In a few short weeks, the wait will be over. The 2021 NFL Draft will be here and the Jacksonville Jaguars will kick off the spectacle for the first time in franchise history.
Following the worst season in franchise history and 15 consecutive losses, the Jaguars are looking to make a splash to turn around one of the NFL's more stagnant franchises. The Jaguars are equipped with 10 draft picks to fuel that turnaround, including the No. 1 overall pick.
But where do the Jaguars need to improve? Who needs to be replaced? To answer these questions and more, we are taking a look at what each Jaguars position group looks like entering the final month before the draft. Today, we look at the tight end position to see how much it has changed over the last few weeks.
On the roster: Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy, Tyler Davis, Ben Ellefson.
One of the weakest position groups on the team, the Jaguars' current tight end room is made up of two veterans with career role players and two second-year players. The Jaguars have gotten minimal production from the position in past years so some type of grand overhaul has been expected, but the Jaguars didn't sign any of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, or Gerald Everett in free agency.
The Jaguars did however sign former Carolina Panthers tight end Chris Manhertz, one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. Manhertz has just 12 catches in 70 career games, six of which came last season when he recorded 52 yards. Manhertz brings leadership, toughness, and the ability to play attached to the line of scrimmage, but his potential as a pass-catcher is limited.
"That was a high priority. We have two different style of tight ends, one is a ‘Y,’ which is—on the line, basically an extension of your offensive line, a very good blocker, but also very functional in the pass game," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said in March after free agency. "We identified the guy, had him at the top of the list and that’s [Chris] Manhertz and we got him. I’ve not met him, he’s coming in today, but I’m—we all are extremely excited about him. He was exactly what we wanted and we got him."
Jacksonville's current top pass-catching tight end, or the 'F' position, is seventh-year veteran James O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy has spent the last four seasons with the Jaguars and was on his way to a career year in 2020 before an ACL injured ended his season in Week 5. O'Shaughnessy played in 15 games last year, catching 28 passes for 262 yards. The Jaguars re-signed O'Shaughnessy this offseason after his contract expired.
[James] O'Shaughnessy—two years ago, O'Shaughnessy had a very good year, showed a lot of potential. Obviously, he had an ACL injury, he’s been in here training, I’ve gotten to know him, really enjoy being around him. So, we count on him, but we have not finalized that piece of the puzzle yet. But the ‘Y’ part–we all feel extremely strong about Manhertz," Meyer said.
The other options on Jacksonville's roster are Tyler Davis, a 2020 sixth-round pick (No. 206 overall), and Ben Ellefson, a 2020 undrafted free agent. Davis appeared in eight games but was mostly used as a blocker, seeing just two targets and catching neither. Ellefson saw more playing time for Davis but also saw just four targets, catching one pass for 10 yards. Neither tight end showed enough to be guaranteed a roster spot in 2021, but Ellefson could earn a special teams and depth role.
Offseason additions: Chris Manhertz
The biggest story about the Jaguars' tight end room this offseason hasn't been their addition in Manhertz. Instead, it has been the Jaguars' lack of major moves at the position. The Jaguars were seen by many as one of the top likely suitors for the top tight ends on the free agency market, but we instead saw the New England Patriots sign each of the top two players available.
As a result of the Jaguars missing out on the impactful pass-catchers at the position, their lone signing is set to be used more so in the other phases of the offense. Manhertz excels as both a run and pass blocker, essentially serving as a natural extension of the offensive line who is capable os holding his own against some of the NFL's top edge defenders.
Manhertz won't make a big impact on the Jaguars' passing game as a receiver, but expect him to play a considerable amount of snaps and serve as one of the team's top two tight ends.
Offseason subtractions: Tyler Eifert, Josh Oliver
The two subtractions from Jacksonville's tight end room are the two players who were set to be the biggest factors at the position in 2020.
Tyler Eifert was one of the Jaguars' prized additions in last year's free agency cycle, but the veteran tight end spent just one year with the team. The Jaguars declined Eifert's team option for 2021 earlier this offseason, ending his short and unproductive Jaguars tenure.
Eifert was the team's leading producer by default at tight end last season, catching 36 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns, but he recorded a career-low 5.8 yards per target. Eifert never showed the type of athleticism in Jacksonville that made him a special tight end with the Bengals at the start of his career. He was essentially a shell of himself last season, a player much too expensive to keep at his previous price range.
Oliver was one of the team's biggest additions at tight ends in recent years, drafted in the third-round (No. 69 overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft. Injuries as a rookie and in 2020 limited him to four games in two seasons, however, and the Jaguars traded him to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional 2022 seventh-round selection. Oliver was going to be a key piece of the offense in 2020 had he not broken a bone in his foot in training camp, but his Jaguars' tenure just never took off.
Biggest question facing position before the draft: Who will be the pass-catcher?
There is zero question what the Jaguars' biggest area of concern is when it comes to the tight end room. As of today, the team simply has no impact pass-catchers at the position, and none with the potential to grow and develop into such a player.
For some context on just how bad the Jaguars' current outlook is in terms of pass catching tight ends, here are the career receiving figures for the Jaguars' tight end room.
Manhertz: 12 catches for 142 yards (11.8 yards per catch) and one touchdown.
O'Shaughnessy: 88 catches for 864 yards (9.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.
Tyler Davis: Zero catches for zero yards.
Ben Ellefson: one catch for 10 yards.
So, yes, saying the Jaguars have questions at tight end in terms of receiving production would be the understatement of a century. The Jaguars currently are barren at the position and the only current solutions to fixing the problem are to find a player via the draft or to trade for a proven veteran. The Jaguars could look to obtain a player like Zach Ertz or David Njoku, but it remains to be seen if the Jaguars prioritize tight end enough to the point where they would pour draft picks and a new contract into one player.
Draft prospects who fit: Pat Freiermuth, Brevin Jordan, Kylen Granson, Briley Moore
Considering Meyer himself has already stated the Jaguars aren't done doing work at the position, it should be widely presumed the Jaguars will add a tight end through the draft. The downside is that outside of Kyle Pitts, this is a bad tight end class with few legitimate "move" tight end options.
Pat Freiermith is a natural traditional tight end with good size, blocking, and routes, but he lacks the dynamic athleticism to be considered a major threat as a pass-catcher other than as a possession threat. Brevin Jordan produced big numbers at Miami but has questions about his natural receiving ability and athletic testing numbers. Kylen Granson and Briley Moore are two undersized tight ends who tested extremely well and have track records of receiving production.