It was a rough 2021 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence, James Robinson, and Laviska Shenault all had disappointing seasons. Their head coach, Urban Meyer, didn’t make it through his rookie coaching season. After a diligent search, the Jaguars hired former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. What can the Jaguars and fantasy football managers expect Pederson to bring to the team going forward?
The Jaguars hire Doug Pederson as head coach
For several weeks following the end of the 2021 regular season, the prevailing thought amongst those in the know was that former Jaguars quarterback and current Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich would be the next head coach of the Jaguars.
Instead, seemingly due to not wanting to work with Jaguars GM Trent Baalke, Leftwich withdrew his name from consideration. Jacksonville went with Pederson, who will undoubtedly be a massive upgrade (I believe Meyer is the worst head coach in NFL history).
Pederson is a proven winner
I’ve always liked Pederson as a head coach and thought his dismissal from the Eagles was a bit unfair. Pederson finished with a 42-37-1 record in Philly. Although that’s not too impressive, Pederson’s middle three years with the Eagles saw him lead the team to a 31-17, including a Super Bowl victory in the 2017-2018 season.
The Eagles made the playoffs at 9-7 in each of the two seasons after their Super Bowl win. In their third year removed from the big game, they went 4-11-1. It was the first time Pederson had missed the playoffs with Philadelphia since his first season, and Carson Wentz played about as poorly as a starting quarterback can. Yet, the franchise sent Pederson packing anyway.
Pederson should bring his analytics background to Jacksonville
One of the main reasons I liked Pederson with the Eagles was his use of analytics. During Pederson’s tenure, the Eagles would occasionally attempt 2-point conversions on their first touchdowns of the game — something no other teams were doing.
As a whole, NFL head coaches are becoming more aggressive each year. Gone are the days when it’s commonplace to see punts and field-goal attempts on fourth-and-short beyond midfield. Pederson was part of the first real wave of coaches improving their decision-making in this regard. This is encouraging for Jaguars fans and fantasy managers alike, as it proves Pederson is not afraid to make decisions that may draw the ire of the casual fan when he knows they put his team in the best position to succeed.
How will Pederson impact guys like Trevor Lawrence, James Robinson, and Laviska Shenault?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Pederson can’t be worse than the last guy. In 2021, the Jaguars were dead last in scoring offense. Despite being hailed as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, Lawrence had one of the worst rookie seasons for a first-round pick of all time.
Lawrence completed under 60% of his passes. He threw for 3,641 yards and led the league with 17 interceptions. Where Lawrence really stacks up poorly is in the touchdown department. From Weeks 2-17, Lawrence did not have a single game with multiple touchdown passes. In total, he threw 12 touchdowns.
For comparison purposes, Lawrence had fewer touchdown passes as a rookie than Davis Mills, Tim Couch, Christian Ponder, and Brandon Weeden, to name a few. And none of them had the benefit of playing 17 games.
With that said, I’m certainly not about to write off last year’s No. 1 overall pick after one bad season with limited talent around him and a historically incompetent head coach. Pederson was able to get the most out of Wentz for at least a couple of seasons, and he won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles. Do I think Lawrence will suddenly become a fantasy QB1 in 2022? No. But he should have several weeks where he’s at least a viable streamer.
How will Pederson help Lawrence’s receivers?
From a fantasy standpoint, my concern for Jacksonville’s offensive weapons is Pederson’s history using multiple guys. The 2017 Eagles are easily the best-case scenario for the Jaguars. That season, they had Alshon Jeffery (while he was still good), Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith as their main pass catchers. Jeffery, Ertz, and Agholor all finished with between 768 and 824 receiving yards.
I’m sure if Pederson had a team with a standout receiver, that player would ascend above the rest. Unfortunately, the Jaguars’ offense looks similarly constructed to the Eagles.
At this point, we don’t know whether they will bring DJ Chark back. Same for Marvin Jones, and he will be 32 years old. Shenault is entering his third season, and despite what fantasy Twitter wants him to be, he has shown no signs of being anything more than a complementary piece to an offense (58-600-5 and 63-619-0 receiving lines in his first two seasons).
I have confidence in Pederson’s ability to cater his offense to his players’ strengths. But I have concerns over the talent of those players. The Jaguars’ leading receiver from Weeks 12-18 was Laquon Treadwell. Shenault’s inability to keep Treadwell behind him does not bode well for his future prospects, regardless of how effective Pederson is at building an offense.
What about James Robinson and Travis Etienne?
Whether Robinson and Travis Etienne have success going forward is less about what Pederson decides and more about their health. Etienne suffered a Lisfranc fracture in the preseason, one of the most debilitating injuries for a running back. Additionally, Robinson tore his Achilles in December.
We’ve seen players like Julio Jones and Brian Westbrook successfully return from Lisfranc injuries. Just recently, we saw Cam Akers return from a torn Achilles in record time. However, every player’s body is different. We don’t know how Robinson and Etienne will respond.
If and when they do return, we also don’t know how Pederson will utilize them. In Philadelphia, Pederson never used a bell-cow running back. Depending on his personnel, he used either a “thunder and lightning” combination or just rotated backs.
Robinson and Etienne are both quality pass catchers. Etienne had a 12.2% target share in college, and Robinson has 80 receptions over his first two NFL seasons. We can’t pencil either one of them in for any specific role. Fantasy managers will have to wait and see how Pederson chooses to deploy his backs.