Welcome to another edition of the Dynasty Player Spotlight series.
Each week, we’ll take a look at some key performances from NFL play and deliver actionable analysis that dynasty managers should use to their advantage.
Week 3 had some wildly exciting performances.
Isn’t it bonkers that the collective efforts of the Dolphins’ rushing attack, led by RBs Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane, recorded 8.1 yards per carry on 43 attempts vs. the Broncos? This offense might be one for the ages.
Fantasy managers also saw a few bad situations worsen in Week 3.
Let’s not even start with Bears QB Justin Fields and the Chicago offense. It’s a mess out there right now.
But perhaps the most intriguing story of the week, particularly from a dynasty perspective, is the steady backslide that the Jaguars’ offense is experiencing early in 2023.
Join me in diving deeper into the early returns of Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley and QB Trevor Lawrence.
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Pretend for a moment that we’re living in a world where it’s still Sunday, September 10, 2023, at around 2:45 pm EST.
It’s been almost two years since Ridley has played in a professional football game, and he’s balling out.
At halftime of the Week 1 matchup between the Jaguars and Colts, he’s posted 7 catches on 8 targets for 92 receiving yards and a TD in his long-awaited return.
Dynasty managers in continuing leagues who bought low in a trade or held onto him amid his absence are doing a little dance in their living rooms. Those who drafted the veteran in the early-fifth round of a superflex startup draft over the summer are fist-pumping to near exhaustion.
We’re talking about a player who has been through a lot recently. Between mental health struggles, personal tragedy, and a gambling suspension, Ridley is an easily sympathetic figure to root for.
If you haven’t read his autobiographical letter penned for The Players’ Tribune, definitely do so.
This is a fun moment to live in.
But unfortunately, he flopped in the second half vs. the Colts.
In fact, Ridley has only posted 5 catches on 18 targets for 72 yards with 0 TDs in the 10 quarters of football following that halftime.
Ridley’s totals through three games amount to 13 catches on 26 targets, 173 receiving yards, and just 1 TD.
There's a pretty big problem going on here.
Since 2019, seven WRs have seen 26 or more targets over the first three weeks of an NFL season.
Among that group, Ridley’s receiving yardage total and 50.0% catch rate are all the worst in that span in their respective categories by a decent margin.
Second-worst in those areas are Rams WR Cooper Kupp’s 280 receiving yards in 2022 and Chargers WR Keenan Allen’s 69.0% catch rate in 2019. Ridley’s 13 catches compare even worse.
The crazier part of all this is that he ranks ninth in air yards share (39.25%) among WRs, per Next Gen Stats, and 27th in target share (23.0%) among WRs this season. Ridley’s disappointing play has nothing to do with a lack of opportunity or attention going his way.
Maybe he’s just… bad?
Or perhaps this isn’t even his fault at all.
Let’s zoom out a bit and identify some other factors at play with this Jaguars’ offense.
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In case you missed it, Jaguars OC Press Taylor is calling plays in Jacksonville this year, not HC Doug Pederson.
"I totally trust Press," Pederson told NFL.com on September 10. "We think alike. We've been together for a long time, and he's around [QB Trevor Lawrence] all the time and knows what Trevor likes."
Pederson added that this idea was similar to his experience with the Chiefs working under HC Andy Reid, where “Reid would call the first half and he would let me call the second half with a very watchful eye."
So far under Taylor’s tutelage, the Jaguars rank 29th in third-down conversion rate (29.7%), 12th in time of possession (31:17), and 22nd in red zone scoring rate (50.0%).
By contrast, they ranked ninth (41.9%), 16th (30:48), and 20th (53.4%) in those same areas with Pederson calling the shots last year.
The Jaguars have held the ball for about the same amount of time on average, cut their third-down success by a decent margin, and scored slightly less in the red zone than before.
So, maybe we can chalk this up to the change at OC?
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pederson take the reins back if matters don’t improve soon. But we won’t assign chief blame to Taylor without going back and doing a full-scale film analysis of the Jaguars’ three games.
Plus, it's not like they're all that much worse than last year aside from their lack of third-down success.
What's going on here then?
There is one glaring issue we can point to that shows up in data form.
Straight up, the Jacksonville offensive line is not great.
This unit ranks 25th in Pro Football Focus (PFF) pass-blocking grade in 2023, allowing just 1.3 seconds of average pocket time for QB Trevor Lawrence to get the ball out.
Among the 32 starting QBs in the NFL, those 1.3 seconds rank as the lowest amount of pocket time.
By contrast, Lawrence’s average pocket time last year was 2.2 seconds. That may not seem like a huge difference, but imagine a swarm of chiseled athletes running toward you with reckless abandon with the common goal of burying you into the ground.
[pause for effect]
Yeah, that 0.9-second difference matters.
Anyway, here’s a side-by-side of some other key passing metrics from Lawrence to help further illustrate this point:
Does one of those stand out to you?
Lawrence is all over the map with accuracy while facing similar hurry-up and blitz rates and exercising similar judgment with his throws.
The issue, again, is that those extra 0.9 seconds he lacks are a very long time.
Now would be a good time to remind you that the Jaguars lost RT Jawaan Taylor to a four-year, $80 million contract with the Chiefs this offseason. We also placed this Jacksonville unit reasonably low in our preseason offensive line rankings, so none of this should be a huge shock.
Let this be a quick pitstop to remind dynasty managers that if a buy-low window for Lawrence has opened up in your league, please take advantage of it. His brain hasn’t stopped processing, and his arm hasn’t stopped working.
If there exists a nexus point between the struggles of Ridley and Lawrence, and whatever impact OC Press Taylor has had on the offense, it’s reflected in the poor offensive line play.
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The relationship between Lawrence’s lack of pocket time and Ridley’s downward performance isn’t hard to identify, either.
During Ridley’s last full season in 2020, he averaged a 15.2-yard average depth of target (aDOT) with 9.6 yards per target and 1.89 yards worth of target separation.
In lay terms, he runs downfield quite a ways away from defenders and makes his bread by breaking away long catches. That’s the Ridley we all know and love.
Thus far in 2023, he’s averaged a 12.0-yard aDOT with 6.65 yards per target and a 1.28-yard target cushion. That’s similar enough usage to suggest that the Jaguars aren’t seemingly attempting to suck Ridley closer to the line of scrimmage on purpose.
We can't know for sure, but that's a logical flag plant.
Lawrence’s lack of time in the pocket indicates that either plays aren’t developing quickly or there's a deliberate effort for the Jags to get the ball out faster. It could even be some sort of combination of the two.
But either way, the depth and quality of Ridley’s targets suffer as a result.
Among 31 WRs who’ve seen at least 20 targets this season, Ridley ranks ninth-worst in NFL Passer Rating on his looks (87.6).
This video provides an example of this issue on film beginning at the 0:39 mark.
We’d show you here, but NFL media restrictions make that a big no-no.
The gist of the play from Week 2 vs. the Chiefs is that it’s a play-action throw in which the left side of the offensive line starts to collapse just fast enough that Lawrence attempts to hit Ridley right as he breaks in stride on his route.
Without knowing the intent behind the play call, this is again either a matter of plays not developing quickly enough or there being a deliberate effort to get the ball out extremely quickly for whatever reason.
Ideally, you’ll want to see Ridley’s route develop a touch longer so he may earn a greater distance between himself and Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed. He comes up a bit short, unfortunately, but not for a lack of effort.
There are a few of these bad moments on film. You’ll have to find them independently due to those pesky laws of media dissemination.
Either way, the point is that Jaguars haven’t seen large chunk plays through the air thus far in 2023.
Among the 33 QBs who have started a game this season, Lawrence ranks 21st in deep ball (20+ yard) attempt rate with 10.6%.
There’s something broken in Jacksonville.
If Pederson starts calling plays again, maybe it’ll be fixed.
But that won’t necessarily improve the offensive line play. It might not give Lawrence more time to throw the ball, and it may not improve Ridley’s situation a ton.
Here’s one positive to leave you with, though: Ridley has seen 4 red zone targets dropped over the last two games due to tough coverage, penalty, or errant throws.
We’d be talking about him a lot differently in a world where he converts at least one, if not all, of those TDs.
One of our core values at Draft Sharks for how managers should approach dynasty strategy is never to overrate the current situation.
Consider buying whatever value dip exists for both of these players. Don’t sell these players right now if you roster them currently.
Ridley doesn’t seem to be used that differently now than he was in his “prime,” and it’s clear Lawrence hasn’t forgotten how to play QB.
If you think about it, it’s just a matter of timing, both in real-life football and in dynasty leagues.
Just wait until this offense starts clicking.