By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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In 2017 the Jacksonville Jaguars finally found a defense and a workhorse running back. That’s great news for Jags fans and for people lucky enough to draft Leonard Fournette and the D/ST. Fournette stomped his way to an RB8 finish even though he missed three games and the D/ST finished as fantasy’s top unit. The changes in the Jags’ fortunes weren’t so great for anyone who invested high picks in any of Jacksonville’s other offensive players, though. Blake Bortles put up decent starting QB numbers but that didn’t translate to fantasy success as he finished as QB13. The Jags’ best wide receiver was Marquise Lee, who finished as WR39. In the era of high-octane passing offenses, the Jags are a throwback team – which meant little fantasy fireworks in 2017.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Cody Kessler (w/ CLE)||2.94||QB54|
|QB3||(R) Tanner Lee||N/A||N/A|
|WR2||Donte Moncrief (w/ IND)||79.10||WR77|
|WR5||(R) D.J. Chark||N/A||N/A|
|TE1||Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (w/ NYJ)||101.70||TE19|
Blake Bortles lit the world on fire in 2015, finishing as fantasy’s fourth best quarterback. But a lot of people, myself included, worried that Bortles’ productivity was due mostly to Jags having to play catch up thanks to a miserable defense and serious deficiencies in their running game. Our fears were realized when Bortles dropped to QB14 in 2016 and finished as QB13 last year. The Jags got better on defense and Leonard Fournette instantly made their running game one of the best in the league. Fewer deficits + a stud workhorse running back = less opportunity for Bortles to sling it without care. For Jags fans, this is a good thing — you don’t want to have to count on a quarterback to throw 35+ touchdowns unless that quarterback is one of the league’s elite players. But for fantasy owners, it means that Bortles is a QB2 whose ceiling probably doesn’t reach the QB1 floor. He’s perfect for fantasy owners who stack up at other positions and draft for depth, but even those people can probably find better value this year.
Leonard Fournette turned in one of the more entertaining and productive rookie seasons in recent memory last year. Consider this: the LSU alum missed three games due to injury and still finished as RB8. Had he played all 16 games and scored his average 18.86 points per game, he’d have finished as RB5. Not too shabby for a rookie, especially a rookie defenses stacked the box against constantly. Fournette likely won’t play a huge role in the passing game, making him less appealing than a handful of stud RBs who catch lots of passes. But don’t worry. This offense literally runs through him. Your biggest concern with Fournette will be his durability. He’s been injured before and his running style invites brutal, heavy contact. If you can stomach the risk of injury, he’s absolutely worthy of a late first round pick as your RB1.
Behind Fournette is T.J. Yeldon. Drafted in 2015, Yeldon didn’t really turn into the workhorse back the Jags needed. How much of that is due to the Jags’ awful defense and how much is due to Yeldon just not being the guy the Jags thought he was? The fact that Jacksonville drafted Fournette just two years after drafting Yeldon should answer that question for you. That said, Yeldon’s a valuable handcuff for Fournette owners. When Fournette’s healthy, Yeldon’s could serve as a situational FLEX play here and there, primarily due to his involvement in the passing game. Whereas Fournette isn’t really a receiving threat, Yeldon’s shown he can catch and scoot out of the backfield. In just ten games last year, he caught 30 passes for 224 yards, and he’s caught 116 passes throughout his career. If Fournette does get injured, Yeldon could surprise you and fill in nicely as the lead back. His average yards per carry in 2017 was the highest of his career at 5.1. If you draft Fournette, you definitely want Yeldon as your backup. For those who don’t draft him, he’s worth a late round pick in case Fournette goes down.
Finally, we’ve got Corey Grant. As the third man on the totem pole, he’s not going to provide much value at the beginning of the season. But if either of the two guys in front of him go down, he’s definitely worth a pickup.
Welcome to the most questionable receiving corps in the National Football League. The Jags’ wide receivers include journeymen, both drafted and undrafted, and a promising rookie. Let’s start with the guy many have pegged to be the number one option in 2018, Marqise Lee. This offseason, Lee signed a four year, $34 million contract with Jacksonville. The Jags believe he’s the number one wide receiver of the future, but what does that mean exactly for your fantasy team? Well, he’s a steady guy who plays nearly every game and has become Blake Bortles’ favorite receiver, averaging 7.4 targets per game in 2017. Three things have me concerned about ranking Lee as anything more than a WR4 to start the year. First, as discussed previously, the Jags are a run-first team. Second, Lee dropped a lot of balls last year. His 12 dropped passes were the most in the NFL. Finally, the Jags’ receiving corps is just too crowded. As you’ll see further in this preview, there are a lot of mouths to feed in an offense that simply hasn’t produced fantasy-relevant numbers at the wide receiver position since 2015. Lee is the best receiving option on the Jags at this time, but he’s still only good enough to be a WR4.
Next is newcomer Donte Moncrief. Moncrief was a sleeper darling of many (including me) a few years ago when he was with Indy. Unfortunately he got injured, missing 11 games over the last two seasons, and we really haven’t gotten the chance to see him shine. He’s young and has flashed signs of greatness, so giving up on him would still be premature. But how much of an investment are you willing to put into an oft-injured player who will battle for targets in a run-first offense? If you’re smart, not much. Moncrief is a late-round sleeper flier and nothing more.
Dede Westbrook was the rare exception to the rule that rookie wide receivers don’t perform well. In just seven games last year, Westbrook caught 27 catches for 339 yards and a touchdown. Not too shabby for a rookie in that scheme. He was on the field for 80.2% of the team’s plays, which is also very high for a rookie wideout. Unfortunately I have the same concerns about Westbrook that I do the other receivers (too much competition + Fournette being the feature player). You could do worse than Westbrook in the last couple rounds of your draft, but don’t use anything higher than a 14th round pick on him.
Keelan Cole was fantasy’s sixth-best receiver from Weeks 13 – 17, but he did a lot of his damage when the other star receivers were injured. This corps is too crowded for a repeat. I’d avoid drafting him.
Finally, we’ve got rookie D.J. Chark. I’ll echo a lot of Chris Tyler’s statements about Chark in his Rookie to Watch section later in this article. Chark is another LSU wide receiver who slipped under the radar in college due to LSU featuring a dominant running back. Chark has the size and speed to make an impact, even if it doesn’t happen in his rookie season. You know the drill by now. Jacksonville runs the ball before it passes it, and there are four other guys competing for targets. I’d probably avoid him in season-long leagues but in dynasty formats, he’s definitely worth a grab.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ career has been befuddling to say the least. During his time with Tampa he gained a reputation for being a superb athlete made of glass. He was ditched by the Bucs after a DUI charge and was picked up by the New York Jets. In 2017, ASJ put up admirable numbers considering the offense he played in: 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns, good for a TE19 finish. He comes to Jacksonville now in what should be the prime of his career, but his fantasy prospects aren’t that great. Jacksonville’s run-first system and unreliable quarterback play make ASJ’s prospects for fantasy success bleak. He’s a TE3. Avoid him.
Rookie to Watch
One of the most underrated rookies in this draft is the Bayou Bengal WR D.J. Chark. Unfortunately, Chark wasn’t talked about a lot due to LSU having a top five running back enter the draft each of the past two seasons. Their emphasis on the run has kept standout WRs like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry out of the minds of casual fans and Chark is no different. Chark is a smooth route runner who can explode through cuts and has the speed to burn you without even trying. He also has the size to fight for the 50/50 balls and can be dangerous inside the 25 yard line. Chark can run the entire route tree but where he’ll make his name is his scary double move. This is where he’ll separate himself from all other rookie wideouts. – Chris Tyler
WR Donte Moncrief makes his way down to the Sunshine State and could become a good fantasy option on your team. As of right now, Marquise Lee is the number one guy in Jacksonville and he is prone to injury. Behind Moncrief is rookie D.J Chark, Rashad Greene, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook so it is Moncrief’s job to lose. He was never a consistent threat in Indianapolis but T.Y Hilton was the main reason that receiving core was relevant. Without Hilton, Moncrief gets to show his real talent this year and I think he can be a WR4 on your team. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
I’m among the fantasy contingent that streams defenses. I’ll take my chances with playing match-ups on a week-to-week basis, or in some cases I’ll pick up a defense for a 2-4 week stretch where they’re playing weak offenses. So it’s rare that you’ll see me advocate drafting a defense. This is one of those rare moments. The Jacksonville defense was stupidly good last year and there’s no reason to expect it won’t put up similar numbers this year. They are the best D/ST unit in the NFL and in fantasy.
|9||** BYE WEEK **|
|14||12/6 (Thurs)||@ TEN|