To ask who the most important Jaguar is at the present time would be folly. Trevor Lawrence, the first overall pick in this year's draft who is considered a generational talent, is the only correct answer.
But, who is the second most important member of the team in terms of 2021 success? Now that might be a question worth exploring.
There are several candidates for whom a case could be made.
Who are the Jaguars' best returning starters?
Myles Jack? Brandon Linder? James Robinson?
All three played at a Pro-Bowl level for long stretches in 2020. The chemistry between a quarterback and a center is vital, but Linders' backup, Tyler Shatley, is more than capable of starting multiple games on the interior without a massive drop-off. At running back, there's no denying James Robinson's ability, but with Travis Etienne and Carlos Hyde behind him on the depth chart, the Jaguars should still find success running the ball if he misses time.
Myles Jack has the most compelling argument of the three. Even though he plays a devalued position as an off-ball linebacker, Jack is one of the exceptional talents in the league. His playmaking ability in coverage, pursuit, and rolling downhill provides a serious spark for this defense. But because the Jags have some depth at linebacker and have a linebacker-friendly defense, I'm going to continue my search.
Which positions have the most significant impact on the field outside of quarterback?
Offensive tackle, edge rusher, cornerback, and outside receiver are among the most highly valued positions in the game today.
At offensive tackle, the Jaguars' starters from 2020 are back for 2021. Cam Robinson is playing under the franchise tag and will once again start on the left side. Jawaan Taylor is entering his third season as a pro and slots in as the team's starting right tackle. Their play is undoubtedly important, but because the team has a solid group of interior offensive linemen and a potentially high-level swing tackle in rookie Walker Little, I don't think either is among the most essential players on the roster. Robinson was adequate in pass pro and a decent run blocker for the Jaguars last year, while Jawaan Taylor struggled greatly to protect the quarterback. Should either of them go down with an injury, their absence wouldn't likely be the difference between winning and losing because neither player has proven to be anything more than league average to this point. An elite pass protecting offensive tackle is one of the most valuable pieces a team can have, but Robinson and Taylor aren't anywhere close to that.
There are certainly some crucial players in the Jaguars' cornerback room. CJ Henderson was a first-round pick in 2020, and Tyson Campbell was selected with the top pick in the second round this year. Shaquill Griffin is the highest-priced free agent of the Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke era. Sidney Jones and Tre Herndon re-signed with the Jaguars after the new regime took control. But who is the key piece of the bunch? For the next couple of seasons, at least, it's Shaquill Griffin. He's the leader in the room and was hand-selected by the Jaguars to be the top cornerback on the team this year. But is Griffin the most important player outside of the quarterback? Not so fast! Griffin's going to have a major impact on the 2021 season, but even if he doesn't play all that well (unlikely) or suffers an injury, the Jaguars have plenty of depth at cornerback and could see high-level play from 2-3 other cornerbacks. Still, because Griffin is by far the most proven commodity, he'll certainly be among the key puzzle pieces to the Jaguars' overall success in 2021.
At receiver, the Jaguars have a loaded group. DJ Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Shenault should compete for the top target share on a weekly basis. Behind them, there is plenty of competition with Collin Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, Jamal Agnew, and Jalen Camp as the top depth pieces. Because there is so much talent at the position, it won't likely have too much of an impact on the Jaguars if they lose one of their top three.
That brings us to pass rusher. It's not hard to identify who the Jags' greatest asset is from a pass rush perspective. Edge rusher Josh Allen was the seventh overall pick by Jacksonville in 2019 and has been a solid player for the Jaguars during his first two seasons. Not only does he play one of the games' most valuable positions, but he's also one of the more talented overall players in Jacksonville. He played in only eight games in 2020 while battling through injuries and his play suffered a bit as he didn't make the year two leap that many expected. Still, he has a pass rush win rate over 11% with 13 sacks and 34 QB hits in 24 career games. For the Jaguars' defense to have any chance of reaching its potential in 2021, Josh Allen needs to play and play well. K'Lavon Chaisson improved his play down the stretch during his rookie campaign in 2020, but he's not ready to lead a pass rush. Beyond that, the cupboard is relatively bare, with Dawuane Smoot coming in as the third edge rusher. He's a fine role player at the position but should be considered just that: a ROLE player. 2021 fourth-round pick Jordan Smith has been called a project by those within the organization, and while he has some upside, he's not going to be ready to play a significant role early on.
Josh Allen can't do it on his own. The Jaguars need to improve against the run on early downs allowing the pass rush to pin their ears back. And the corners need to be able to play tighter in coverage in passing situations. But make no mistake about it, if Josh Allen doesn't play at or higher than the level he did as a rookie — when he produced 10.5 sacks, 49 pressures, and 23 QB hits — this defense will have its work cut out for it. The Jaguars were the second-worst team in football last year when it came to taking down opposing quarterbacks. They'll need to take an extraordinary step in that department to be even league average. Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen will deploy Allen in his natural role as a 3-4 outside linebacker, which could help his development. Allen added some additional moves to his pass rush arsenal in 2020, though they were rarely seen due to his injuries. Cullen's defense, which will be based around many of the principals from the Ravens' defensive system, is known for manufacturing pressures and playing lockdown coverage. But in Baltimore and many other stops around the league where the odd front is prevalent, an elite edge rusher makes a massive difference.
If I had to rank the top five most important players for the Jaguars in 2021, It would look like this.
#1 Trevor Lawrence - The first franchise QB in team history will have by far the greatest impact on this team's wins and losses.
#2 Josh Allen - The most talented edge rusher on a team that desperately needs to get more pressures and sacks in 2021.
#3 Myles Jack - He has been the heartbeat of the Jaguars defense for a couple of years now. While the defense around him has struggled, Jack is a versatile playmaker that has rare talent for his position.
#4 Shaquill Griffin - As I mentioned before, Griffin is the best cornerback on the team and the leader in that room. He'll need to be sticky in coverage and make plays on the ball for this defense to come together. But the young guns behind him can probably fill in for him in a pinch.
#5 DJ Chark - The Jaguars have a ton of talent at receiver, but if there's one player that can serve in the Tee Higgins role for Trevor Lawrence this year — a deep threat that can also win in the intermediate areas of the field — it's DJ Chark.
Who's your second most important Jaguar in 2021?
Let me know on Twitter @jordandelugo
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