew would reveal to the Jaguars after Week 7 that he was suffering from a thumb injury on his throwing hand, and that was that. Jake Luton started the next three games, then was replaced by Mike Glennon. Glennon was eventually replaced by Minshew, who would once again be replaced by Glennon to end the season.

A complete carousel of starting quarterbacks helped doom the Jaguars' offense in 2020; what made it even more interesting is that nobody saw it coming until Minshew got injured. 

Top Offensive Assistant 

Hill: Kennan McCardell

Even with a rotating door at quarterback and little to give them encouragement, the Jaguars receiving corps continued to perform. As mentioned, Laviska Shenault Jr. was one of the most improved offensive players as McCardell brought him along. But the evolution of rookie Collin Johnson, fourth-year free agent Keelan Cole and the play of Pro-Bowler DJ Chark staying strong through the season despite much incentive to do so is all a credit to McCardell.

Of the 345 times the top five receivers were targeted this season (Chark, Cole, Johnson, Shenault, and Chris Conley), the group had a 65% catch ratio and only a 0.05% drop ratio. In other words, if whoever was taking snaps under center that day could get the ball to the receivers, they had a greater than 99% chance of bringing it in.

Shipley: George Warhop

Keenan McCardell is the obvious pick here. Jacksonville's wide receiver group featured two rookies and Keelan Cole and DJ Chark are both young players, but McCardell once again coached the unit to solid production considering the mess at quarterback. With that said, I am opting to give this award to Jaguars offensive lineman George Warhop.

Jacksonville's offensive line was middling at best in 2019. Left tackle Cam Robinson was still recovering from a 2018 ACL injury, while the guard positions left a lot to be desired. Despite this, the Jaguars kept their offensive line intact for 2020 with the hope that Warhop would develop the unit. 

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Warhop did just that. Jacksonville didn't have an elite offensive line by any means, but it was the best line they have had in several seasons. Robinson had the best year of his career and finally looked healthy, while left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard A.J. Cann each had good seasons. Throw in encouraging play from backups Tyler Shatley and Ben Bartch, and Warhop deserves praise for the job he did in 2020.

Best Offensive Play 

Hill: Collin Johnson's Touchdown vs Houston

It is this writers (correct) belief that the hardest place to call plays is in the redzone. The shortened field, the tighter defense, the loss of space in which to work and just the increased pressure all create a playbook that is its own animal.

Against the Houston Texans in Week 5, the Jags had worked down into the redzone courtesy of a 51-yard bomb from quarterback Gardner Minshew II to Chris Conley. From the four-yard line, threw three straight incomplete passes. On fourth and goal from the four, Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden sent receivers in both parallel and crisscrossing routes, streaking across the endzone and covering every possible place Minshew could put the ball.

It was perfectly drawn up if for no other reason than it accounted for a possible play breakdown—which is exactly what happened. With star defensive lineman J.J. Watt bearing down, Minshew escaped the pocket and scrambled right. Working back upfield from the 10-yard line at this point, Minshew kept his eyes towards the back of the endzone. There Collin Johnson and Keelan Cole were running parallel to each other, a high-low option depending on where the defensive back was at the time of the throw.

Minshew put the ball out in front and Johnson got his hands there first for the touchdown. It was organized chaos, dialed up by Gruden and executed impeccably by all 11 players on the field.

Shipley: Laviska Shenault's wild touchdown in Minnesota 

I don't even have any commentary that would give this play the justice and respect it deserves. It is the most unlikely touchdown the Jaguars have scored since Mike Thomas caught a Hail Mary touchdown to beat the Houston Texans in Week 10. It simply doesn't make any sense. Logic, physical, whatever you want to define it by, it shouldn't have happened.

But there it was. A Laviska Shenault touchdown that was the result of a pass meant for one other player but was tipped by a completely different player on the field.

Most Disappointing Player 

Hill: Tyler Eifert

When Eifert was brought in through free agency this past offseason, it was with much fanfare. The former Gruden weapon with the Cincinnati Bengals and first-round draft pick, Eifert was expected to change the look of the Jaguars offense, adding another element to the offense with a big receiving tight end.

While Eifert’s numbers come with some consideration that of his six previous seasons, half were cut short due to injury, Eifert still recorded his worst reception rate (66.7%) of his career and the lowest yards per reception (9.7) average of his career. Four passes intended for him were intercepted.

Again, as with many Jaguars positional groups and individual players this season, some leniency is given as the team overall struggled. However, we must also point out that lack of better play from some of the skill positions are to blame for that ineptitude. The tight end group fell short this season. Tyler Eifert was supposed to lead that group.

Shipley: Jawaan Taylor

Jawaan Taylor was arguably Jacksonville's best offensive lineman in 2019 but the second-year right tackle took a massive step back in 2020. While the rest of the offensive line put forth really impressive seasons, Taylor was more often than not the line's weak link, specifically in pass protection.

According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor led all NFL offensive tackles in pressures allowed in 2020. He was far too often a liability on the right side of the line, giving up too much ground to powerful edge rushers and creating even more problems for an already shaky offense. Jacksonville's quarterbacks didn't make it easy on Taylor and his fellow linemen, but he was beaten the most consistently out of all of the seven who had significant snaps. 

Taylor had a great rookie season but a massively disappointing sophomore effort. Now it is up to him to see which of those two versions of himself he will be moving forward.

Best Rookie 

Hill: James Robinson

Can we just copy-paste everything already written on Robinson as the team MVP? And for that matter, everything we’ve written about him all season?

From the moment James Robinson hit the hole on an 11-yard gain for his very first snap in the NFL, it was clear Robinson was going to be someone we couldn’t help but watch during the season.

Whether he was hurdling defenders, making elite cuts or ramming himself straight up the middle, Robinson did everything right from beginning to end and we hope this is just the beginning.

Shipley: James Robinson

What more really needs to be said? James Robinson was the Jaguars' best offensive rookie from the first day of training camp to the last day of the regular season. He was their best player during the vast majority of that span, too. Robinson was simply a revelation for the Jaguars in 2020, offering a massive upgrade over the plodding era of Leonard Fournette.

Robinson didn't put up monster numbers each week and his last two games of the season were completely lost due to injury, but that doesn't change anything here. Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson had solid rookie seasons and Ben Bartch got better as the season went on, but Robinson was far above the rest of his fellow rookies. 

Best Microsoft Teams Host 

Hill: Keelan Cole

Credit to Keelan Cole, he evaded media this season like it was a corner on an island deep downfield. But when he finally showed up, he was a one-liner machine. I don’t know if anything from the 2020 season will top “I like being a Jaguar. I’d rather be a Jaguar than a Falcon or a bird or some shit like that.”

Even tripping over the chair on his way out of the Microsoft Teams setup was met with laughs because Cole got the biggest kick out of the misstep of anyone. When he came again the following week, the fourth-year receiver who will be a free agent this offseason settled in and visited. 

The Teams and Zoom calls could feel impersonal at times as everyone adjusted to a new way of doing this amidst a global pandemic. But Keelan Cole took to the chair with ease both times he visited and made sure anyone in earshot was in stitches as he commanded attention. 

Shipley: Keelan Cole

Keelan Cole gets this award for me for giving the best quote any Jaguars player has given during my time on the beat. It was marvelous. 

"When it comes to being in Jacksonville, I’m not really a party guy or anything and apparently Jacksonville doesn’t have that, so I feel really good here. I like the warm weather, hate the cold, shoutout to Green Bay. I like the warm weather. I like being here, I like being a Jaguar. I’d rather be a Jaguar than a Falcon or a bird or some s*** like that.”

A Falcon or a bird or something like that. Just a terrific quote.