Throughout the off-season, the talk of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars was their decision for the 2021 NFL Draft. They were counted out for the AFC South Division before the season began. Many believed that Gardner Minshew II was a popular culture piece for the Jaguars but there were many questions of his status of the franchise quarterback. Jacksonville projected to finish worst in the league and get the first overall pick for the 2021 NFL Draft. With that pick, Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence was going to be the next franchise quarterback of Jacksonville.
After three games into the season, Minshew has played well above the expectations as the starting quarterback. He was already was one of the main faces of the Jaguars offense, especially after the release of running back Leonard Fournette. In the three games for Jacksonville, there is no question that Minshew is helping the team win. They remain 1-2 after a promising start only to lose to the Miami Dolphins 31-13 on Thursday Night Football. As the season continues, there will be more to learn about this Jaguars offense that can be great but showed structural cracks in these three games.
The Problems Surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars Offense
In the first season of Jay Gruden as the offensive coordinator, the Jaguars showed some form of productivity as well as some as inconsistencies. The Jaguars averaged 23.3 points per game, which ranks 20th in the league. They are efficient in accounting for third downs (52.9%), which is ranked fifth in the league. They are also one of the best teams in the red zone (88.9%), which is second in the league. There is a lack of explosive playmaking abilities as the Jaguars continue to run short-to-mid-ranged plays. In the 33-30 loss to the Tennessee Titans, they accounted for 480 yards, 315 passing yards, 30 first downs, and were 10-for-14 on third downs. Outside of Minshew’s interceptions (one was deflected), they were excellent on offense. Four days later in the 31-13 loss to the Dolphins, the Jaguars were 3-for-10 on third downs and accounted for 318 total yards (246 passing yards).
Through three games of the season, the Jaguars have given up 10 sacks on Minshew. They gave up four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss against the Dolphins. The Jaguars will be among the worst pass-blocking offensive line after week three. There are some solid players on the offensive line in tackle Jawaan Taylor and Andrew Norwell, but they have yet to play as an efficient unit. Undrafted rookie running back James Robinson was thrown into the starting lineup in late August when Fournette was released by the Jaguars. In three games so far this season, Robinson has rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries. Much of the pressure was put on this young player without a legitimate number one running back.
Chark’s Absence Was Certainly Felt
Minshew has been a surprisingly productive player for the Jaguars offense. In the past two games against Tennessee and Miami, the Jaguars have passed the ball 87 times. Minshew passed for 339 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions on 30 completions (out of 45 passing attempts) against Tennessee. His number one receiver in D.J. Chark caught four receptions for 84 yards. Jacksonville’s other receivers in Chris Conley and slot receiver Keelan Cole Sr. filled their roles well. Chark missed the Thursday Night Football matchup against Miami due to chest and back injuries. The loss of his presence on the field was noticeable as Jacksonville accounted for 162 less total yards. Minshew’s number one receiver against the Dolphins was Robinson out of the backfield with six receptions for 83 yards. Coles’ role as a slot receiver remained while Conley was suppressed due to predictable designed throws.
Their rookie wide receiver in Laviska Shenault Jr. has yet to account for over 37 receiving yards in a game. This Thursday was supposed to be a big opportunity for Shenault with Chark out but failed to get open consistently. Minshew is a smart quarterback that can spread the ball down the field. The ability to spread the ball around with Chark out makes Gruden’s plans to win specific matchups more difficult. The Jaguars have seen huge improvements in red zone scoring from last year to just three games into the season. They were 31st in the league in red-zone scoring, now they are 88.9% in the red zone. They will need Chark back to continue their efficiency in the red zone with Chark’s ability to run efficient multi-angle routes.
The Answer Still Lies in the 2021 NFL Draft
If the Jaguars continue to win some games under Minshew, they will be too high for Lawrence or Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. They have questions to address with their offense especially their offensive line. The best offensive linemen in the draft are Oregon Ducks tackle Penei Sewell, the 2019 Outland Award winner. They could be also in play for Buckeyes’ Wyatt Davis or Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, whom both could guard or tackle. If the offensive line continues to give up multiple sacks then they will need to replace some inconsistent starters.
They will have a second first-round pick in the 2021 Draft due to the trading of cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams projects to have a pick in the late teens to the early ’20s due to their success. At that spot, the Jaguars could find a reliable starter at tight end. They signed formerCincinnati Bengalstight end Tyler Eifert to a two-year deal. In three games, Eifert has been disappointing by catching only six receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars could select 2019 first-team All-SEC tight end in Florida Gators’ Kyle Pitts. He is a player that can run a diverse set of routes, block efficiently, and become a dynamic pass catcher.
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