Brian Thomas Jr.'s Fantasy Football Outlook as a Jacksonville Jaguar

May 01, 2024
Brian Thomas Jr.'s Fantasy Football Outlook as a Jacksonville Jaguar

With the 18th overall selection of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Brian Thomas Jr. The LSU Tiger switches from one cat to another and will help fill a vast hole created by the free agency loss of Calvin Ridley and the recent release of Zay Jones. With Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram solidifying the short and intermediate areas of the field, Thomas could become the team’s WR1, with plenty of vertical targets from quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

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Brian Thomas Jr.’s Prospect Profile

Brian Thomas Jr., a Louisiana native, was a star basketball player before entering the 2021 recruiting class as the nation’s No. 13 wide receiver. Despite offers from Texas A&M, Alabama, and Georgia, he decided to stick close to home and head to LSU, who had just had Ja’Marr Chase (first round), Justin Jefferson (first round), Terrace Marshall (second round), and Racey McMath (sixth round) join the professional ranks in the two previous NFL Drafts.

Thomas would take a couple of years to carve out a large role in the LSU passing attack, but by the 2023 season, he and No. 6 overall pick Malik Nabers had a great thing going. With Heisman-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels feeding them, they combined for 215 targets last season, accounting for a whopping 52.2% of the team’s target share. Even though Nabers put up an astounding 89-1,568-14 stat line, Thomas actually outperformed him in the touchdown department, leading the entire FBS with 17 scores.

Brian Thomas Jr. College Career Statline
Year Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns YPRR aDOT
2021 41 28 359 2 1.40 11.4
2022 48 31 361 5 1.36 10.0
2023 87 68 1,177 17 2.61 13.9

Throughout the 2023 season, Daniels proved to be one of the more prolific deep-ball passers in all of football, accruing the highest big-time throw rate (45.0%) on deep-ball passes in this draft class, according to PFF’s numbers. A lot of that was thanks to Brian Thomas Jr., who had nine touchdowns of 25+ air yards, which also led the draft class. No other receiver had more than six such catches.

Thomas consistently used his 4.39 40-yard dash speed to blow past his defender, and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock (now with Notre Dame) had no issues sending him straight up the field on go-routes. Per Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception,

“You’ll notice that Thomas’ route tree is pretty stripped down. A whopping 67.1% of Thomas’ charted routes were a slant, curl, or nine. It’s not the most limited route tree we’ve seen, but it’s something to note on his profile.”

It’s hard to argue with the approach, considering he was winning often enough to lead the FBS in touchdowns, but it might be something we need to keep an eye on if we’re hoping to consider him a WR1 fantasy option early in his NFL career. That early-career success will, of course, depend on his offensive environment, and at first glance, his new home with the Jaguars should be a good one.

How Brian Thomas Jr. Fits With the Jaguars

The Jaguars have spent this offseason revamping their wide receiver room as much, or more, than any other team in the league. As such, they are missing the second-highest percentage of air yards (67.6%) and the highest percentage of targets from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line from last season.

This is due to the team moving on from Jamal Agnew and Calvin Ridley through free agency and the post-NFL Draft cut of Zay Jones.

In response, the team added Devin Duvernay and Gabe Davis before making their final splash by taking Brian Thomas Jr. in the first round. That’s a lot of moving pieces, but they now have the rest of the offseason to watch these guys gel with Trevor Lawrence.

Thomas should slide immediately into the “X” role in this new-look Jaguars pass-catching group and be on the field for nearly 100% of the snaps, something that fellow rookie Rome Odunze may have a hard time doing in Chicago. If he ends up flowing directly into Ridley’s role from last season, we certainly won’t have any issues with volume: Ridley ran the fifth-most routes in the NFL in 2023, accounting for 132 targets.

We’ll just have to hope the team will use him a little more creatively after Ridley ran a curl, comeback, or nine routes on nearly 50% of Reception Perception’s sampled patterns last year.

Thomas will absolutely be Trevor Lawrence’s WR1 of the future, but Christian Kirk could very well out-target him in the early going.

Projecting the Jaguars Offense in Fantasy Football

With Ridley's addition to the roster last season, Kirk’s role as the slot option was the most efficient it’s ever been during his six years in the league. He set new career highs in yards per route run (2.07) and yards per reception (13.8). But having a true WR1 on the field, expectantly, dropped his usage from 7.8 targets and 11.8 half-PPR points per game to 7.1 targets and 10.1 half-PPR points per game from 2022 to 2023.

What’s even more impactful for fantasy is Kirk’s usage near the end zone, which was essentially ghosted with the big-bodied Ridley in town. His ten targets from within the opponents’ 10-yard line in ‘22 shrank down to only two targets in the same range last season. This trend is unlikely to change with the 6’4” Brian Thomas Jr. now in town. The additions of the rookie and Gabe Davis should continue to suppress Kirk’s upside, which puts him in the WR3 range as a safe, albeit boring, addition to rosters.

Speaking of Davis, he held the “deep-threat” role on this offense for all of six weeks, but those days could be over before they really started. While the addition of Thomas doesn’t make Davis’ big-play ability obsolete, it’s fair to wonder why they would avoid drawing up those plays for the uber-athletic player they just drafted in the first round. With Evan Engram earning 140 targets last year, there’s a very real scenario in which Davis is this team’s fourth pass-catching option now, which makes him a tough click as anything more than a dart throw.

As for Thomas, he could garner the third-most targets on this team, depending on what we think about the likelihood of a repeat of Engram’s huge 2023 target share, but the rookie could (should) lead this team in touchdowns. Ridley had the fourth-most targets from the opponent’s 10-yard line last season (13), and we should expect the Jaguars to dial up plenty of those looks for their new alpha.

The Jaguars project as a pass-heavy offense that finishes in the top 10 in scoring. With a solidified 3WR set, Engram, and Travis Etienne all at Trevor Lawrence’s disposal, his ascension as a reliable top 12-to-15 QB option should be complete.

Bottom Line

  • Brian Thomas Jr. only had one “breakout” season at LSU, but his athletic profile and ability to win over the top should have us excited for fantasy.
  • The Jaguars acquired the 23rd overall pick, a fifth-rounder this year, and third- and fourth-round selections in next year’s NFL Draft for the Vikings to move up to the 17th overall selection. They still got Thomas as the fourth receiver off the board.
  • Even with Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones out of town, the target distribution could get a little muddy in 2024.
  • According to current Underdog ADP, Thomas is coming off the board as the WR38, Christian Kirk is the WR33, and Gabe Davis is the WR55. Thomas feels like the most likely option to out-kick this ADP by the season’s end and will no doubt sprinkle in some WR1 weeks. If he reaches the top 30 options throughout draft season, we may have to put on the brakes.
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