The Jaguars failed to surround first overall pick Trevor Lawrence with the talent and coaching necessary to find early success in 2021. Instead, with a sideshow of a head coach, receivers that dropped passes at an extraordinary rate, and an underperforming offensive line, Jacksonville was a mess around Lawrence.
In 2022, its general manager Trent Baalke's and head coach Doug Pederson's job to correct the mistakes made a season ago. Having a professional head coach, who will actually put in the work required to win at the NFL level, is a step in the right direction. But the Jaguars will need to add more talented players, especially on offense, to ensure Lawrence can make strides in his second season in the NFL.
One of the most critical areas of the roster that begs for improvement is the wide receiver room. The only receivers currently on the roster that should figure into the team's plans in 2022 are Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, and Jamal Agnew. Jones can be an effective second or third target in the NFL, but when tasked with taking on the number one role after DJ Chark's injury in 2021, he struggled to find any consistency. Laviska Shenault tragically forgot how to catch the football in 2021. The Jags shouldn't give up on him because the talent is clearly there, and drops were never an issue prior to last season, but they'll need to temper their expectations for Shenault in 2022. And Jamal Agnew, who became one of the most explosive big-play threats in the league — both as a returner and offensive weapon — is coming off a significant hip injury.
If I were running the show, I'd want Jones, Shenault, and Agnew to slot in as my third, fourth, and fifth wide receivers in 2022. That means I'd be looking to find a starting X and another reliable set of hands this offseason. Of course, that's easier said than done with the dwindling wide receiver pool in free agency. Still, there are more than a handful of options set to hit the open market next week that could aid in Trevor Lawrence's development. With about $39 million in salary cap space, the Jaguars should be aggressive.
Here are my top five receiver options for the Jaguars in free agency.
1. Amari Cooper, Dallas
6'1", 210-pounds, 27 years old
Amari Cooper isn't a free agent yet, and he might never hit the open market. The Cowboys are expected to release Cooper at the start of the new league year next Wednesday at 4 pm EST. But I'd be shocked if some teams don't offer the Cowboys draft capital to ensure they can land Cooper without a bidding war. He's one of the top outside receivers in the NFL and should still have several years left in his prime. Giving Trevor Lawrence a weapon of his caliber is a no-brainer. This might be cheating considering this is supposed to be a free agent list, but if I'm the Jaguars, I'd offer a second or third-round pick in exchange for Cooper and bring him to Duval. After that, the Jags should renegotiate Cooper's contract, keeping him happy with the same or even more guaranteed money coming his way and reducing his cap hit. If Cooper does hit the open market, Trent Baalke and Doug Pederson should do their best to reel him in, but Baalke may have to throw his favorite term, "value," to the wayside in order to do so.
2. Christian Kirk, Phoenix
5'11", 200 pounds, 25 years old
Unlike the first name on our list, Christian Kirk primarily aligned in the slot in 2021. And that's okay because he is a three-level threat who runs crisp routes, creates separation, and displays reliable hands. And while there were limited exposures last season, Kirk has also shown the ability to win consistently as an outside receiver. Using him as a combo-inside-out receiver would give Trevor Lawrence a versatile and reliable target with home-run potential.
3. DJ Chark, Jacksonville
6'4", 198 pounds, 25 years old
But for a fractured ankle in week four, DJ Chark would have been the Jaguars leading receiver by a wide margin in 2021. Unfortunately, injuries have greatly slowed Chark's production during his four years in Jacksonville. But his ability to stretch the field vertically and make plays on the ball is undeniable. Chark won't carry the price tag of an Allen Robinson or Amari Cooper, making him a more reasonable gamble. He's also entering what should be the best years of his career. Add in the fact that he's already fully recovered from his ankle injury and working out with Trevor Lawrence this offseason, and bringing Chark back into the fold makes a lot of sense.
4. Allen Robinson, Chicago
6'2", 220 pounds, 28 years old
A-Rob comes in at number four for me. While I'd predict him to be the second most productive receiver of this bunch in 2022, I wonder if the juice will be worth the squeeze of a massive contract. Even though Allen Robinson will turn 29 before the start of the regular season and is coming off the most disappointing season in his eight-year career, I truly believe he has a lot left in the tank. He consistently creates separation despite not being a burner and has some of the best hands in football. But I can't ignore the fact that Robinson is older than the rest of the bunch, is coming off an ugly season, and will likely cost considerably more than everyone on this list not named Amari Cooper.
5. Michael Gallup, Dallas
6'1", 198 pounds, 26 years old
Michael Gallup seems to be a highlight reel grab waiting to happen. He makes spectacular catches look routine. But Gallup is coming off a torn-ACL and has had uneven production throughout his four-year career. It's rumored that the Cowboys are working on a deal to bring Gallup back to Dallas, but as of now, he's still set to hit the open market. He should serve best as a number two receiving option as he's more of a contested-catch receiver than a natural separator. He's also had some trouble with consistency, dropping 11.5% of his career targets.
The Jaguars undoubtedly need to build a more stable infrastructure around Trevor Lawrence, and Doug Pederson knows that. Giving him better, more reliable pass catchers would help in a big way. If the Jaguars can land at least one of these top five receiver targets in free agency, they'll be on their way to getting Lawrence the help he deserves. Still, they'll likely need to address the position at some point during the first two days of the NFL Draft.
The Next Three: Juju Smith-Schuster, Russell Gage, Jamison Crowder
PS - OBJ isn't on this list because I think he'll sign with a contender, most likely back in Los Angeles. But if he did have interest in teaming up with Trevor Lawrence, Beckham would certainly be on the list.
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