NFL young talent rankings: No. 4 Jaguars’ bright future goes beyond Trevor Lawrence


The Jaguars have one of the NFL’s brightest young cores, with a promising outlook for success in the short and long term. 

After years of purgatory, Jacksonville has a foundation built to last with several hits in its past three drafts. Pro Bowl quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, appears to be en route to superstardom. 

Including Lawrence, the Jags have eight starters from the 2021 and ‘22 draft classes alone, including two who’ve already shown Pro Bowl potential (cornerback Tyson Campbell, running back Travis Etienne Jr.). That doesn’t include last year’s top pick, outside linebacker Travon Walker, or fellow 2022 first-rounder Devin Lloyd, both of whom could make massive strides in 2023. 

The depth of Jacksonville’s young talent also stands out. It has four starting offensive linemen playing on rookie deals (Walker Little, Ben Bartch, Luke Fortner, Anton Harrison), a third-round rookie as its No. 2 tailback (Tank Bigsby) and a second-round rookie as a key backup tight end (Brenton Strange). Six of the Jaguars’ defensive starters have played four or fewer seasons. 

Young core

QB Trevor Lawrence 
WR Calvin Ridley 
RB Travis Etienne Jr. 
OLB Josh Allen 
CB Tyson Campbell 
OLB Travon Walker 
S Andre Cisco 
LB Devin Lloyd

Standouts

QB Trevor Lawrence

Entering Year 3, Lawrence is expected to continue his ascent into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. He established himself as a true franchise signal-caller in the second half of last season, completing more than 70% of his passes for 2,273 yards and 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions over the last nine weeks of 2022. He helped lead the Jaguars, in their first playoff appearance since 2017, to the third-largest comeback victory in NFL playoff history in their wild-card win over the Chargers. 

Lawrence’s next step is consistency, proving that he can be what he was late in 2022 for a full year. Boding in his favor are a second season with head coach Doug Pederson, the return of nine offensive starters and the addition of Ridley. 

“It certainly seems like he’s kind of picked up from where he left off at the end of the [last] season and carried that through the entire offseason,” offensive coordinator Press Taylor said last week. “It feels like we’re light years ahead as an offense compared to where we were at this time last year.”

Doug Pederson on Trevor Lawrence: “You can put the team on his back.”

Doug Pederson on Trevor Lawrence:

WR Calvin Ridley

With the Falcons in 2020, his last full season, Ridley showed that he’s a legitimate No. 1 receiver — 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. And Ridley said in The Players’ Tribune in the spring that he played most of that year with a broken foot. 

It makes the possibilities for him in Jacksonville’s offense all the more intriguing. With standout tight end Evan Engram and receivers like Christian Kirk and Zay Jones in the offense, opposing pass defenses may not be able to hone in on Ridley as they could when he played for Atlanta a couple years ago.  

Ridley is widely regarded as one of the league’s best route runners. 

“He’s a generational talent,” Engram said during training camp. 

[Arthur: Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley reinstated, ‘rejuvenated’ and ‘chasing greatness’]

RB Travis Etienne Jr. 

A former first-round pick, Etienne missed his 2021 rookie season with a foot injury. He made his true debut in the NFL last season, cementing his place as one of the league’s rising running backs. He had 220 carries for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns, plus 35 receptions for 316 yards. Among tailbacks with at least 220 carries in 2022, Etienne had a league-high 5.1 yards per carry. He excels running outside the tackles. 

[Arthur: Jaguars’ Travis Etienne has a message about RB market. His peers should listen]

Potential breakout: OLB Travon Walker 

Walker had a disappointing rookie year, with just 3.5 sacks and an 8.9% pressure rate, according to Next Gen Stats. But he’s expected to take a major leap in Year 2, with a greater comfort level of what’s expected of him in the Jaguars defense, which is staying the same with the return of defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. Walker is a full-time edge rusher with Jacksonville, while he played inside a lot at Georgia. 

“You can see the growth,” Caldwell said during the offseason program. “Last year was a learning year for him, learning how to pass rush. Now he’s to the point where he knows what he likes to do. I call it his superpower. I tell him all the time, ‘Use your superpower.’ He has it, and he’s working on doing that. … We’re just excited for him this year.”

Why Jaguars will defend AFC South division title

Why Jaguars will defend AFC South division title

Contracts to consider 

OLB Josh Allen

Allen is playing in 2023 on his fifth-year option, which will pay him $10.8 million in guaranteed salary. The former No. 7 overall pick hasn’t touched double-digit sacks since his rookie season. Doing so this year could allow him to command top-market money, north of $18 million per year in a second deal with Jacksonville or elsewhere. 

Allen is one of the best in the league at getting pressures; it’s a matter of turning those into sacks. He ranked sixth in the NFL last season with 64 pressures, according to Next Gen Stats.  

“He does understand that there’s a little bit of a gap to close right there between pressures and sacks,” outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey said during the offseason program. “But the pressures are important. He does a good job there. He does a good job in the run game. He sets great edges in the run game. He plays with great effort. He’s all over the field.

“At the end of the day, he’ll tell you and I’ll tell you the same thing: We have to get more sack production.”

Calvin Ridley

Ridley will be playing in 2023 on the fifth-year option that the Falcons picked up in 2021. When he was suspended for the entirety of last season for betting on NFL games, that option tolled to this season. 

If Ridley posts No. 1 receiver numbers, which many NFL observers expect, he should be able to command a top-of-market contract, though possibly for fewer years considering his age (Ridley turns 29 in December). According to SpoTrac, the six highest-paid wide receivers by average annual value make $24 million per year or more. 

Key stats

  • Trevor Lawrence was one of nine quarterbacks with more than 4,000 passing yards last season. His 25 pass TDs tied for eighth-most among all quarterbacks. Over the past two seasons, his 746 completions rank seventh among all quarterbacks and his 98 completions of 20-plus yards ranks 10th.
  • Travis Etienne finished ninth among all players in rush yards last season. His 1,125 rush yards were the second-most in franchise history by players in their first season (Fred Taylor had 1,223 in 1998). In Etienne’s first three starts (Weeks 6-8), he broke the franchise record for most rushing yards in a player’s first three starts with 356.
  • From 2018 to 2021, Calvin Ridley’s 28 receiving TDs tied for the 12th-most among all players in that span. In 2020, his 84.9 overall offensive grade was tied for the 11th-best among all receivers.
  • Josh Allen’s 83.0 run defense grade was third-best among all edge rushers last season. His 84.7 overall defensive grade was 11th-best among all edge rushers.

Nick Wright’s AFC preview

Nick Wright's AFC preview

Inside info

Tyson Campbell: “Tyson is a dawg. He’s getting better every year. I see the maturity in him and he’s becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He’s very humble and he wants to win. The sky’s the limit for him. His play style is incredible; his length and speed are unmatched. He will do great things this upcoming season.” —AFC defensive player

Trevor Lawrence: “In 20-plus years of evaluating college and NFL talent, I can recall only a few players who entered the league with as much fanfare as Lawrence and saw as much improvement from their rookie to second season. The statistical gains made by Lawrence a year ago were even more impressive than those made by Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts over their first two seasons as starters.   

“Lawrence deserves a great deal of credit for the improvement, but he was aided by the stability provided by head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor. The fact that both return, with fortifications made to the offensive line and at wide receiver — with first-round pick Anton Harrison and veteran Calvin Ridley expected to provide immediate impacts — should have Lawrence’s ascent only beginning.” —NFL talent evaluator

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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