This offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to take an aggressive approach to free agency following the disastrous Urban Meyer era. With Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson now in charge, the Jaguars’ front office — led by retained GM Trent Baalke — swung for the fences with massive contracts handed out to up-and-coming players on the free agent market.
Jacksonville made headlines after handing out a four-year, $72 million contract to wideout Christian Kirk. The receiver was given top-10 money at the position, despite never eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards and mostly serving as a No. 2 or No. 3 option throughout his blossoming career. Still, Kirk was an obvious upgrade for a passing offense that couldn’t find its rhythm under Meyer, despite having a generational prospect, Trevor Lawrence, at QB.
Along with bringing in Kirk, the Jaguars signed former Pro Bowl tight end Evan Engram to a one-year, $9 million deal. Engram, who struggled with blocking and consistency as a pass catcher with the New York Giants, still has untapped potential at 27. Engram can be a bulk weapon in the slot, complementing Kirk and fellow new addition Zay Jones in the passing game with Lawrence leading the way.
How Christian Kirk can help Trevor Lawrence in the Jaguars’ passing game
Kirk will now be Lawrence’s primary target in the passing game. That’s a huge boost in responsibility for Kirk, a former second-round pick who mostly played second or third fiddle during his four years with the Arizona Cardinals. Instead of complementing Pro Bowl players like DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and A.J. Green, Kirk will be leading the charge as a deep threat for Lawrence.
Kirk has the versatility to play all three wideout positions but is probably best fit for the flanker (or Z) spot in Pederson’s offense. Pederson tends to put a bigger focus on the Z position than most play-callers, preferring to focus on speed than the possession attributes of the classic X spot.
Kirk should see regular shots down the field, as Lawrence has the arm to make the most of the receiver’s deep-threat skill set. Kirk had a career-high total in catches (77) and yards (982) last season, but both of those should be easily topped with Lawrence keying in on his traits.
In Kirk, Lawrence has a receiver with dependable hands who can move around based on play designs and situational strategy. Last season, former Pro Bowl wideout DJ Chark went down early in the season, and Lawrence didn’t have a true dynamic playmaker at wideout. While Marvin Jones, a returning veteran, is a dependable possession weapon at this point in his career, his ability to stretch the field and make plays on every at ever level has waned.
Kirk and Zay Jones are both field-stretching options that can free up space for Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault to work underneath safety coverage. With Kirk and the Joneses on the field at the same time in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), underneath options, namely the running back and tight end, can be easy one-on-one matchups for Lawrence to exploit to his advantage.
Kirk and Jones will command safety attention, so creating individual opportunities for other weapons will help Lawrence find open receivers with regularity. And that’s where Engram comes into the picture.
Will Evan Engram fill the role of previous tight ends in a Doug Pederson offense?
Engram has struggled to really find a consistent role in the NFL, largely because he has been on the offensive sinkhole that has been the Giants’ organization over the last five years. Under the likes of Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, and Joe Judge, the Giants failed to field a consistent offense, and Engram bore the brunt of mediocre play-calling and uneven QB play. That said, he was still able to collect 262 catches for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns during his five-year stint in the Meadowlands.
In Jacksonville, Engram will take on the coveted Y role in Pederson’s offense. Former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz led the team in receptions and receiving yards in that role during the first four seasons of Pederson’s five-year tenure in the NFC East.
Ertz, like Engram, was not known for his blocking but benefitted from his ability to get open with ease as a receiver. Ertz was the bulk possession receiver for the Eagles, despite lining up inside most of the time. Pederson would spread Ertz out at times and attack size mismatches with cornerbacks in certain packages as well. Engram can thrive in a similar position.
Where Engram differs from Ertz is in the yards-after-catch (YAC) category. While Engram’s hands are nowhere near as consistent as Ertz’s legendary mitts, the former Giants tight end is a much better athlete who can pick up huge chunks of yards with the ball in his hands.
That skill will help Lawrence, as the Jaguars QB won’t need to constantly set up big gains with downfield throws. If Engram gets matched up on a linebacker on a shallow cross, Lawrence can put the ball in front of Engram and watch him speed upfield. That’s a key ingredient for a Lawrence surge in Year 2. – Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter
How Kirk and Engram impact fantasy football
The Jaguars are going to look extremely different in 2022 compared to last season for a number of reasons. The offense has had an infusion of talent with Kirk and Engram, while they will also finally get 2021 first-round selection Travis Etienne on the field. Of the three, Etienne may be the most impactful from a fantasy perspective, but the additions of Kirk and Engram should not be discounted.
With Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault as the two main returning receivers, the Jaguars did not have a true field stretcher. Kirk certainly offers them that, as does Zay Jones. That will almost certainly help open things up for Lawrence and should offer a tremendous boost to his fantasy value. For Kirk, his value is somewhat less certain.
With both Zay and Marvin Jones, Shenault, and Jamal Agnew, this offense has a lot of mouths to feed, and Kirk is by no means a lock to see 100 targets this year. He is certainly not someone fantasy managers should avoid, and his current ADP as the 47th receiver in PPR formats on Sleeper certainly reflects that. At that price, he is an intriguing upside gamble for fantasy managers.
The situation is similar with Engram. There are just so many mouths to feed in this offense, that it is hard to know who will emerge. Dan Arnold is also a talented receiver, and Etienne will likely be working on those short to intermediate routes as well. The thing with Engram is that he is also essentially a free acquisition for fantasy managers. His current PPR ADP is the 24th tight end off the board on Sleeper. We know Engram is talented but expecting him to be a top-10 TE is certainly optimistic.
Ultimately, the biggest benefactor from a fantasy perspective is likely Lawrence. He is currently being selected as the 19th QB off the board on Sleeper. At that price, tthereeir is certainly upside. In 1QB leagues, if you like to wait on QBs, Lawrence could be an intriguing option to play matchups with during the season. In 2QB or Superflex leagues, he is a solid second QB option with the upside to provide QB1 level value if things click in his second season. – Ben Rolfe, Director of Fantasy and Betting
How Kirk and Engram impact Jaguars’ betting odds
I doubt anyone is out there placing bets on the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl. However, there are parallels being drawn between what Joe Burrow and the Bengals did in 2021 and what the Jaguars can do this season.
Kirk and Engram definitely help enhance this pass-catching group, but neither is the type of player that would move the needle on betting odds.
The Jaguars are currently +750 to win the AFC South on Caesars Sportsbook. For comparison’s sake, the Bengals were +2500 to win the AFC North last season, and they had a much better roster than the Jaguars do now. +750 just isn’t good enough to justify betting.
If anything, public perception may result in the Jaguars not being as big of underdogs as they should be early in the season. Kirk is undoubtedly the best wide receiver on the team. Engram should be the starting tight end. However, neither is a true difference-maker that will suddenly make this team a contender. If you can get better odds on the Jaguars’ opponents, that’s where the value would lie.– Jason Katz, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst
How Jaguars’ new-look offense could impact their 2023 NFL Draft plans
On paper, the Jaguars’ moves in free agency strengthen their offense. But the draft implications are very much predicated on how the new-look offense performs. More likely than not, the Jaguars will need to address receiver and tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft anyway because a great deal of uncertainty remains.
Outside of Christian Kirk, who himself has something to prove after receiving his massive contract, Jacksonville has little established talent at WR, nor do they have many contrasting skill sets. Zay Jones is a great complementary threat and has the size and arm length to play the X on occasion. That said, he hasn’t yet found consistency across his career. Beyond him, there’s Laviska Shenault, Marvin Jones, and Laquon Treadwell. Jones and Treadwell are free agents in 2023, and Shenault’s contract is up a year after that.
With the presence of Kirk opening things up, there’s a chance someone breaks out underneath. But the bottom line is that there are very few guarantees beyond 2022 for this Jaguars group. The same goes for the tight end position, where Evan Engram, Dan Arnold, and Chris Manhertz are all on one-year deals as well. There’s a very real possibility where Jacksonville keeps investing in these position groups in 2023. And with nine picks, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. In Round 1, getting one of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Kayshon Boutte, or Michael Mayer to pair with Kirk would be incredibly enticing.
Wide receiver and tight end might not be the only ones, either. The Jaguars extended left tackle Cam Robinson, but Walker Little and Jawaan Taylor will be battling for the right tackle spot. There’s a chance that neither earns the job long-term, forcing the Jaguars to look for upgrades at RT in the 2023 NFL Draft. The 2022 offseason was a step in the right direction for Doug Pederson’s group, but continued investment is needed to maximize the returns from Trevor Lawrence. – Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst