The birth of a new fantasy season starts with the labor pains of studying and understanding each team’s offseason roster changes and how they fit. In this “Fantasy First Look,” I’ll go through each team and give you the CliffsNotes of the story I expect each of them to tell over the 2023 Fantasy Football Season.
Jacksonville Jaguars Fantasy Football Preview
Trevor Lawrence heads into year three after seeing a TD/INT ratio of 12/17 as a rookie improve to 25/8 last year, which was his first season with Doug Pederson (HC) and Press Taylor (OC). Last season also saw the return of his fellow first-round pick, college teammate and backfield mate, Travis Etienne. Along with the emergence of Etienne came the reemergence of Evan Engram as a viable tight-end threat. Engram set career-highs in receptions (73), yards (766) and catch rate (74.5%) in his first season with the Jags.
Including Engram and Etienne, the Jaguars return six of the top seven players targeted by Lawrence last season. Marvin Jones was the only member of those seven not to return, as Jacksonville added Calvin Ridley in his place.
Trevor Lawrence Primed for Big Year Three
Lawrence’s career trajectory is on a steady incline. He is coming off of a year in which he posted a three-to-one touchdown-to-int ratio, and has a returning head coach and offensive coordinator while heading into year three, which most experts point to as the year with the biggest leap in play during the quarterback maturation process.
Running the same offense last year, Lawrence finished the year ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks in these categories: attempts (seventh), completions (seventh), passing yards (ninth), passing TDs (eighth) and rating (ninth). He also had five rushing touchdowns (fifth among QBs) and saw his completion rate increase by almost 7% from the year prior. Luck for him to take another step forward this year.
PPR Key to Etienne’s 2023
After missing all of his rookie season with an injury, Etienne exploded on the scene in 2022. The unfair expectation was to assume that Etienne would just balloon up to a 1,500-yard rusher in his first full season, as he “only” had 220 carries last season. After rushing for 5.1 yards per carry last season, it’s impossible to expect his rushing yard production to skyrocket, if usage isn’t also skyrocketing. And there is no need for Etienne’s usage to increase greatly in the ground game, as the roster has been built to prevent overworking Etienne in this specific area. The addition of D’Ernest Johnson provides a veteran back that is a young 27 years old after sitting multiple seasons in college behind Marlon Mack and then sitting behind Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, mostly as a pro. Rookie Tank Bigsby isn’t a special back, but he’s a power back that can build a role as a short-yardage and goal-line back, vulturing touchdowns from Etienne, who rushed for five last season. I believe the Jaguars will be smart with Etienne’s workload, as he’s not a Derrick Henry-type of back. Jacksonville should look to keep Etienne between 230-275 touches per season to maximize his career.
With that in mind, Etienne needs to see his targets heavily increase in the passing game for his value to increase in fantasy. Last year he saw 45 targets, of which he hauled in 35. If Etienne is to see his fantasy value rise, he’ll need to see his targets almost double. If Jacksonville uses Etienne for the same 180-230 carries and increases his targets to more of an Alvin Kamara role in which he’s seeing 80-100 targets, then Etienne joins the conversation as a top-10 fantasy back. Unfortunately I don’t see that role coming to fruition this season, as the Jags return their three most targeted players (Jones, Engram, and Christian Kirk), who combined for 323 targets last year. Marvin Jones was fourth with 81 targets and has departed, but his role will be replaced by Calvin Ridley, who saw 143 targets in his last full season in 2021.
Add or Avoid
- Trevor Lawrence is going to have a stellar season in which he finishes in the top five of fantasy quarterbacks. Everything is lining up for the signal-caller to move on from his breakout and enter his star phase. He knows the offense, and he’s caught up with the speed of the game, surrounded by weapons and with a coaching staff that knows how to utilize him.
- Travis Etienne won’t have a down year by NFL standards, but I believe his upside is capped in the fantasy realm based on how the team will/should use him. His ceiling is around 250 carries, but I’d keep him around 200-220. While he could have immense value in the passing game, I can’t see his targets increasing drastically from the 45 he received last year. Ridley, Kirk, Jones and Engram will account for 400+ targets. Jamycal Hasty and Jamal Agnew fit well in the underneath passing game, which will also take spare targets from Etienne’s bucket. The Hasty/Agnew duo saw a combined 53 targets for Jacksonville last season. While the talent is there, the math doesn’t add up to Etienne making a substantial leap. Avoid the expectation that Etienne is in line for a Kamara-like 80+ reception season. He should have minimal uptick from 2022, finishing with 1,000-1,200 rush yards and 40+ receptions.
- Despite the concern about targets, Evan Engram’s role will not shrink. Add him with complete confidence as his 74.5% catch rate with Lawrence is almost 17% higher than where it was just two seasons prior. He’s Lawrence’s safety blanket.
- Avoid the receivers at their current costs. While I expect Lawrence to put up massive numbers, his most consistent weekly target will be Engram, whose role should stay consistent. Christian Kirk and Zay Jones have chemistry built with Lawrence, but Calvin Ridley is a wrinkle as he’s new to the team and coming off of a lengthy inactive period. Preseason games have become glorified walkthroughs; it could take time for Ridley and Lawrence’s connection to catch up. This will lead to severe ebbs and flows in production for the top trio of receivers in Jacksonville throughout the season. Lawrence will take advantage of matchups in games among the top three receivers and use Engram, Etienne, Agnew and Hasty as the checkdown safe option rather than forcing into progressional reads versus a tougher matchup.
- As a super deep sleeper, I’d keep an eye on D’Ernest Johnson this season. If Etienne were to miss significant time, I would expect Johnson to step up in a competition between himself, Hasty and Bigsby to eke out the most consistent role.