The Jaguars will have no shortage of firepower in the passing game this season. Headlined by Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, the offense will likely land in the top ten in many statistical categories.
Even with rising superstars at quarterback and wide receiver, Jacksonville will look to the tight end spot for production in both the passing and running game.
The Jaguars made their commitment to the position known in 2015, signing former Denver Bronco Julius Thomas to a five year, $46 million contract. The contract made Thomas the fourth highest paid tight end by annual salary, ranking ahead of players like Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen.
Missing the first four games due to a finger injury, Thomas played in the final 12 games last year, finishing third on the team in catches and receiving yards, ranking behind the talented receiving duo of Robinson and Allen Hurns. The gifted pass catcher tallied 455 yards on 46 catches, while reaching the end zone five times.
Bortles showed interest in involving the tight end, targeting Thomas seven or more times in six games.
With Robinson and Hurns at the forefront, Thomas will likely fall into the same spot he did a year ago as the third receiving option. If his health holds up, Thomas' numbers are likely to jump slightly, but fans should be happy with stats around the 50-60 catches and 550-650 yard range.
As long as Thomas can bring a reliable set of hands and serve as another red zone threat, then he will flourish this season with most of the attention of defenses going to the Allens.
Entering his eleventh year with the team, Marcedes Lewis will be the second option at tight end this upcoming season. Earlier in March, the Jaguars re-signed their 2006 first round pick to a three year deal worth $12 million. Lewis has stated his intention to finish his career in Jacksonville.
After limited usage his rookie year, Lewis has been a staple in the Jaguars offense, having six seasons with over 30 catches and five with over 400 yards. Lewis' production has faded as father time and Thomas has caught up with him. His 16 catches a year ago were his lowest since he caught 13 in his rookie season. But on a positive note, Lewis played in all 16 games for the first time since 2012.
But while he's no longer frequently called on to produce with his catching, Lewis remains an integral part of the pass game through his blocking. Coach Gus Bradley called the longtime veteran one of the team's best pass blockers, praising him for effort that doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Lewis will likely be used to help protect Bortles again this season, both as a blocker and as a receiver to bail out the third-year quarterback. While this year may be one of his last, fans can expect to see Lewis contribute this season as long as he stays healthy. He will also be a reliable stand-in if the injury bug lays claim to Thomas.
Coming out of Notre Dame, a school that has produced tight ends such as Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack had less expectations than his Irish counterparts, being drafted by the Jaguars in the seventh round in 2015. Koyack appeared in all four preseason games a year ago, but logged zero time in the regular season.
Koyack will likely be looked to as a replacement for Clay Harbor, who caught 14 passes a year ago but totaled nearly 300 yards in consecutive seasons in 2013 and 2014.
While Koyack won't blow you away with any particular skill, he is a relatively balanced player with the ability to block and catch when needed. At 6-foot-5, Koyack's size lends well to dealing with defensive ends, a position that is leaning to explosiveness more than hulking players these days. His ability to catch the passes he should will keep Koyack in the fray, specifically if Thomas or Lewis experience injuries as they have in the past.
With Lewis' time in Jacksonville winding down, look for Koyack to remain with the team, using the next year or two to grow into and cheap and dependable option at the No. 3 spot, possibly becoming No. 2 once Lewis retires.
Rounding out the position is Nic Jacobs, a third-year player who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by New Orleans in 2014. At 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, Jacobs offers another large presence at TE, specifically in the blocking arena. Jacobs appeared in 24 games the last two years, catching three passes.
His size allows him to block either in or outside, although he was criticized for his lack of foot speed coming out of college. As the fourth option, Jacobs will likely appear sparingly, most likely in the blocking game when needed. And although he is still a raw prospect, Jacobs provides depth at the position that the Jaguars could use in case of injury.