Going Deep: Halt! And Go Pick Up Laviska Shenault!

Eli Grabanski takes a deep dive into Jacksonville Jaguars second-round draft pick Laviska Shenault and his fantasy potential for the 2020 NFL season.

The 2020 wide receiver draft class has been hyped up to be one of the best in recent memory. We saw Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk go in the first round. They’ve gotten most of the hype in fantasy leagues, but there were also some borderline first-round talents that slipped to the second and third rounds of fantasy leagues. This included players like Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman, K.J. Hamler, Chase Claypool, Van Jefferson, Denzel Mims, Bryan Edwards, and Laviska Shenault. These guys haven’t gotten as much attention in fantasy leagues, but many of them will be fantasy relevant players in the future. And some will have the opportunity to make an impact now.

Laviska Shenault is one of the most intriguing wide-receivers from the 2020 NFL draft class to make an immediate fantasy impact. Shenault was once projected to go in the early 1st round where Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and CeeDee Lamb went, but he struggled with injuries in his last collegiate season and saw his draft stock take a little tumble. He fell all the way to the second round of the 2020 NFL draft (42nd overall), where he was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Based on all this information, fantasy players are wondering what Shenault’s fantasy value is for this year and in the future. Let’s dive in and see what we can expect Shenault to bring to the table in fantasy football this year, as well as in the future.

 

The Draft Profile and Pedigree

 

College Stats (Colorado)

Year Games Played Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rush TDs
2017 7 7 168 0 2 4 0
2018 9 86 1011 6 17 115 5
2019 11 56 764 4 23 161 2

 

Shenault was absolutely dominant in his career at Colorado – when he was healthy. In just 9 games as a sophomore receiver, Shenault caught 86 passes for 1011 receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns (6 receiving, 5 rushing). His junior season was a little worse but still impressive with 56 receptions for 764 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns (4 receiving, 2 rushing). But what made Shenault so dominant?

A good point to start at is Shenault’s elite athleticism. Listed at 6’1”, 227 lbs, Shenault knows how to utilize his size to his advantage. Many draft analysts talked about how he does a great job of breaking tackles at first contact and has good acceleration to turn any play into a potential touchdown. In addition, Shenault has shown an impressive catch radius and snatches the ball out of the air on his receptions. While some may be concerned the 6’1”, 227 lbs receiver only ran a 4.58 forty-yard dash at the NFL combine, it is important to keep in mind that he ran the forty with a core muscle injury. The NFL is full of elite athletes (that’s why they’re in the NFL), but there aren’t a lot of players that are as freakishly athletic as Shenault is.

It wouldn’t be fair to just talk about Shenault’s strengths without at least briefly mentioning his weaknesses. Right now the big weaknesses in Shenault’s game are his ability to stay healthy, his disappointing ball tracking abilities down the field, and his effort on blocking plays. If he can improve in these areas, we are looking at a bonafide star. Let’s dive into a little bit of film that shows Shenault’s high-ceiling.

 

The Film

 

Shenault’s film was impressive. The big things that stood out to me were his power, his physicality, and his versatility to be utilized all over the field. Let’s take a look at some plays in his college career where he demonstrated his abilities and potential as a football player.

 

No One Man Should Have All That Power

 

 

Take a look at this play. Shenault goes in motion and takes a handoff from the quarterback. He gets hit with a swarm of white jerseys but keeps his legs churning and manages to get a few yards after contact from it. There were SEVEN defenders in the vicinity by the time Shenault finally went down and that really goes to show how tough and physical he is as a player…arm tackles won’t work on Shenault.

 

 

Here we see this physicality once again as Shenault breaks a couple of tackles on his way to a touchdown. On this play, he does a great job bracing for the hit, keeping his balance, shaking off the defender, and turning on the jets. This is a great example of how Shenault can be a dangerous yards after-the-catch player in the NFL.

 

 

Looking at this play versus Nebraska, we see Shenault go in motion, catch a pass, make a defender miss, and then finally get brought down by multiple defenders.

 

 

Here we see Shenault make an impressive contested catch on a deep pass. While it’s not as much fun as watching him plow over multiple defenders, it does show that his physicality is not just limited to when utilized on the ground or for yards after the catch.

 

Wildcat Formation & Rushing Ability

 

So his physicality is impressive but perhaps more tantalizing in Laviska Shenault’s potential is his versatility. In college, Shenault was even used in the wildcat on occasions to get him more opportunities to score.

On this play against USC, we see Shenault go into the Wildcat, follow his blocker, and utilize his breakaway speed to take it to the house! I’m sure that he ran faster on this play than his 4.58 forty would indicate.

Here we see Shenault take a carry from the Wildcat formation in the red zone. He does a good job following his blockers to get to about the two-yard line and then from there simply overpowers the defense to punch it in. It is extremely encouraging to see Shenault’s effectiveness in this area because the Jaguars may utilize this option in the red-zone more after cutting Leonard Fournette.

 

The Competition

 

Outside of D.J. Chark, none of the Jaguars receivers have really established themselves as pieces of the future. Chris Conley is slotted in as the WR2 in the Jaguars initial depth chart after a season he caught 47 passes on 90 targets for 775 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Dede Westbrook disappointed last year catching 66 passes on 101 targets for 660 receiving yards and has been listed on the team’s third-team offense on the depth chart for the 2020 season opener. Keelan Cole has gotten worse every year he’s been in the league and only caught 24 passes on 35 targets for 361 yards. The door is wide open for someone in this receiving corps to get more opportunities, why can’t it be the super-talented second-round pick?

 

 

In addition, given the Shenault’s versatility and effectiveness as a runner in college, it’s also worth considering he may get a few carries here and there in the backfield given the team released running back Leonard Fournette. In his last two seasons as a college player at Colorado, Shenault took 40 carries for 276 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. And while it isn’t likely, if the backfield flops and Shenault ends up handling more than five carries per game, he could be a great fantasy value as a WR eligible player that gets the workload (and points) of a running back.

 

The Coaching

 

In Jacksonville, the Jaguars have an offensive-minded head coach in Doug Marrone. In addition, the Jaguars also have the former Washington head coach, Jay Gruden, on the team as the offensive coordinator and primary play-caller. Let’s take a look at these play-callers usage of their wide receiver rooms historically (stats are on a per-game basis)

 

Coach Name Games as OC/HC WR Room Targets WR Room Receiving Yards WR Room Receiving Touchdowns
Doug Marrone 144 20.26 160.24 1.01
Jay Gruden 133 20.11 156.13 0.96

 

And here’s how these numbers compare to the average active offensive-minded head coach/coordinator in the NFL.

 

Games as OC/HC WR Room Targets WR Room Receiving Yards WR Room Receiving Touchdowns
Average Coach 117 19.65 155.89 0.93

 

As this data shows, Jay Gruden and Doug Marrone have been slightly above average at getting receiving production and providing their wide receivers opportunities in the passing game. That makes it reasonable to think that this offense is capable of producing not just one, but two fantasy viable receivers.

 

The Buzz

 

The reviews on Shenault since the draft have been overwhelmingly positive. Many beat reporters have been talking about how he’s been spotted all over the field, how good he’s looked so far, and his freakish athleticism.

His quarterback Gardner Minshew praised him this offseason stating, “Laviska’s a freak man…He’s really impressed me. He’s a better route runner and a lot better catching the ball than even I expected.”

His wide receivers coach compared him to former star wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson with his ability to break tackles and get yards after the catch.

His head coach, Doug Marrone, has talked about utilizing him in a variety of different ways. This could include having Shenault play a little bit of running back after the team cut Leonard Fournette and scoring some rushing touchdowns here and there.

 

Various Tweets About Laviska Shenault

 

Conclusion

 

Shenault dropped an article on The Players’ Tribune around the time of the 2020 NFL Draft where he talked about his background and how he sees his role in the NFL. In the article, he states, “I’m a football player. I mean, yes, I line up at receiver a lot. And I catch a ton of passes. And I definitely pride myself on my route-running and receiving skills. But more than anything else, at the end of the day, I’m a football player. I’m someone who fights for everything out on the football field and who … does NOT like to get tackled.”

This is a perfect description of Shenault’s game. He is capable of being utilized all over the field, and he will make the most of every opportunity he’s given. Shenault has found a good fit in Jacksonville to succeed and is going to get the chance to shine in this offense. For fantasy football purposes my recommendation would be to pick him up now, and if he doesn’t show any promise you can drop him for one of the hot waiver pickups early on. His upside is too high right now to leave on waivers, and it’s better to be too early in picking him up than too late.

 

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)

  • scott says:

    What kind of projections do you expect for the season?

    • Eli Grabanski says:

      Hi Scott!

      I see Shenault having a rookie year like AJ Brown or Deebo Samuel last year. If I had to project his numbers right now I would say about 800 receiving yards, 200 rushing yards, and 8 touchdowns and a very strong finish to the season.

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