The Jaguars have agreed to send Julius Thomas to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2017 7th round pick.
Thomas has spent the last two years in Jacksonville and has been for the most part unhealthy and ineffective. Thomas has missed 13 of a possible 32 games since he signed with the Jaguars in the spring of 2015 and caught just 76 of 131 targets (58% catch rate) for 735 yards and nine touchdowns during his two year run in Jacksonville. Some of his 2016 failures can certainly be blamed on the regression of Blake Bortles, but some of the blame must be shouldered by Thomas. No, Thomas didn't drop a lot of balls for the Jaguars, but he rarely found a way to create separation, even when running his patented seam routes that lead to so much success when he was in Denver. Thomas was little beyond a red zone target for the Jaguars over the last two years and often looked fat, slow, and disinterested.
For whatever reason Thomas didn't work out in Jacksonville, but his backups played very well in 2016. Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars longest tenured active player, also suffered a season ending injury in 2016, but for the 10 games that Lewis was healthy he was an effective blocker, especially in pass protection, and even made quality contributions in the receiving game. His numbers weren't eye popping, but they were solid. He caught 20 of 30 targets for a 66% catch rate (the same catch rate as Rob Gronkowski in 2016) and found the end zone once. Lewis will turn 33 before the start of the 2017 season, but could be in the plans for the Jaguars in 2017 after an impressive showing last year.
Ben Koyack, the Jaguars 2015 7th round pick from Notre Dame, is developing into a nice player himself. While he was a bit of an afterthought heading into the 2016 season Koyack became a key cog in the Jaguars offense by seasons end, partially due to injuries, partially due to his emergence as a solid player. He, like Lewis, proved an effective blocker from the tight end position, and was highly efficient in the passing game. In 2016 Koyack caught 19 of 24 targets (that's a ridiculous 79% catch rate) for 161 yards. Moving forward Koyack should definitely be in the Jaguars plans at the tight end position.
Finally we get to Neal Sterling. The wide receiver turned tight end has the size and athleticism to create mismatches in the passing game, and he was able to show off that athleticism a bit following Julius Thomas' injury. Sterling caught 12 of his 16 targets in 2016 (another impressive catch rate of 75) for 110 yards and flashed some really impressive ability at times.
Beyond this the Jaguars tight ends are purely special teams players.
So, are the Jaguars set at the tight end position?
In my estimation, no. The Jaguars have a really good blocking tight end in Marcedes Lewis, a very balanced tight end in Ben Koyack, and a raw receiving threat in Neal Sterling. Do the Jaguars absolutely have to go out and sign another tight end or draft one in April? No, but they certainly could go that route. There are some fairly talented tight ends set to hit the market at the start of the new league year on March 9th including Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Larry Donnell, and Jack Doyle. All of those guys are talented players, but each comes with warts. Perhaps the most prudent idea for the Jaguars would be to look at the tight end position in this years draft - a draft that is absolutely loaded at the position.
If the Jaguars wanted to swing for the fences with their first round pick they could just select O.J. Howard from Alabama and call it a day. If the Jaguars don't go that route there are plenty of quality tight ends that will be available later on in the draft such as Miami's David Njoku, Souther Alabama's Gerald Everett, Evan Ingram from Ole Miss, and Jake Butt from Michigan. All of these players appear to be future starters in the NFL, and would provide another weapon for the fourth year quarterback Blake Bortles.
What would I do? I would keep Lewis, Koyack, and Sterling, for now, and address the tight end position at some point in the draft after the first round. With tons of talented tight ends in the draft, you really can't go wrong. The Jaguars should figure out which guy they like best and take him in the second round or after (Obviously O.J. Howard will go in the first round). If the new draftee proves to be balanced and ready to play then part ways with either Lewis or Koyack. If the new addition excels as a receiver and proves ready to play then perhaps Sterling would be in on the chopping block. The Jaguars don't necessarily need a big time tight end in their offense with all of their weapons at receiver, but adding another capable receiving threat never hurts, right?
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