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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Jacksonville Jaguars Position Preview: Wide Receivers

By meerna Jul11,2024
Jacksonville Jaguars Position Preview: Wide Receivers

After losing two former starters (Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones), the Jaguars wide receiver group will have a few new players in 2024. While Christian Kirk is likely to be a returning veteran, Gabe Davis, Brian Thomas Jr. and Parker Washington should also have a chance to be productive next season.

Let’s take a look at four wide receivers who are expected to have consistent roles in the Jaguars offense:

Christian Kirk

Kirk’s best professional season came in 2022, his first year as a Jaguar. After a two-time All-SEC first-team selection at Texas A&M (SEC Freshman Of The Year in 2015), his tenure as an Arizona Cardinal was hampered by inconsistent quarterback play and injuries (broken foot, sprained ankle).

In his first season with the Jaguars, Kirk ranked in the top 15 in the league in catches, yards after the catch and touchdowns after the catch (84 catches, 1,108 yards, 8 touchdowns).

The seventh-year veteran was on pace to finish last season with similar numbers (80 receptions, 1,112 yards, 4 touchdowns) before suffering a season-ending groin strain in Week 13. Despite missing the final five games of the season, Kirk still put up respectable numbers (57 receptions, 787 yards) as the Jaguars’ second-leading wide receiver.

Kirk’s ability to change direction through a series of sudden breaks and bursts makes it difficult for defensive backs to get to him while on the move. By diagnosing coverage early in his route, Kirk is able to effectively attack the defender’s leverage. His tendency to change speed and slow down (or speed up) based on the defense’s coverage helps him create separation from defenders, especially on entry routes.

Kirk’s 95% True Catch Rate (percentage of catches on catchable targets) ranks in the top 15 in the league. His flexibility allows him to contort his body and adjust to difficult catches, often while remaining on his feet.

Kirk, the Jaguars’ most productive returning quarterback, is poised to replicate his 2022 performance if he can stay healthy.

Gabe Davis

The former Buffalo Bills player signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Jaguars in March.

Davis’ best statistical season came in 2022, when he caught 48 passes for 836 yards and 7 touchdowns. In four seasons with the Bills, Davis never caught more than 50 passes in a year. His low reception numbers likely stem from the fact that Stefon Diggs has gotten the lion’s share of targets among the Bills’ receivers.

Despite his rather average stats, Davis has a knack for producing the best results when he is needed the most.

His defining moment (so far) came in the 2022 AFC Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he set an NFL record by catching four touchdowns in a single game. Davis’ next impressive performance came this season in Week 16 in a 24-22 win over the Chargers. Davis helped keep the Bills’ playoff hopes alive, catching six passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

The former Bill has proven to be a deep threat, which also helps him rack up big yards on return routes and curl. Davis is a great vertical threat to defensive backs with his speed, then changes directions to get back to the ball. The former UCF Knight has finished in the top 10 in yards per catch each of the last two seasons (#7 in 2023, #3 in 2022).

The fifth-year veteran’s season ended early last year after he suffered a sprained PCL in Week 18, forcing him to miss both of the Bills’ playoff games. Although Davis’ knee has been gradually healing in the offseason, head coach Doug Pederson expects him to be ready for training camp.

Brian Thomas Jr.

It’s been more than a decade since the Jaguars drafted a wide receiver in the first round, and given Brian Thomas Jr.’s performance against some of college football’s best talent, the pick was well-deserved.

Despite finishing the season as LSU’s second-leading quarterback, Thomas Jr. still managed to catch 68 passes for 1,177 yards and 17 touchdowns, which tied him for most in the FBS.

Thomas Jr. continued to turn heads at the 2024 NFL Combine. The former LSU Tiger listed at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds (second-fastest among wide receivers) and had a vertical jump of 38 inches.

Despite having the height of a typical outside point guard, Thomas Jr. also seems comfortable lining up in the slot, even as the receiver closest to the offense in trip sets. The former college basketball prospect provokes press defenders with a hesitation motion reminiscent of a point guard before abruptly changing direction and accelerating. According to PFF, he ranked in the 87th percentile in getting away from defenders.

While college defenders have struggled to contain Thomas Jr. behind the line of scrimmage, one of his own habits could potentially cause minor problems at the pro level. The first-round pick takes a “false step” (steps back) almost every time the ball is passed, even without a press defender. Receivers (often younger or injured) take this step to gather themselves and gain speed, but it can throw off timing and delay the quarterback’s reads.

Thomas’s exceptional achievements at the university level and his willingness to learn and develop puts him in position to become one of the league’s best young wingers in 2024.

Parker Washington

After ranking in the top 15 in Penn State program history in catches, yards and touchdowns after the catch, Washington was selected by the Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2022 draft.

The Penn State product posted modest stats in 2023 (16 receptions, 232 yards, and 2 touchdowns), but he was a reliable option late in the season. After Christian Kirk’s season-ending groin injury, Washington played at least 25 snaps in the final five games of the season (0 receptions prior to Week 12).

At 5-foot-9 and 202 pounds, Washington has a disturbingly similar profile to Kirk (5-foot-10, 200 pounds). Washington’s wide catch radius (6-foot arm span) sets him apart from other shorter receivers who are limited by the length of their arms. Like Kirk, Washington thrives in the face of chaos. As he runs through the middle of the field on drag-and-seam routes, Washington evades defenders with a variety of elusive second-level techniques.

While the sophomore doesn’t have the blistering speed on the line of Brian Thomas Jr., Washington’s ability to effortlessly launch off the line of scrimmage helps him pose a direct threat to defenders. He builds a significant amount of acceleration in his first few steps, which could also make him useful on screen and bounce passes.

After showing potential late in his rookie year, the departure of two key receivers leaves Parker Washington as the next in line to be a reliable player. While Christian Kirk will likely be the Jaguars’ primary receiver, Washington should see playing time as the team’s fourth receiver.

By meerna

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