A Confounding WR Corps in Jacksonville (2019 Fantasy Football)
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Every year we are presented with a new landscape in the NFL. Coaching changes, free agency, and the draft necessitate us to view each team with a fresh pair of eyes. One of the most challenging tasks is identifying which players will step into an increased role and earn an opportunity that will translate to fantasy success.
The Jaguars have seen significant changes this offseason with a new signal-caller and their highest-paid receiver returning from injury. This position group has had minimal clarity, but could offer fantasy value if a pass-catcher can emerge. This article will examine the team and position group to identify what players are worth targeting in your upcoming drafts.
Since the early-season ACL injury and subsequent departure of Allen Robinson in 2017, the Jaguars wide receiver corps has been incredibly underwhelming for fantasy production. Keelan Cole had a useful stretch at the end of 2017 before disappointing in 2018 after entering the season as a trendy sleeper. Dede Westbrook has been useful at times, but inconsistent with low upside. The ceiling of this passing attack has been capped by the offensive scheme and poor quarterback play of Blake Bortles.
The current ADP for 2019 highlights ongoing skepticism for the team. Westbrook is highest among pass catchers at WR42, followed by Marqise Lee (WR86), D.J. Chark (WR90), Keelan Cole (WR93), and newly acquired Chris Conley (WR99). So this ADP is telling us that the public believes only one of these receivers is draftable, and not until the eighth-ninth round.
Despite wanting to base their offense on power run schemes, the Jaguars still managed to finish in the middle of the pack for their run/pass ratio in 2018 (passing 58% of plays) and were 19th in total plays run per game. The coaching staff made an effort to structure the scheme around short and intermediate routes. The focus was on getting receivers open quickly for passes with a high probability of completion.
Bortles’ Overall Passer Rating Bortles’ Passer Rating Targeting WRs
*Charts courtesy of SharpFootballStats.com
The problem is that Bortles struggled mightily with accuracy even in this QB-friendly scheme. Bortles paired the seventh-lowest yards per attempt (6.8) with the fourth-worst completion percentage (60.8%). An unfortunate feat of combining terrible efficiency with low accuracy. To make matters worse, the chart above details that while Bortles was bad pretty much everywhere, he was even worse targeting receivers in short-to-intermediate routes.
So we have established that 2018 was rough. Is there potential for 2019 to be an improvement?
A cause for optimism is that Bortles has departed for L.A. and Nick Foles is stepping under center. This change may not lead to much difference in the offensive scheme. Unlike Bortles, Foles has excelled in an Eagles’ offensive scheme focused on short passes. In five games last season, Foles completed 72.3% of his passes with a 7.2 yards/attempt.
On the flip side, he struggled passing deep with a passer rating well below average, targeting further than 15 yards downfield. While there remain questions marks, he has the potential to step into the Jaguars’ scheme and run it with significantly greater efficiency than his predecessor.
When we begin to examine the pass catchers, there have been several notable changes. T.J. Yeldon (RB) and Donte Moncrief (WR), two of the team’s top three targets, have departed in free agency. This vacates 166 targets for the remaining players and the new additions of Conley, Geoff Swaim (TE), and rookie Josh Oliver (TE). The Jaguars have been remarkably consistent with their target division among position groups the past two seasons.
Jaguars Positional Target Distribution
The team had the sixth-highest RB target percentage in 2018. With Yeldon’s departure and the team not bringing in a reliable pass-catching back, we can anticipate a substantial reduction in RB target percentage this season. And while Swaim and Oliver offer stability at the TE position, they are not anticipated to be target hogs.
This all suggests a potential increase in WR targets, which can lead to viable options for fantasy. The player that fits the scheme, Foles’ skill set, and has proven ability is Westbrook. He lined up in the slot 74% of snaps last season and was quietly one of only 28 receivers with over 100 targets in 2018. He was 26th in receptions and 28th in red zone receptions.
Dede Westbrook Target Distribution by Depth
*Chart courtesy of AirYards.com
The downside for Westbrook is the value of his targets. By nature of his role, his targets will have a lower depth of target and his yardage totals may be capped. As shown in the chart above, his depth of target is well below the league average. However, in a PPR format, if his workload increases to 120-140 targets and his catch rate improves with a more accurate QB, he can greatly outproduce his current ADP and is worth targeting as your third or fourth receiver.
Based on the scheme and Foles’ inconsistency on deep throws, it will be more difficult to find reliable production among the outside receivers. Lee is coming off an ACL injury, but may have the first opportunity to step into Moncrief’s role given he is only a year removed from signing a sizeable extension. He will have competition, though.
2018 second-round pick, D.J. Chark, a speedy downfield threat, is someone the team will want to integrate more entering his second season. Conley also offers a bigger body and blazing speed, while his ability to switch between the slot and outside offer versatility across the formation. Lastly, Keelan Cole garnered 70 targets in 2018 and may continue to command a role.
The most likely scenario is these players rotate based on play calling and no one truly distinguishes himself. This will hamper their ability to return much value on their ADP. I would recommend avoiding this crew in drafts because there may be little clarity early in the season. That being said, keep an eye on the situation if one player happens to emerge with reliable weekly snaps and targets. Lee can potentially offer a safe weekly floor as a possession receiver, whereas Conley and Chark have the potential for boom weeks given their explosiveness.
Thomas Burroughs is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Thomas, follow him @FF_TomB.