The Curious Case of Laviska Shenault's Usage

Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault has only really made big impacts during the first half of games this season. Why is that, and how can the Jaguars change it?

With the Jacksonville Jaguars sitting at 1-6 in their bye week, head coach Doug Marrone is "fired up" and ready to try some new things. 

The first new thing he and the team should try? Getting the ball to Laviska Shenault on a consistent basis for all four quarters each Sunday.

Among the most perplexing issues concerning the Jaguars' 2020 season so far has been how the team has utilized its most important offensive offseason addition. Or how the team has been unable to utilize him, to put it more accurately. 

Through seven games, Shenault has been among the most productive rookie wide receivers in the league, even with his production falling off a cliff each second half. Among rookie wideouts with at least 10 targets, the No. 42 overall pick in April is:

  • fifth in receiving yards (324)
  • second in catches (29)
  • third in targets (37)
  • fourth in reception % (78.4%)
  • first in yards after catch (182)
  • fourth in first downs (19)
  • fourth in quarterback rating when targeted (112.2) 
  • tied for sixth in touchdowns (1) 

But despite all of this, the Jaguars are failing to get the absolute most out of Shenault because they are not getting him involved in the offense for the entire duration of games. 

When looking at Shenault's first and second half splits, it becomes obvious just how much of a non-factor Shenault has been during the third and fourth quarters of games. This isn't due to anything Shenault is doing wrong, though. It is more so the result of a lack of opportunities. 

In the first half of games this season, Shenault has been targeted 26 times. He has converted those targets into 21 receptions for 275 yards, giving him 13.5 yards per reception and 10.6 yards per target. In the first half of games, he has caught 80% of his targets for 15 first downs and a touchdown. 

This means that through seven games, Shenault is averaging three receptions for 39.29 yards in each first half this season.

But when it comes to the closing quarters of the game, the Jaguars have been unable to get Shenault going in the same way they have in the first half. In the second half of games, Shenault has been targeted just 12 times. He has converted those targets into eight receptions for 49 yards, giving him 6.1 yards per reception and 4.1 yards per target. In the second half of games, he has caught 66.7% of his passes for four first downs and zero scores.

This means that through seven games, Shenault is averaging 1.14 receptions for 7 yards in each second half this season. The difference in Shenault as a player in the second halves is no different, but the production and usage is astoundingly different.

Why is this? As of now, there are just theories. The Jaguars have had to air the ball out in the second half, but Shenault is getting outpaced in second half targets by DJ Chark (18), Keelan Cole (21), Chris Conley (20) and James Robinson (21). 

The Jaguars are typically down by multiple scores in the second half and are trying to get a lot of points and yards back with big plays. This would explain the increase in targets to Conley, Cole and Chark since they all have higher average depth of targets than Sheanult. It also makes sense for Robinson to have such a high target total in these situations since the Jaguars have frequently checked the ball down.

As a rookie who is coming off an offseason surgery, it could also make sense for the Jaguars to dial back Shenault's responsibilities and usage during the first half of the season. But when you compare his production in the first two quarters compared to the last two, this idea falls a bit flat as well.

“[He’s grown] a lot and I think we’ll see a lot more. I think Laviska is a guy we’re just going to continue to work with and he’s going to get better and better the more he does and the more he sees," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said on Oct. 3. 

"He’s coming off that double core surgery that he had in college. I can’t wait to see him at full strength. I think he’s at full strength, but I think he can get stronger and better and even more productive in the passing game and obviously the running game. We’ve taken a little bit off his plate in that regard because James [Robinson] has performed so well. I think we can utilize him a little bit more. I think the more healthy he gets, the more confidence he has in the system, where to line up, how to play, he’s going to be a factor for this football team for many years to come. We’re just scratching the surface with him, but we love the way he works in practice and his production on game day has been excellent so far. It’s our job to get him more touches.”

Here is to seeing if the Jaguars truly will get Shenault more touches. If they want to improve upon their 1-6 record, they will need to.