DJ CHARK: 'ME VERSUS ME'
In 2019 — DJ Chark's second season as a professional football player — he wowed football fans across the country with his speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash), catch radius (79" wingspan and 40" vertical), and improvement as a technician. Seventy-three catches, 1,008 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns led to a Pro Bowl nod for the electrifying young receiver.
His stellar sophomore campaign, and his apparent connection with quarterback Gardner Minshew, led to optimism about the potential for the Jaguars' passing offense in 2020.
Needless to say, this season has not gone as planned for the players and coaches inside TIAA Bank Field. With a record of just 1-7 and an aerial attack that has failed to improve, DJ Chark was visibly frustrated over the last few weeks leading up to the Jaguars' bye.
But to understand DJ Chark's disappointment with the 2020 season, we must take a step backward.
The world saw DJ Chark's potential come to fruition (to an extent) in 2019, but in 2018, his rookie year in the NFL, the former LSU receiver struggled to make a positive impact, catching only 14 passes the entire season. At the time, Chark wasn't much of a professional. "I wasn't the biggest on scouting reports in college, something that I wish I was," said Chark. He wasn't yet a student of the game and wasn't sure how to go about attempting to master his craft.
It wasn't until after DJ's mediocre rookie year that he began to focus on becoming the best player on the field and person off the field that he could be. He attributes his growth following his humbling rookie year to his wife. "I think the growing in my life really started before last year after my rookie year, just not being happy with what I saw out of myself on the field, off the field, just things that needed changing," said Chark. "I credit my now wife for helping me throughout all that, that process. With that growth, for me, it was basically just being a man, making the right decisions, and standing on my word. So, whatever I say, whatever I do, whatever consequences or cause and effect, whatever you may say, I have to live with that. I have to go every day with that, so I'd rather put my best foot forward so whatever trickles down from that, it'll be more manageable."
We all saw how Chark's maturity manifested in 2019. He was one of the most explosive young pass-catchers in the game.
Why hasn't 2020 played out how he expected?
There's been a number of mitigating circumstances. The lack of a real offseason to harvest his relationship with quarterback Gardner Minshew didn't help. Neither has the nagging injuries that Chark has been battling through. Despite missing just one game this season, he's dealt with various ailments, including an ankle sprain and a chest injury. And of course, Minshew playing through a thumb injury on his throwing hand for three weeks didn't have a positive effect.
Chark had perhaps the worst performance of his career in week seven, just before the Jaguars' bye week. In Los Angeles, he caught only one of seven targets, including a couple of passes he would catch 99 times out of 100. It was plain to see that the lack of success was getting under his skin. "I have pretty high goals for myself, goals that I usually don't speak on, but I hold myself to those standards," Chark explained. "So, any frustration that the outside may see, it's because of my goals and the way that I want things to happen, not necessarily based on anyone else or the team or anything."
The Jaguars' passing attack got things turned around after their bye week, and after Gardner Minshew finally told the coaching staff that his throwing hand had been bothering him. Rookie QB Jake Luton entered the starting lineup for the injured Minshew — Luton Gardner Minshew'd Gardner Minshew, but that's a story for another day — and the rest was history. Luton looked to Chark early — they connected on an opening drive 73-yard bomb for a score — and often — Chark hauled in seven total catches for 146 yards.
This season has been a significant letdown to Chark, who's still managed to catch 33 passes for 447 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. But with Luton, a QB with a strong arm and an evident desire to feed DJ Chark, things are looking up.
With Chark's natural talent, alpha mentality, and development as a professional, the sky is the limit for the 24-year-old wideout.
"It's really an internal battle for myself, and so even on good games, like the last game, I felt like I did well, but if I had to grade myself, it definitely wasn't 100 percent, and I definitely feel like I could've done better. That's something that my wife talked to me about, just basically I can't put too much pressure on shoulders, but I feel like if I want to be great, that's the expectations that I have to reach. It's really just me versus me. It's not necessarily anything someone else is doing."
Throughout the history of sports, the best athletes, without fail, have shared a couple of traits in common: elite physical tools and an unbridled desire to be great. DJ Chark possesses both.
I wouldn't bet him against him. Would you?
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