What did the Jaguars' special teams unit show us in Heath Farwell's first year at the helm?
The Jacksonville Jaguars' 2022 season was one for the ages.
After just four wins in the previous two seasons combined, the Jaguars won the AFC South in thrilling fashion with a 9-8 record, won a home playoff game in the final seconds vs. Justin Herbert, and went down to the wire with Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in a hostile playoff environment.
For a team to do that, a lot has to change. It started with head coach Doug Pederson instilling a new culture in and out of the locker room and a retooling of the roster in free-agency and the draft by general manager Trent Baalke's front office alongside Pederson's coaching staff.
"We’re paid to do a job, and our job is to put the best product we can on the field. I’ve never listened to the noise," Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said this week. "The noise doesn’t determine the decisions that we’re going to make as an organization. I think the best thing you can do when there’s a lot of noise is put ear plugs in and go about your job, and that’s what we tried to do. Again, it’s never one person that makes these decisions.
"It's a group decision, organizational decision. Doug (Pederson) and I are very much involved together in this process, and we involve everybody underneath us to the nth degree. There’s a lot of collaboration that people don’t see behind the scenes.”
Now, we have a chance to look at just how much the Jaguars showed us and what we learned about each piece of the team. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching, front office, and everything in between.
After going through the offense and defense , we are now turning our attention to the special teams unit.
The special teams group was led by new coordinator Heath Farwell in 2022 and by nearly every metric was an extremely improved unit.
After the mess the Jaguars had at the special teams coordinator position in 2021, Farwell provided stability and advanced coaching. Combine this with some stellar performances across the board on every special teams coverage or return team, and it is hard not to be impressed by the unit.
After finishing No. 24 in Rick Gosselin's esteemed special teams rankings in 2021, the Jaguars improved all the way to No. 11 in 2022. It was clear to see why, too, with the Jaguars' special teams playing mistake-free football in terms of the coverage teams throughout the year, while also making several impact plays in each phase.
A year after the only bright spots of the Jaguars' special teams were the punter and return man, the Jaguars left 2022 with the ability to boast about their kick and punt coverage teams and their field goal unit, areas that struggled mightily before.
So, what did we learn about each part of the special teams group this year and what could it mean moving forward? We break it down below.
What we learned: The Jaguars are in better shape at kicker entering this offseason than they were in training camp. Kicker Riley Patterson is an exclusive rights free agent in 2023, but it would be fairly easy for the Jaguars to retain him and have some stability and confidence at the position moving forward. Patterson didn't wow to start the year and did have one especially bad game on the road vs. Kansas City in Week 10, but he finished the year 16-of-16 on extra points and 16-of-17 on field goals to close out the regular-season, with his lone missed field goal coming in a downpour vs. the Jets. Then in the playoffs, he was 4-of-4 on extra points and 3-of-3 on field goals, including a game-winner vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card Round.
What to watch moving forward: Jacksonville should look to keep Patterson in 2023 after the success he found this year, but it is always worth looking at how they can potentially improve the roster. Last year's search for a kicker that saw them take several swings and misses in street free agents should probably be a lesson about the unknown, but could the Jaguars have a name in mind for 2023? We will know soon.
What we learned: Logan Cooke is still one of the best punters in the NFL. A mix of an improved offense and an aggressive fourth-down coach meant Cooke kicked a career-low number of punts in 2022, but he managed to consistently nail teams within their own 10-yard line this season even when he was coming off the bench cold. Cooke had what looked to be his best season as a punter yet, reaching new levels of accuracy in terms of corner kicks than he has ever had before.
What to watch moving forward: Will Cooke get the recognition in 2023 that he should have gotten in 2022? Despite consistently ranking as one of the league's best punters in terms of efficiency and volume metrics, Cooke still doesn't have a Pro Bowl or All-Pro nod under his belt. That should change as the Jaguars receive more national attention moving forward.
What we learned: Chris Claybrooks and Daniel Thomas were more than enough to replace Rudy Ford. While Ford was never going to make an impact on the Jaguars' defense in 2022, it was at least worth wondering what his release at the end of training camp meant for the special teams units after Ford had proven to be an elite gunner on coverage teams. Third-year defensive backs Chris Claybrooks and Daniel Thomas were genuinely elite as gunners in his place in 2022, making up for the subtraction of Ford by consistently downing punts within the five-yard line. Claybrooks was especially effective in this role, using his speed to keep a few punts at the one-yard line toward the end of the year.
What to watch moving forward: Another coverage player who stood out in 2022 was Chad Muma. Muma was terrific through the first-half of the year, but his special teams snaps decreased over the second-half as he saw more snaps at linebacker in a rotation with Devin Lloyd. If Muma has a big role on defense again in 2023, it is worth wondering if the Jaguars need to add another athletic linebacker to take his place on special teams.
What we learned: Jamal Agnew is as dangerous as ever as a returner. Agnew’s 26.0 kick return average was the second-highest in the AFC (min. 20 kick returns) and he had two kick returns of at least 50 yards in the regular season, including a 54-yard return in Jacksonville’s Week 18 victory against Tennessee. He then took it to another level in the playoffs, making an impact in each playoff game.
In the postseason, Agnew returned seven kickoffs for 265 yards (37.9 average) and three punt returns for 23 yards (7.7 average). Agnew’s 37.9 return average is the second-highest in a single NFL postseason by any player with a minimum of five kick returns. Agnew had four kick returns for 134 yards with a long of 52 yards against the Chargers and three kick returns for 131 yards with a long of 63 yards against the Chiefs.
What to watch moving forward: Will the Jaguars keep Agnew in 2023? He isn't set to be a free agent, but it is worth wondering since he will be entering the final year of a three-year deal. Agnew has more value to the return game than the offense, but is it enough for the Jaguars to accept a $5,881,373 for their No. 4 receiver?
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