The Jacksonville Jaguars don’t have a true No. 1 wide receiver, but that may not stop them from having the best season collectively in years.
The Jacksonville Jaguars came into OTAs and minicamp without a true “go to” pass catcher on its roster. Additions and subtractions have seen good players leave and new faces replace those who had a direct impact on the team’s passing game the past four seasons. Now, it’s time to get down to business and play together – as a unit, not as individuals.
If you were to ask offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett or wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell (and I have), they would love to have a true No. 1 starter in the lineup when the team starts the season at the New York Giants. But that’s not the case and neither of the two is sweating it too much.
What the Jacksonville Jaguars have is a collection of players who could score at a moment’s notice, with speed to burn and a desire to be better than last season.
As told by Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, newcomer Donte Moncrief knows all too well about the whispers and what pundits are saying about him and his teammates. Too many missed opportunities, no 1000-yard receiver last season. The loss of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will hurt Blake Bortles.
In this case, having a functioning unit of similar styles may be better suited for Hackett’s passing game. Also, having a tall, lanky wide receiver in rookie DJ Chark could prove to the be the red zone target this team will thrive with.
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"“We’re getting doubted,” Moncrief told DiRocco. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in our group, so nobody really knows what anybody’s capable of. So we’ve just got to go out there and compete. We’re going to show a lot of people that that room is very talented and we can play with the best.”"
There are plenty of teams in the NFL that walk into the season like the Jaguars will the same kind of dilemma. The New England Patriots have gotten by through the years with solid pass catchers and no true top guy. Should someone emerge from the pack, like Moncrief of Marqise Lee or Chark, then defenses will take more notice of the passing game.
But for now, it’s a secondary component to this offense.
In 2015, Robinson caught 80 balls for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was electric on a losing franchise. In 2016, his numbers dropped off considerably. In 2017, he tore an ACL the first series of the first game of the season. In 2018, he will be playing in Chicago. Moncrief signed a one-year deal to come to North Florida – a deal that might be viewed as overpriced – $9.6 million and fully guaranteed. Should he step forward and catch 80 balls for 1,000 yards, it will be well worth it and may mean another few years with the team.
Chark has looked solid in camp, running routes against both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and had one catch in the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints and several key plays on special teams and away from the ball. Dede Westbrook is a deep threat who could have a breakout season.
The one I want to see get more playing time is Keelan Cole. He could be the game-changer this unit needs.
When asked earlier this year in OTAs about the lack of a true No. 1, McCardell said he did not mind it, but there are advantages to having a true star to catch passes.
"“I like it [there not being a true No. 1 receiver] because everybody is involved,” McCardell said. “Everybody stays sharp and involved. Don’t get me wrong, to have an Antonio Brown, a Julio Jones or somebody like that, it makes it probably a lot easier for [offensive coordinator] Nate [Hackett] as a playcaller. I tell guys that we are developing those type of guys.“It is great to be able to have a group of guys that you can always count on any one of those guys to make a play.”"
The Jaguars face one of the best secondaries in the NFL this weekend in Minnesota. It may only be a half of play, but the wide receivers will get a solid test on a fast track. It will also give the coaching staff, including head coach Doug Marrone, another chance to evaluate talent. Hopefully, the wide receiving unit will make a statement to their opponent and the rest of the NFL.
They may not all be household names, but by the end of the season, plenty of fans should know about Moncrief and his teammates. Hopefully, it will be because of the success they have had in Hackett’s offense. And hopefully, it will be because they helped the Jaguars reach the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl.