Jaguars rookie Brian Thomas Jr. is in a position to succeed early

• The Jaguars drafted Brian Thomas Jr. to bolster the offense

• They already had a wide array of weapons

• Thomas won't have to carry the weigh of the offense

Apr 25, 2024; Detroit, MI, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. poses after being selected
Apr 25, 2024; Detroit, MI, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. poses after being selected / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Being drafted in the first round is a feat college prospects aim to achieve, but it also comes with expectations. If your team takes you with any of the top 32 picks — more probably than not — they'll want you to contribute right away. In wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr.'s case, the Jacksonville Jaguars will want him to have an impact on offense. Fortunately for him, he landed in a favorable situation.

While the Jags needed a replacement for Calvin Ridley, who left in free agency, they still had a wide array of weapons. Whether it was Gabe Davis, Christian Kirk, or Evan Engram, the team's brass could've gone into the season with the skill-position players they already had. Instead, they prioritize the wide receiver position over cornerback, taking Thomas with the 23rd overall pick.

The front could've easily addressed the cornerback room, which was arguably a bigger need. Heck, it's been reported that they would've taken Terrion Arnold if Thomas had been off the board at No. 23, but Thomas was their guy, and they weren't going to pass up the chance to take him. This begs the question, what should the Jaguars expect from the former LSU Tiger in Year 1?

The Jaguars have options on offense beyond Brian Thomas Jr.

Calvin Ridley was WR1 for Jacksonville last year, hauling in 76 receptions for a team-best 1,016 yards with eight touchdowns. They'll need to replace that production, but even if the team's brass hadn't drafted Thomas, they would've had a couple candidates to step in as the top target on offense. In 2022, Christian Kirk led the team with 84 catches and 1,108 receiving yards. He did it as a slot receiver, only lining up in the boundaries 23.7 percent of the offensive snaps.

Kirk has already developed a strong rapport with Trevor Lawrence, and offensive coordinator Press Taylor could make him the primary option in the passing game next year. On the other hand, tight end Evan Engram should see a big workload. The former first-round pick led the team in catches with 114 in 2023. Granted, some of it was due to the fact that Kirk missed time but even if he doesn't get 100 receptions, he will still be heavily involved.

Brian Thomas Jr. may be asked to fill Calvin Ridley's role but not his production

Rookies tend to face a steep learning curve, so expectations will be tempered for Brian Thomas. With Evan Engram and Christian Kirk in the fold, he won't be asked to be the top target in his first NFL season. Then again, the Jaguars drafted him because he routinely showed the ability to get deep at LSU. They surely hope that can carry over into the pros.

By stretching the field, defenses will need to play their safeties deep, which will in turn leave space in the middle for Kirk and Engram to operate. Also, opponents won't be able to stack up the box. This will present favorable matchups for Travis Etienne and the running game. Having said that, for Thomas to be truly effective, he'll need to round out some parts of his game.

For starters, he'll need to hone his route-running. If he runs only vertical routes, defenses will know what to expect, so he'll need to master the whole tree. Also, he needs to do a better job of creating separation. This is to say that he'll be an asset but he's a work in progress at this stage of his career. That's why it's difficult to see him crossing the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie.

Matt Holder of the Bleacher Report, for his part, thinks that "there's a wide spectrum of outcomes for Thomas" in 2024, pointing out that he could be the Jaguars' No. 1 to No. 3 receiver. He argues that Gabe Davis, who signed in free agency, is a boom-or-bust kind of player while Kirk mainly operates from the slot.

For the sake of argument, let's say Kirk and Davis remain healthy, Thomas will get his fair share of targets but Trevor Lawrence won't have to force the football to him. Last year, injuries mounted, which led Lawrence to try to do too much and force throws at times. If his weapons stay healthy, he'll look for the best matchup.

With Engram, Davis, and Kirk in the fold, Thomas won't probably be the top target in 2024, but he'll still get his fair share of targets. If he avoids drops, something along the lines of 700-800 yards and five to six touchdowns seems reasonable.

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