The Jaguars have an absurdly large rookie class. In total, there are 30 rookies on the Jaguars' roster, with 12 being draft picks. Because of the high volume of drafted players, I'm going to switch up my strategy with providing insight into what to expect from each rookie in 2020. I've already covered CJ Henderson, K'Lavon Chaisson, Laviska Shenault, DaVon Hamilton, Ben Bartch, Josiah Scott, and Shaq Quarterman. Today, I'm going to take a look at both of the Jaguars' fifth-round picks and tell you which one has a better chance at making an impact on the field for the Jaguars in 2020 and beyond.
The Jaguars drafted senior safety Daniel Thomas from Auburn with the 157th overall selection and the added senior receiver Collin Johnson from Texas at 165. Both players saw extensive playing time throughout their four-year college careers.
Johnson is a hulking six-foot-six, 222-pound receiver with linear athleticism, strong hands, and plenty of strength for the position. Thanks to his size, reliable hands, and penchant for winning in contested catch situations, it's easy to envision a role Johnson in the red zone. But his path to the field is filled with obstacles. DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault should lead the Jaguars in targets from the receiver position. But behind them, Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole all have proven skill sets and experience playing with Gardner Minshew. If Collin Johnson can prove he has more reliable hands and ball skills than Chris Conley inside the 20, he'll have a chance to be a short field winner for the Jaguars. When Johnson does find the field, he'll be an asset in the run game with physicality as a blocker.
Daniel Thomas should come in and immediately lock up the third safety role for the Jags. He's only five-foot-ten but makes up for it with his 37" vert and 4.5 speed. Thomas also packs a punch at 215 pounds. If the Jaguars' current starting free safety, Jarrod Wilson, struggles during training camp, the preseason, or early on in the regular season, he could have a short leash. Thomas is more athletic and has superior power in his frame compared to Wilson. But Wilson has length and experience on his side. The Jaguars don't ask their safeties to cover receivers one-on-one deep down the field too often, so Thomas should be able to play reasonably well in coverage. But his lack of length and lateral agility could hurt his chances to make it big at the next level. He's solid in shallow zones and is a heat-seeking missile when rolling down-hill towards ball carriers.
It's easy to see why the Jaguars were drawn to these two players in the fifth round. But which one will have a more immediate impact?
Thomas will likely be higher on the depth chart than Johnson, so one injury to Jarrod Wilson or Ronnie Harrison and Thomas could be thrown into the fire. Thomas will also be a better special teams contributor from a coverage standpoint. He should find success in that role immediately.
But Collin Johnson has a unique skill set to the Jaguars' roster, which should allow him to be a red-zone threat early on in his career.
Thomas should have more of an impact on special teams and will be one injury away from starting duties. But Johnson should be able to have a great impact in the red zone for the Jaguars. I expect Thomas to be on the field more, but Johnson could have the more impactful rookie season.
Long term, both could be fixtures for the Jaguars. Johnson will need to improve as a route runner and in his ability to beat press coverage to excel regularly on the outside. I believe his best role in the NFL will be as a flex/slot receiver who can win against mismatched linebackers and safeties. But it remains to be seen if the Jaguars will utilize in that fashion. As for Thomas, his best role is as a box safety who can attack the run and play instinctively in zone coverage. But the way the Jaguars deploy their safeties, it's not too hard to project him into a starting role for the Jaguars at free safety.
Overall, Johnson appears to be the more talented player and has superior upside. He could potentially be a reliable third or fourth target in a high powered offense. Thomas projects more as a reliable third safety in a strong defensive backfield.
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