The 10 Most Important Jaguars For 2020, No. 5: DJ Chark
2020 is a make-or-break year for the current regime leading the Jacksonville Jaguars. While this may sound like a broken record after being overly repeated since the disappointing 2019 season drew to a close, it is the simple truth.
In the last two years, the Jaguars have finished in last place of the AFC South each season while compiling an 11-21 record. In fact, 2019's meager 6-10 record, as bad as it was, was actually one of the better records the Jaguars produced during the 2010s decade. The past has been ugly for the Jaguars and the team will assuredly put as much energy as possible into changing this in 2020.
As the Jaguars attempt to reverse their look and field a winning team in the fall, they will need all 53 members of the active roster and every coach on the staff to step their game up. But among those on the team, there are a select few players who will be especially pivotal to Jacksonville's success.
As we continue to move forward toward the start of the 2020 NFL season (pending one actually taking place), we will take a look at which players we think are especially important next season.
We have already hit the first half of our list, with the following players being ranked No. 6 through No. 10:
Now, we move onto No. 5 on our list with a player who exploded onto the scene for Jacksonville in 2019, playing himself into the team's long-term plans: wide receiver DJ Chark.
Chark was the team's second-round selection (No. 61 overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft, and it was clear from the jump the Jaguars saw immense potential in the talented 6-foot-4 LSU wideout thanks to his top-flight physical skills and 4.34 40-yard dash time.
2018 proved to be a rather uneventful year for Chark as the rookie made the transition to the pro game. He made a few big plays at the beginning of the season but he was more impactful as a gunner on special teams toward the end of his rookie year.
Last season proved to be dramatically different, however. Chark became the go-to threat for the Jaguars' passing offense, catching 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. In his second season, Chark became the first Jaguars offensive player to be named to the Pro Bowl since Allen Robinson in 2015, while also being the first receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards since Robinson and Allen Hurns did so that season.
Now, Chark is set to be the face of the Jaguars' passing attack. Expectations are sky-high after his phenomenal second season, and now it will be up to him to meet those expectations.
Why DJ Chark is important for the Jaguars in 2020
When it came to the Jaguars' offense last season, the unit was at its best when getting Chark involved as a downfield threat. He caught 17 receptions that went for 20 or more yards, with five of those going for touchdowns and 10 of the receptions being 30 yards or long, according to Pro Football Reference.
By taking a look at how Gardner Minshew II performed when throwing to Chark, it isn't hard to think he won't once again be a featured player in 2020. When targeting Chark, Minshew was 58-of-93 (62.4%) for 824 yards (8.9 yards per attempt) and five touchdowns with one interception. All in all, 58 of Minshew's completions to Chark went for first downs and the rookie quarterback had a 104.4 quarterback rating when throwing to his favorite target.
"Minshew was inefficient in general, but his game improved when Chark was involved. According to PFF, Minshew posted 9.3 yards per attempt, a 109.0 passer rating and 0.38 EPA per play when targeting Chark. When targeting all other Jaguars receivers, Minshew produced 7.2 yards per attempt, a 97.0 passer rating and 0.12 EPA per play," JaguarReport's Gus Logue wrote in June.
"Chark was Minshew’s favorite target in just about any scenario. Chark received the most first down, third down, red zone and deep targets from Minshew last year. Minshew played best when he was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and Chark was typically his primary target."
Under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, look for Chark to continue to be the centerpiece of the team's passing game. Gruden has featured single receivers (or tight ends in Jordan Reed's case) as the dominant pass-catching option in the past, and there is no reason he should not do the same with Chark.
"I think we can do a little bit more with him. I’d like to get him inside and do some more things with him in the slot," Gruden said. "But he’s an excellent specimen. And the thing that I have come to know about DJ in the limited time I got to meet him was that he’s hungry. He wants to be great and when you have the athletic qualities that he has and then the desire to be great, he’s going to have a very bright future."
"Now it is our job to get him acclimated to this offense and get him comfortable where he can go out there and play fast because he is a big, strong, fast, hungry kid and we got to give him the ball," Gruden said.
Jacksonville has other receiving options around Chark in Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault and Tyler Eifert, but Chark is the clear cut top dog. Chark had a breakout season in 2019, but there is no reason to think he has come close to scratching the surface yet. If the Jaguars want to win more games in 2020, they will simply have to get Chark involved because last season proved he is the offense's most dangerous playmaker.
Like any receiver, Chark's success will ultimately hinge on Minshew's performance. But if 2019 was any indication, Chark could potentially produce with simply serviceable quarterback play. For context, Nick Foles was 15-of-25 (60%) for 184 yards (7.4 yards per catch) and three touchdowns with one interception. All of Foles' touchdowns last season were thrown to Chark, making it clear where he stands in the pecking order in Jacksonville.
If the Jaguars are going to get back to winning ways in 2020, Chark and his ability to generate big plays will be crucial on a week-to-week basis. Luckily for the Jaguars, there is reason to believe he will be up to the task.