After spending the past six seasons as head coach of Washington, Jay Gruden comes to Jacksonville in hopes of taking the offense to the next level.
The Jaguars offense was somewhat dormant last year, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories. They were 18th in yards per play and passing touchdowns, 16th in passing yards, and 17th in rushing yards, while also finishing 13th in yards per rush. Despite the milquetoast performance of 2019, there is reason for hope this season and beyond.
An old school new scheme?
Gruden employs a west coast offense designed around a quick passing game and creating mismatches. He is often called a “quarterback’s best friend” as he runs his offense to make life as easy as possible for them. Look at these clips below from Cousins’ best years in Washington. Take particular notice of how far away defenders are when the receivers catch the ball. Gruden wants to make space for his best players.
Jay Gruden typically does a good job of moving everyone around the formation and getting the playmakers balls in space. One of the ways he achieves this is by using a lot of play-action. In 2019, the Jaguars ran play action only 14% of the time. In 2016 and 2017 Gruden ran play-action an average of 20% of the time. Minshew was the second best QB in running play-action last year with a 136.4 passer rating and a 76.9% completion rating.
One of the hallmarks of a Jay Gruden offense is keeping the tight ends and running backs heavily involved in the passing game. Over the years we have seen the likes of Tyler Eifert, Gio Bernard, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, and Chris Thompson all flourish and put up big receiving numbers.
How does this apply to the Jaguars?
We should expect to see big changes in the Jaguars offense this year and a greater focus on the skill position stars. Let’s dig into each position group to see how their role should change moving forward.
In 2019 Leonard Fournette was finally used as a true three-down back. He had 265 out of 309 rushes and 100 out of 129 total RB targets. However, don’t expect this to continue in 2020.
The Jags brought in the dynamic Chris Thompson to handle more of the pass catching duties, and second round draft pick Laviska Shenault should see some work out of the backfield as well. While this hurts Fournette’s fantasy value, it should help the team out as whole.
The biggest change Gruden will bring to this group is the distribution of targets. Per sharpfootballstats, most of Fournette’s targets were short and towards the sidelines with only 16 targets going over the middle of the field.
Throughout his time in Washington, Thompson was targeted evenly across the field and earned some deep targets along the way. We should see Gruden exploit match ups and get these players in space.
DJ Chark emerged as a top receiving threat last season with 73 catches for 1008 yards and eight touchdowns. Gruden has been quoted saying he wants to use Chark more in the slot and with that shift should come more opportunity for YAC (only 32% of his yards came after the catch in 2019).
Looking at Chark’s routes on NextGenStats he was often targeted on throws to the sidelines and deep jump balls. However, one look at this clip shows what he can do with the ball in his hands.
23-year-old DJ Chark went over 1,000 yards and scored 8 TDs on just 118 targets last year— Too Much Tuma (@toomuchtuma) May 27, 2020
New Jags OC Jay Gruden has already mentioned he plans to continue lining up his number-one WR all over the formation, slot included@FantasyPros ECR is currently WR23 pic.twitter.com/2friu82N9b
Like Chark, most of the receiver group was used in a specific role. Dede Westbrook lined up in the slot 81% of the time and 82% of his targets were within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Chris Conley lined up mostly outside (also 81% of snaps). This often led to defenses knowing what was coming and receivers having little room to work. Expect this group as whole to diversify their route trees while Gruden opens up more of the field for them to operate.
One of the biggest changes expected this season is a lot more work for the tight ends. In 2019 Jaguars QB’s only targeted TE’s 14% of the time, well below the league average of 21%.
On top of that, a typical Gruden offense targets the TE’s around 25% of the time. The clip below is a great example of how he likes to incorporate TE’s as part of his quick passing strategy.
Will it be enough?
The reason Jay Gruden was brought into town is to take Gardner Minshew and this offense to the next level. The general consensus seems to be that Minshew will finish as a bottom tier QB in the league, but he quietly put up the ninth best rookie fantasy season of all time in only 12 games. Some names below him on this list? Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, and Jim Kelly, among others. Gruden has a history of developing young QB’s and the Jaguars added plenty of talent around Minshew to help him succeed.
At this point the offense is farther along skill-wise than the defense. The defense has lost its two starting cornerbacks, top DT in Marcell Dareus and stud DE Calais Campbell, and Yannick Ngakoue is still trying to force his way out of the door.
The best help this defense could get is an offense who can put up points, keeps them off the field, and let them play with their ears pinned back. The Jags have the pieces in place to make this offense work. Only time will tell if their plan will come to fruition.