2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Jacksonville Jaguars
July 16, 2015 | Chet
2014 was yet another woeful season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They finished 3-13, their fourth consecutive season with five wins or less and they haven’t had a winning season since 2007, their last playoff trip. With some potential stars on the horizon, will 2015 be the year in which we start to see Jacksonville make strides forward?
2015 Jaguars Schedule
Throw in our usual disclaimer on looking at the early season schedule, but Jacksonville has a potentially miserable opening for the majority of their first nine or so games. Before their bye, they draw back to back road games against the two teams that represented their conference championship, arguably the best defense in the league in Buffalo and two other games against defenses I project to be strong in Miami and Houston. There’s not a lot to like here until very late in the season for the passing game, but the overall run slate isn’t damning on paper if they can keep games relatively neutral.
A large portion for their lack of success can be attributed to their offensive ineptitude as the Jacksonville Jaguars broke 20 total points just four times all season, tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest times in the league. They ran 67.6 percent of their offensive plays while trailing, the third highest percentage in the league and were favored just one time all season. Scrapping offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, Jacksonville is turning the keys to the offense and potential growth for their young offense over to Greg Olson. Olson may have a less than ideal resume, but there’s a low bar to hurdle given what the Jaguars accomplished offensively last season.
|Red Zone Plays||85.0||32|
|% of Scoring Drives||22.9%||32|
The Tide to Raise All Jaguars
We might as well start off with the player everyone cares about the most on this offense and for good cause. After playing just 28 percent of the snaps week one, Allen Robinson then played 62 percent or more of the plays through every other week he was healthy before being placed on injured reserve with a broken foot after week 10. From weeks 2-10, Robinson led the Jaguars in targets (78), receptions (47) and yards (548) while soaking up 25.1 percent of the team targets.
This offseason, there’s no shortage of positive propaganda on Robinson’s potential ceiling on the real football field or within the fantasy community. C.D. Carter covered Robinson’s impressive high end comp list and his strong profit potential in his Equity Scores and Justin Winn points out that a breakout only occurs once, so be early on Robinson before it’s too late. I’m not here to rain on the parade just yet, but there’s still a reason to proceed with some trepidation on Robinson and how he accrued his totals in 2014.
The first is the obvious one; he’s in a potentially miserable situation to stack counting stats in the box score. Jacksonville ran the fewest red zone plays in the red zone last season (85), and as highlighted above, they were dead last in just about every offensive measure. Just 6.2 percent of Robinson’s total targets came within the red zone which was the fifth lowest percentage in the league. The other matter at hand is that he was a junk producer because of this offense, as 45.8 percent of his point totals came while trailing in the fourth quarter, the second highest reliance on extremely tilted script to stack production. As someone who gravitates to offenses that carry frequent leverage, there’s some cause for concern.
The second ties into the first and that’s the question of can Blake Bortles support a top receiver weekly? The wide receiver/quarterback play relationship is a chicken or egg argument and we’ve seen plenty of anecdotal evidence to back both sides, but Bortles was extremely poor even for low expectations given his situation. Pulling up the RotoViz AYA App, here’s the sadness that occurred for the Jaguar receivers in 2014.
For the receivers alone, all finished well below league averages in 10 and 20 plus yard receptions as Bortles struggled on the intermediate levels. The good news is that there was a glimmer of playmaking from the group that could compensate if there is no improvement from Bortles himself.
|All||Rec||10+ Yd||%||20+ Yd||%||30+ Yd||%||40+ Yd||%|
|NFL WR AVERAGE||53.5%||17.7%||7.0%||3.8%|
Even amongst those dire circumstances, Robinson displayed a safe floor, finishing as WR18-WR37 in seven of those nine weeks in which he played often with the other two weeks at WR47 and WR48. In what could potentially be the worst environment he ever sees during his career, he was at worst a WR4 or flex option.
His current asking price is still held in check because of his association with Bortles and the entire Jacksonville outlook, but he’s an ideal investment as your WR3 because Robinson still possesses the talent and physical presence to overcome the pitfalls of a poor situation or harness a large ceiling in a median to good one. He still has a grip on the target volume in his corner and was already productive. If his WR27 asking price stays relatively lateral for the remainder of the summer, he’ll find a lot of my rosters over the other receivers in his area like Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry. I definitely like his price point more than Watkins or Landry there, but would have a hard time going all in over a Martavis Bryant in terms of the surrounding sophomores. If I have to land him as my second receiver, I like him a little less based on my cautious nature. He could have draft to draft volatility in terms of ADP since he is a favorite for many, so if you’re firmly in the Winn camp of being early to the party, he’s a guy you may have to target once round five comes around.
I’m also not going to completely rule out that Bortles isn’t going to get better as a sophomore. Given that he had a poor offensive line, a nearly season long invisible running game and the only wide receiver he had play all 16 games was Allen Hurns, I won’t cover the grave completely in dirt just yet. For fantasy and real football, that could be false hope as JJ Zachariason points out that expecting quarterback progression, especially one that plays as poorly as Bortles is generally foolhardy. From all quarterbacks taken in the first three rounds since 2000 that started at least seven games, Bortles was nearly the bottom statistically as a passer in numerous areas.
In terms of passing points per attempt, Bortles is sixth from the bottom and eighth from the bottom in touchdown to interception ratio. His rookie season output isn’t encouraging, but he’s also hanging around Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Matt Stafford, at least keeping the light on that that he may serve some fantasy purpose down the line. In terms of points per game, he stayed afloat over others with 24.1 percent of his fantasy scoring coming from rushing. A plus for Bortles is that he rushed for 20 or more yards in nine games and 35 or more yards in another six which smoothed out some his scoring.
For 2015 redrafts, you’re not drafting him given you still need to see improvement and the Jacksonville opening schedule is a nightmare. For Best Ball, you can take a gamble on him in spots since his job is relatively safe still for another season, the team committed in surrounding him with talent, he’s an arbitrage on Robinson really breaking out and he can run. Odds are against him being a top end option, but if he’s at least a QB2 at some point with rushing ability, then he becomes relevant for weekly play in the streaming pile of quarterbacks.
Like Bortles and Robinson, the rest of this group is swimming in the fountain of youth. There’s a lot of ambiguity regarding not just talent level of all these young options, but just what the potential ball distribution will be after Robinson. Hurns was the only receiver of the group to play all 16 games and he actually notched two different top-five fantasy performances on the season to go with five other top-40 ones and he also was this unit’s best vertical playmaker as he led this group in 20, 30 and 40-yard plus receptions. Because everyone else suffered injuries at some point, Hurns got experience at each receiver spot and is expected to play over Lee early heading into training camp with Shorts and his targets 110 targets gone.
Marqise Lee, the team’s second round draft pick ahead of Robinson last spring, suffered a hamstring injury in week two and then missed the next three games. Upon his return, he barely got any burn prior to Robinson’s injury, playing just 86 of 359 snaps (23.9 percent) over those five weeks. Once Robinson was lost, Lee became a focal point as he had 22.4 percent of the team targets and had 24 catches for 281 yards over the final five weeks, but with just one week as a top-30 scorer.
Neither guy is more than a late round best ball flyer since if we’re cautious of Bortles being able to support one bankable receiving asset, then there’s solid reason to feel uneasy about the rest of the receivers here. Regardless if Hurns holds that second receiver spot throughout the summer, the other will find the field often in three receiver sets in the slot. If either go down or falter, they have a prototypical slot prospect in Rashad Greene who they drafted in the fifth round this past season. Our Chad Scott had a strong affection for Greene as he broke down his future prospects in detail, so if he ends up with elevation in terms of usage due to an injury or lack of talent separation on the depth chart you’re covered.
The biggest reason the distribution plans to stay ambiguous outside of Robinson is that a portion of those vacated targets from Shorts will belong to new tight end Julius Thomas, who got a five-year, $46M deal from the club this offseason. Jacksonville targeted the tight end on just 13.2 percent of their pass plays in 2014, which was 30th in the league. We can surely anticipate that number to go up in 2014, but what exactly are the Jags getting in Thomas?
Thomas was a top-10 fantasy tight end in both of the past two seasons in Denver. He seen reduced usage in Denver last season, but was able to fight that off with an insane penchant for finding the end zone. Since target data was tracked starting in 1999, we’ve never seen a tight end score with the regularity that Thomas did per target last season.
24.2 percent of Thomas’ targets last season came in the red zone, the highest percentage of any NFL player with 50 or more targets on the season. Of course, this is problematic because you have a tight end who has built his fantasy viability around being an elite red zone producer going to the team that ran the fewest red zone plays in the NFL last season.
Thomas will definitely trade the efficiency from the Denver passing game for volume this season, but will it be the kind of volume necessary for him to hold down his required round seven draft capital? Clay Harbor and Marcedes Lewis totaled 66 targets on the season and Shorts is leaving 110 looks to be distributed among full slates for Robinson, Lee, Hurns and Thomas. I believe Thomas gets to 100 targets on the season, but I’m not banking on many more than that nor do I have much reason to believe he flirts with double digit scores this upcoming season. Add in the fact that Thomas has missed multiple games in every year of his career so far and it’s hard for me buy into him at that price point when there are cheaper upside plays down the line at the tight end position. Now with him expected to miss the first four to five weeks of the season with a hand injury suffered in the preseason, he’s avoidable with any draft capital.
T.J. Yeldon: The Next Jaguar JAG?
With the 36th overall pick, Jacksonville invested in another young offensive player by grabbing former five-star recruit T.J. Yeldon from Alabama. Yeldon is a solid back and is good enough in pass protection and as a pass catcher to be a full time back immediately and he doesn’t have much to hurdle on the depth chart as the Jaguars could still potentially release Toby Gerhart still this summer (saving $2.5M) or even next season ($3.5M) and Denard Robinson proved to be a boom or bust runner and not the solid chain mover that suits Yeldon’s style.
He’ll still need the Jaguars offense to make strides, which coincides with the play of Bortles. Looking back at 2014, the Jaguars were 27th in overall fantasy points from their backfield. Eight of the top 12 scoring running backs came from teams that ranked in the top half of team fantasy points that stemmed from passing alone. Of teams in the bottom 10 (Jacksonville was 32nd), just Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Hill and Matt Asiata were able to produce top 20 scoring seasons. When you look at backs that frequently overcome poor fantasy passing attacks they are generally transcendent talents on their own (guys like Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch) and don’t thrive off of opportunity alone. If you don’t believe Bortles himself is going to progress enough, there’s a reason to dampen expectations in relation to Yeldon’s fantasy stock. If Bortles does take off in year two, then Yeldon is an ideal situation to reel off strong production.
The Jaguars signed tackle Jermey Parnell from Dallas, drafted guard A.J. Cann and added guard Steven Wisniewski for depth on the offensive front. Believe it or not, but this was also a team that ranked 13th in rushing points per attempt in large part due to the added boost from Bortles. I believe the Jaguars want to be more balanced and have the pieces necessary to do so, but I don’t know if we see a big transition in play calling splits from last year considering this team is once again projected for just five wins. That said, I still feel strong about Yeldon’s asking price at the RB25 and feel he’s going to be a safe floor RB3/flex guy weekly with a ceiling for more if this offense improves. He has the potential workload and talent to be a solid second running back on your team, but I much prefer as my third or even fourth option to cover bye weeks, injuries or serve in a rotation.
Behind Yeldon, I still believe it makes a lot more sense to rotate in Denard Robinson than Toby Gerhart given Yeldon’s play style. Robinson made a great step forward in his transition to a full-time running back as a sophomore. From weeks 7-10, Robinson was the RB11, RB19, RB9 and RB7 as he totaled 389 rushing yards on 72 carries (5.4 YPC) and added four touchdowns. Those opponents over that stretch were lackluster versus the run (CLE, MIA, DAL, CIN), but it at least relieves some concern using Yeldon in soft matchups. Robinson then missed the final three games with a torn ligament in his foot, but even at a success rate level, Robinson was the best of the Jaguar backs.
|Player||Att||2 Yd or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|