The week 1 matchup against Kansas City should have opened up your eyes to DJ Chark. He went off for 4 receptions, 146 receiving yards, and a touchdown. But if we have learned anything about week one over the years, it’s that we cannot overreact (remember Kevin Ogletree?). “Box score scouting” can also get us in trouble. The film is going to help us determine the difference between a fluke week and rising potential.
Much of the focus has been on Dede Westbrook this offseason who had the best chemistry with Nick Foles. Unfortunately, he Foles been knocked out for the foreseeable future. Chark, the Jaguars 2nd-round pick in 2018, is somewhat overlooked, but in addition to flashing in a big way in week 1, he got some buzz in training camp too. Here is what Chark is working with from a measurables standpoint:
If we are lucky, he is basically ‘free’, but to make an intelligent acquisition we must look at the film to determine if his recent performance is repeatable. The questions we should try to answer with film study are:
- “Does his speed show on tape?”
- “How well does he run routes and gain separation?”
- “Can he read defenses to find zone voids?”
- “How are his hands overall, in traffic, and around his frame?”
Chark’s speed shows up well on his 2018 tape. When he wins “9” routes it is typically with sheer foot speed where defenders who cannot match his feet will be vulnerable. Even better is his competitive toughness in these routes to push just a few extra feet of separation when he stacks defenders. We will see this when discussing his hands shortly.
When talking about separation, there are many ways a receiver can separate from a defender. Elite separators bring a variety of tools to the table to include how they stem routes, footwork approaching the breakpoint, the hand moves at the release vs press or secondary release, speed, quickness and body language at the breakpoint, and explosiveness out of the breaks. Additionally, separation can be achieved through mental processing as well, which can be seen settling into zone soft spots, or even working to become an available target during the scramble drill.
Chark has some of these tools to battle DBs. We can see some of these tools on display in the below GIF.
Chark is facing a Cover 3 look with Joe Haden lined up across from him with outside leverage. This leverage is atypical in Cover 3, but it is used when the DB wants to force/encourage the WR to go inside (typically where they have help). At the snap, Chark shows Haden what Haden wants to see: a stem inside. Respecting his speed, Haden bails almost immediately, exposing his back to Chark. Chark wisely attacks both Haden’s blind spot and leverage as soon as Haden bails, making it very hard to track Chark’s movement. Just as Chark passes the sticks, he sinks his hips and snaps around creating massive separation between him and Haden on this hitch route. Then we get to see body control and an ability to adjust to an off-target pass to expand his catch radius and showing sideline awareness.
Haden is a good CB. This route shows that Chark had a plan, was able to read leverage, adjusts to a change in the situation, and attacks leverage to create separation. It’s these types of routes (hitch, curl, comeback) that many analysts and evaluators look at to determine route-running ability. These routes require a significant, nearly opposite, change of direction that is dependent on good leg strength and explosiveness to execute at a high level. One thing to nit-pick a little is his posture at the breakpoint. Chark needs to add a more acute torso angle to his exaggerated step as this appears as burst to opposing DBs.
How well does he catch the ball? There are many aspects to evaluating a player’s hands. It could be boiled down to catch rate, but there is much more value we can garner by watching the process of the catch. Ball tracking is highly important for players with speed because the goal is for receivers to pull away from their competition and catch a high arching ball over the shoulder, in stride for maximum “Boom” plays. Chark shows a number of times where he was able to track the ball by “looking through his eyelids”. On these GIFs, we continue to see evidence of his speed.
Here Chark faces Steven Nelson (who grades slightly better than Haden per PFF) in press coverage in a Cover 1 look. Chark gets even with Nelson right off the snap, but it seems at first that he is unable to get back on his line. His competitive toughness and speed come together at the tail end of the route where he uses play strength to muscle through Nelson while tracking the ball. The takeaway is that Chark has good ball tracking ability, obvious speed, a desire that will not be denied, balance and concentration through contact. Nine routes have a lower success rate than any other route, but showing an ability like this should increase the chance of converting these “X” plays. We saw these same qualities in their latest matchup against the Chiefs as well.
The GIF above is another example of Chark working Nelson on the outside with good ball tracking, this time against a Cover 2 Man look. We see here play strength after the catch, fighting through Nelson’s tackle to get a few extra yards.
Reportedly Chark has looked great in OTAs, minicamp, and training camp and was even winning against good CBs like Bouye while building chemistry with Foles. Per Locked On Jaguars, the coaching staff seems to be expanding his route tree, which was a major concern based on the 2018 tape where he seemed limited to nines and crossers with some of the other routes sprinkled in sparsely. Given his speed, it’s understandable why Hackett utilized Chark frequently on those routes, but DeFilippo will be itching to prove himself as an OC and should utilize all of Chark’s capabilities.
Chark needs to work on his release vs Press. While his speed release is somewhere between good to very good, bigger more physical CBs with good hand speed and placement to disrupt receivers off the line will cause him some issues. Adding more release moves to his toolbox will make him more dangerous facing the press. If you want to wait to acquire him, continue watching him in these situations. If he continues to win off the line, regardless of whether or not he was targeted, we should buy low after a down game.
Chark’s lack of red-zone usage was baffling. In 2018, Chark saw only 3 total targets (and not many more snaps) inside the opponent’s 20. Given his height and 92nd percentile vertical, he really should get more love in this area. Add to that his ability to extend his catch radius above his frame, and we have a real red-zone threat. This is another that has reportedly improved for him this off-season.
One area that may have constrained his snaps are challenges with his ability to adjust to passes thrown behind him or low to the ground. The athletic attributes displayed in other areas of his game indicate he should be able to grow in this area. Minshew (Foles’ replacement) seemed to be a better passer than Bortles and Kessler in his debut which should require Chark to do this less often.
Chark has the upside to become a legitimate deep threat with the ability to win at various levels of the field. He has the mental processing ability to stem his routes, manipulate defenders’ hips, and the leg strength to break those tougher routes like curls and comebacks. His speed legitimately threatens DBs which should open up slants and double moves. Chark is probably one of the best buys out there given his potential, the evidence he has put on film, and he is likely still cheap. While it will be some time before Nick Foles returns, all this does is stretch the low-cost window for Chark. I’m buying, how about you?
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