Playing catch up: Receiver issues still a major concern for Jaguars

Laviska Shenault Jr. of the Jacksonville Jaguars points to the stands after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) (Justin Casterline, 2021 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer has emphasized a fast offense with speed all over the field.

The reality is that the Jaguars don’t have much of it and that is becoming more and more evident by the week as Jacksonville’s offense trudges along.

Jacksonville’s receiving unit has significantly underperformed this season. Receivers struggle to get separation from defenders. And the drops have been accumulating. With DJ Chark out for the season with a broken ankle, no other player has emerged as a viable replacement. Laviska Shenault has been miscast — is he a true receiver, a gadget player, something else? Marvin Jones Jr. is Jacksonville’s top receiving threat but he’s not a true No. 1 wideout and that has shown.

Jamal Agnew has provided a spark at times but he’s a converted defensive back who is still learning the position. Waiver wire pickup Tyron Johnson was expected to fill a role with his speed, but he struggled to even see the field before his release Tuesday.

For Meyer, a coach who prioritizes speed and mismatches, it’s been a weekly challenge to try and get production from a down unit. There are no easy fixes. Jacksonville has mined the waiver wire and cycled in receivers in both preseason and the regular season. It opted not to add Odell Beckham Jr. or Desean Jackson off waivers and will continue to try and improve one of the weakest units on the roster by tweaking and roster management.

“That’s one of the areas that we’re trying to figure out,” Meyer said.

Those struggles have become more and more pronounced. ESPN has credited Jacksonville pass catchers with 18 drops, including one by Agnew in the end zone against the Bills on a pass from backup CJ Beathard.

The concern is that those struggles will affect the development of rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has visibly struggled in recent weeks. Lawrence has just one touchdown pass since the bye week, a garbage time throw to Agnew against Seattle in a game Jacksonville was losing 24-0 at the time. The growth of Lawrence hinges on strides in the passing game. And since the bye week, it hasn’t been pretty.

Lawrence is just 63 for 115 for 518 yards (54%), one touchdown and one interception in that span.

Injuries have taken a bite out of that receiving corps.

First-round pick Travis Etienne was expected to see a solid workload catching passes, but he suffered a Lisfranc injury in the preseason and was lost for the season. The loss of Chark was the backbreaker for the Jaguars. Instead of starting Jones and Chark on the outside and moving Shenault to the slot, a more natural position, Jacksonville has been forced to tinker with the lineup to try and create anything it can. Chark was as close to a true No. 1 receiver on the roster. His loss has forced the Jaguars to try and find a replacement No. 1 wideout.

“We need more production out of our receiver crew. DJ Chark was a guy that’s tall and can run fast. Great guy. I mean, worked his tail off in the offseason and all the sudden, look out there and he’s down,” Meyer said. “I’ve had times where, OK, number two is as good as number one, get in there, we’re fine. We struggled a little bit there with the size and speed you know, we certainly have some production, guys doing OK. But that was a hit.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.