The Jags got a crazy amount of contributions from their rookies during their season opener against Indy, but two in particular were huge.
Opening weekend came and went in the blink of an eye for the NFL. Something to savor for football fans everywhere as the season kicked off after so much doubt and anticipation. It was also something to savor for Jaguars fans in particular, who witnessed their team come away with a shocking 27-20 win after many in the media tried to persuade them that the team was “tanking for Trevor.”
A big part of the Jaguars’ win on Sunday was the impact that rookies had on the overall team performance. The roster underwent a huge overhaul during the course of the offseason and many were wondering whether the team would be able to remain competitive as a result.
The 2020 rookie class more than answered the call on Sunday. There were seven first-year pros who made meaningful contributions to the team’s 1-0 start to 2020.
Both rookie receivers Collin Johnson and Laviska Shenault Jr. made their presence felt on offense. Johnson had a grab to help the Jags convert a third-down and put on an athletic display at the end of the game with a backflip while in victory formation. Shenault saw a 62% snap count and was able to register three receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.
New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden involved Shenault out of the backfield, too, at one time deploying putting him in the wildcat for a reasonable gain. Needless to say, it got fans on Twitter very excited.
Among all of these impressive debuts, there were two rookies on the Jags’ roster who had breakout games on Sunday. In fact, their showings were so impressive that the Jags were the only team to have two players featured on Pro Football Focus’ list of top-10 graded rookies.
10. RB James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson recorded 62 rushing yards on 16 carries, with 56 yards coming after contact, earning a 65.7 rushing grade that ranked 11th of 26 running backs. He didn’t get much help from the line at times, as he was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on nine of 16 carries, but he still managed to break off a couple of 10-plus-yard gains despite that.
Head coach Doug Marrone said his decision to move on from Leonard Fournette boiled down to what the staff saw on the practice field, an area where James Robinson seemingly flourished. The former Illinois State star was the only back in the NFL to have 100% of their team’s running back rushing attempts.
The Jaguars’ new starting running back owns a piece of history after his impressive debut, setting a new opening weekend rushing record for undrafted rookies with 62 yards. That’s, well worthy of the tenth spot on PFF’s list of rookies this week.
2. CB C.J. Henderson, Jacksonville Jaguars
CJ Henderson might have put in the best rookie debut in franchise history. It is easy to over-exaggerate after one week, but the job he did shutting down the left side of the field was nothing short of phenomenal. PFF said so themselves:
The No. 9 overall pick then earned an 84.2 PFF grade against Indianapolis in Week 1, the second-best grade of the week at the position. His grade when lined up on the outside was actually the best we have ever recorded by a rookie in Week 1 in the PFF era, and he allowed only two catches on six man-coverage targets (17 such coverage snaps) while making four plays made on the ball.
There was no doubt that the Jaguars were going to rely on their young guys to produce, but the responsibility placed on Henderson’s shoulders could have seen him crumble early.
Corner is a notoriously difficult position to translate to, yet Henderson handled the pressure like a seasoned pro. His success against a four-time Pro Bowler meant the team kept him on the field for 73 of the teams 74 defensive plays, ranked third amongst all defenders.
Both Robinson and Henderson will need to continue their growth heading forward, and if they do, the Jags have a good chance to exceed expectations. Both will be interesting to watch as the Jags take on another divisional rival in the Tennessee Titans Week 2 in Nashville.