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2020 Stats (rank)
Total Offense: 5,218 yards (28th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 37 (28th)
Offensive Plays: 997 (23rd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 616 (7th)
Rush Attempts: 337 (32nd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 240 2nd)
Unaccounted for Carries: 15 (27th)
Urban Meyer has had an unquestionably rude awakening to life as an NFL coach. Gone are the days when Meyer could operate as a ruthless dictator in the college ranks; he’s had to operate more like a dictator who sometimes has to pay lip service to popular will during his first six months in Jacksonville.
Meyer, 57 in July, has made the transition from ruthless dictator to slightly more benevolent dictator, in February firing strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who had been accused of making racist remarks by a host of Iowa football players and whose highly unusual workout techniques had landed Iowa players in the hospital. Meyer, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, said he vetted Doyle and was “confident” there would be no issue with hiring a known racist to run workouts for the Jaguars. There were, in the end, issues with Doyle’s hiring.
It's hardly a stunning development for the amoral football knower: Meyer was placed on administrative leave in 2018 after reports surfaced that he knew of domestic abuse allegations against assistant coach Zach Smith before Smith's firing. The Ohio State Board of Trustees suspended Meyer for the season's first three games.
This spring, after the Jaguars curiously didn’t use a high draft pick at tight end and instead brought in long-retired quarterback and Meyer's buddy, Tim Tebow, to man the position for a professional football team in the year 2021. Should he make the final roster (he will), Tebow reportedly won’t function as a traditional tight end, but as some sort of short yardage bulldozer who’s sure to drive Trevor Lawrence drafters insane by Halloween. The Tebow signing calls into question Meyer’s legitimacy as an NFL head coach. And the silly games Meyer and his coaching staff are playing in refusing to name Lawrence the team’s Week 1 starter serve as an unpleasant reminder that college coaches -- in all their self assuredness and endless pettiness -- are so often not cut out for coaching grown men.
Just this week, Meyer was one of three coaches fined $100,000 for violating the NFL’s Organized Team Activity rules. The Jaguars will forfeit two of their OTA practices next spring as punishment for Meyer flouting league protocols. It takes a while for college coaches to adjust to a system in which there are rules.
For Meyer’s myriad gaffes in his first months as Jacksonville’s head coach, his offensive system can’t be questioned. At Utah, it made Alex Smith one of college football’s most efficient quarterbacks in the early 2000s, as Smith in 2004 was third in yards per attempt, second in adjusted yards per attempt, fifth in passing touchdowns, and fourth in completion rate. Smith also rushed for 44.6 yards per game in his final 24 games at Utah. He landed the Heisman trophy and was the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
In 2013 at Ohio State, Meyer’s offense produced one of the nation’s leading rushers, Carlos Hyde -- now a Jaguar -- who was 13th in rushing yards despite seeing the 35th most carries. Hyde’s 7.3 yards per carry was eighth in the nation that season. The Buckeyes in 2013 racked up the second most rushing yards in the country along with 45 rushing scores in 14 games. Again, efficiency was the name of Meyer’s game as a play caller.
Meyer’s college success can’t be questioned. Meyer was 22-2 at Utah, netting two Mountain West Conference titles before betraying the school's boosters and departing for bigger and better things. Florida won two national titles under Meyer, whose Gators went 65-15 from 2005-2010. He coached Ohio State to an 83-9 record from 2012-2018, winning the national title following the 2014 season. Meyer’s spread offense concepts -- once considered innovative -- have kept defenses on their heels for his entire coaching tenure. He’s described his offensive system as “power football with a spread set.” His system -- in college, at least -- was bully ball disguised as finesse football. Whether such a system translates perfectly to modern day NFL football is a real question, though we should expect the bones of Meyer’s system to remain.
I’m going to make the boldest possible call and say 2021's No. 1 pick will be under center for Jacksonville in their opener against Houston, no matter how many embarrassing motivational games the team’s coaches play with their new franchise player. I am first and foremost a man of conviction.
What do we know about Lawrence as a fantasy producer? A lot, it turns out.
- As a true freshman in 2018, Lawrence was 12th in the nation in adjusted yards per attempt and tied for tenth with 30 touchdown passes. He had four picks to go along with those 30 scores. Lawrence finished his freshman campaign with the 12th best passer efficiency rating.
- Lawrence in his sophomore season threw 36 touchdowns in 15 games, five fewer than Justin Fields and 24 fewer than Joe Burrow. His 9.9 adjusted yards per attempt was ninth in the nation, again trailing Fields and Burrow, along with Trey Lance. Lawrence was ninth in passer efficiency rating. You’ll never believe who was ahead of the phenom: Fields, Burrow, and Lance. It was in his sophomore year that Lawrence showed what he could do on the ground. He rushed 103 times (6.86 attempts per game) for 37.5 yards per game.
- His 6.8 rushing attempts per game continued into his junior -- and final -- season at Clemson, when he ran for about 20 yards per game and eight rushing scores. Lawrence’s touchdown production through the air fell off dramatically during college football’s COVID season: He threw 24 TD passes, six fewer than his average of 30 passing scores per year during his college career. Nine QBs had a better adjusted yards per attempt than Lawrence, including Mac Jones and Zach Wilson. Lawrence was 12th in passer efficiency rating in 2020, miles behind Jones and Wilson, and a hair behind Fields.
Lawrence has been described as the Megatron of quarterback prospects -- outstanding in every way, a bulletproof prospect with a breakout age of 19, an 83rd percentile speed score, and a 97th percentile scouting grade. He represents a marked upgrade in arm strength, scrambling ability, and accuracy over what Jacksonville pass catchers dealt with in 2020 -- this much is for sure. Maybe Lawrence’s willingness to leave the pocket and pick up yards (and touchdowns) could make him a low-end every-week starter in 12-team formats this year, but it’s more likely he’s a high-end streaming option surrounded by just enough play makers to deliver fantasy production in favorable matchups.
Recent reporting that Meyer and Bevell could center the team’s offense around the rushing attack -- primarily to keep pressure off of Lawrence -- is another reason to be bearish on Lawrence’s rookie season high-end prospects. It’s a near certainty Lawrence won’t come close to Justin Herbert’s rookie year numbers.
Laviska Shenault, by every account, has been the Jaguars’ star of offseason practices, dominating defenders and functioning as the team’s No. 1 pass game option. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said in June that Shenault -- who had 18 carries for 91 yards in his rookie year -- will be used as “a pure wide receiver” in 2021. That the team’s coaching staff isn’t fixated on using him as a gadget player is a positive development for Shenault. He could create headaches -- migraines, even -- for defensive coordinators if the Jags use him more in the slot this season. Last year, Shenault saw 25 of his 77 targets on routes run from the slot, catching 19 for 183 yards (9.7 yards per reception). A bully with the ball in his hands, Shenault could lead the Jaguars in targets this season. He’s being drafted a round and a half after teammate DJ Chark.
Speaking of Chark, Jacksonville’s primary deep threat who recently drew the ire of Meyer for not playing big enough, the 2020 season was a massive letdown from a real and fantasy football perspective. Chark converted 54.3 percent of his air yards into real life receiving yards last season, a 20-point drop off from his highly efficient 2019 season. Chark caught 32.3 percent of targets at least 20 yards downfield, good for 65th in the league. The good news: Chark was third in targets at least 20 yards downfield in 2020, trailing only Calvin Ridley and Tyreek Hill, and only five wideouts had a higher rate of downfield looks than Chark. Minshew simply couldn’t deliver a good ball to Chark. Enter Lawrence, the second most accurate deep thrower in college football last year, and a potential boon for Chark’s downfield prowess.
The presence of offseason superstar Shenault, deep ball threat Chark, and pass-catching RB Travis Etienne (see below), it’s hard to figure where Marvin Jones will see his opportunity in Jacksonville’s offense. He figures to be part of the team’s three-WR sets, though whether that means he’ll see a decent smattering of targets is, well, unknown. Jones, 31, could remain a boom-bust fantasy producer, as he was in Detroit. Shenault taking a step in his development and the presence of Chark and Etienne make it unlikely we’ll feel comfortable starting Jones in 12-team leagues this season -- barring pass catcher injuries.
The Jaguars feature one of the league’s worst tight end rooms in recent history (unless the team lands Zach Ertz in a summertime trade). Though they drafted Ohio State TE Luke Farrell with the 145th pick in the 2021 draft, a tight end with 12 catches in his final 22 college games doesn’t inspire much confidence that he can emerge as a pass-catching tight end in the big leagues. Farrell will probably wind up as a pass blocker in short yardage situations. That leaves James O'Shaughnessy and, yes, Tebow, as Jacksonville’s likeliest pass-catching tight ends this season. With 38 targets in two of the past three seasons in Jacksonville, O'Shaughnessy could suffice as the team’s TE1. That’s probably the saddest sentence I’ll write all summer. Tyler Eifert and his 10.25 percent target share are out of the equation, for whatever that’s worth (not much). O'Shaughnessy in 2020 ran 14.5 routes per game to Eifert’s 25.2 routes per contest.
Meyer, Bevell, and pass game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer come from run-establishing backgrounds. These guys love nothing more than three yards and a cloud of dust. That Schottenheimer is Jacksonville’s “pass game coordinator” could be an Andy Kaufmann-level schtick.
As the Seahawks’ OC in Russell Wilson’s rookie season, Bevell’s offense had the league’s highest rush rate (54.1 percent) by a long shot. Wilson, meanwhile, was 26th in pass attempts as a rookie, trailing QBs who didn’t play a full season. Seattle again led the NFL in rush rate in 2013, and Wilson was 23rd in pass attempts, throwing 252 fewer passes than league leader Peyton Manning.
Meyer was the king of run establishing during his three years at Ohio State. The 2016 season saw the Buckeyes run the ball on 58.7 percent of their plays, and in 2017, their rush rate was 57.2 percent. Things got a tad more balanced in 2018, when Meyer’s Buckeyes ran the ball on 50.5 percent of their plays.
This is all to say that there will likely be backfield touches available for both rookie Travis Etienne and James Robinson, who was left for the fantasy graveyard after Meyer -- for reasons unknown -- took Etienne near the end of the first round. Sports Illustrated’s John Shipley, a plugged-in beat writer for the Jaguars, said in June that Robinson could lead the team’s backfield in snaps this season. Bevell “has shown a tendency to give more of his offense's rushing focus to backs with skill sets similar to Robinson in the past," Shipley said. "Robinson should be expected to be the hammer of the offense, a role that is still supremely important." In no universe will Robinson have the massive workload he had in 2020. That, however, won’t preclude the second-year back from seeing double digit carries when the Jags can manage neutral or positive game script throughout. Robinson, the 30th running back off the draft board, has a path to RB2 production if he functions as the team’s goal line runner.
Meyer and Bevell have seemingly complex plans for Etienne. They deployed the rookie as a wideout in offseason practices, Meyer has called Etienne his “speed guy” on offense -- a third down back who will mostly be used as a pass catcher. This has generated some frothy comparisons to how Meyer used Percy Harvin at Florida, where Harvin had 153 rushing attempts and 99 receptions in his final two collegiate seasons. The most bullish Etienne truther would concede a Harvin-like role would be a best case scenario for the rookie. He’ll more likely have solid PPR value as a dynamic playmaker who can be used across the formation. Etienne in 2020 had the nation’s third most running back receptions (48) and the second most running back receiving yards (588), catching passes from Lawrence out of Clemson’s backfield. Etienne’s ADP of RB23 shows fantasy managers are hesitant to embrace the rookie as a locked-in RB2 in 12-team formats. With a reasonable amount of rushing work -- along with consistent pass game involvement -- he could easily outperform his ADP.
Jaguars coaches continue to talk up Hyde as a back who will rotate with Robinson as an early-down banger. We could certainly see Hyde get some reps if and when the Jaguars are well ahead and milking the clock, but it’s more likely Hyde will only spell Robinson this season. His only fantasy value would come with a rash of backfield injuries. Zero RB drafters would then offer their first born to snatch Hyde off waivers.
Jacksonville’s offensive line is, at best, a highly experienced group: Every projected o-line starter has been an NFL starter for at least the past two years. That experience didn’t lead to much in 2020, as Pro Football Focus graded Jacksonville’s offensive line as the league’s seventh worst run blocking unit. More creative play calling and a greater passing threat could work in their favor this season.
Jacksonville’s win total is set at 6.5, tied for the second lowest in the NFL this season. While the team’s offensive upgrades should be good for a few more wins after 2020’s one-win effort, Meyer’s rough entry into the league and the lack of defensive improvements makes it tough (impossible) to take the over. Jacksonville in 2020 had the league’s fifth worst pass rush -- only the Bengals had a lower sack rate -- and the second worst pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus.
The team’s porous defense, while potentially generating fantasy-friendly back-and-forth affairs, is going to be shredded by any opponent with a halfway functional offense. I’m taking the under.