It's officially July, folks. That means NFL training camps will be starting this month (as long as things go to plan for Roger Godell and company). But before training camp starts, I'm taking you through the Jaguars' roster and grading each position group. So far, we've made it through the safeties, offensive tackles, and defensive tackles. Now it's time for the Jaguars' tight end group.
There's been a fair amount of turnover in the Jaguars' tight end room over the last 18 months. The Jaguars added Josh Oliver to the mix in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They also signed Geoff Swaim in free agency in 2019, only to release him less than a year later. Throughout the 2019 season, there was a ton of attrition for the Jaguars' tight ends. Swaim missed much of the year, as did James O'Shaughnessy, and Josh Oliver.
Entering the 2020 campaign, James O'Shaughnessy, who is coming off a torn ACL, and Josh Oliver, who dealt with multiple injuries in 2019, are still expected to be contributors in Jay Gruden's offense. But the new sheriff in town is Tyler Eifert. Eifert is one of the most talented tight ends of the last decade, but also one of the most injury-prone players in the game today.
Eifert has a history with Jay Gruden, who was his offensive coordinator in Cincinnatti during his rookie year in 2013. Eifert was able to play a full 16 games for the Bengals in 2019, which marks the first time he's done so ... ever. The three years prior, Eifert played in a combined 14 games. To say that there's injury risk with this talented tight end is an understatement. Still, when he's on the field, Eifert will be a plus blocker on the edge in the run game. And he'll bring a pass-catching skill set rarely seen in Duval. He's a crafty veteran that knows how to get open. Even when he's tightly covered, his size, strength, and athletic ability allow him to win in contested situations.
James O'Shaughnessy was in the midst of a breakout year for the Jaguars before his untimely ACL tear in week five of last season. The 28-year-old tight end was catching 70% of his targets and was on pace for 500 yards and six touchdowns. He's not elite at any one thing on the field, but James O'Shaughnessy does everything well. He's a valuable piece to the puzzle at tight end.
Josh Oliver is the big question mark entering 2020. After suffering a hamstring injury in training camp, he missed the first six weeks of the season. Upon his return, he only played in four games before fracturing bones in his back and subsequently ending the season on the IR. As a third-round pick from a small school, the Jaguars undoubtedly have high expectations for Oliver, and with good reason. It was evident during training camp in 2019 that he was the most talented pass-catcher at the position.
Jacksonville added two rookies to the mix earlier this spring, selecting Tyler Davis in the sixth round out of Georgia Tech by way of UConn, and picking up Ben Ellefson as an undrafted free agent. Davis showed off a knack for the endzone in his final year at UConn, scoring six times. And at his pro day, he impressed the Jaguars with his athleticism.
Also in the room is Charles Jones, a 2019 undrafted free agent who got some valuable experience as a rookie. The coaching staff likes the Tulane product, but he'll have to compete with the two rookies to make the roster.
The crux of the Jaguars' tight end group is health. If two of the Jaguars' top three tight ends can take the field on a weekly basis, they'll have little problem finding reliable production from their tight end group, both as blockers and pass catchers. But that is one HUGE if.
There's a massive variance in the range of outcomes for the Jaguars' tight ends in 2020. If the group remains relatively healthy, they'll excel. If not, it could be a revolving door type situation yet again.
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