“WHO IS THIS GUY!?! I THOUGHT HE JUST PLAYED SPECIAL TEAMS!?!”
Go ahead and take a guess: Which Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver leads the team in targets, receptions, and is only three yards off from claiming that title in receiving yards? Well, if you choose anyone besides Jamal Agnew, you are wrong. No errors, no miscalculations, no lies. As of late, the former cornerback and 2017 First-Team All-Pro punt returner Jamal Agnew is the leader in the Jaguars wide receiver room. This type of surge is surprising to many and seemingly unprecedented. Or is it?
Let us explore the journey of Agnew and its parallels to another esteemed return specialist turned offensive weapon in an attempt to answer a.) is this statistical output sustainable? and b.) is this déjà vu all over again?
Devin Hester vs Jamal Agnew
The year is 2007. Chicago Bears cornerback Devin Hester, the previous season’s First-Team All-Pro kick returner and punt returner, is converting to wide receiver. By year’s end, Hester still struggled to find consistent involvement. Come 2008, he fully integrated himself as a consistent contributor. What exactly does a “consistent contributor” look like?
Devin Hester Weeks 4-16 of the 2008 season (per Stathead):
12 games, 80 targets, 43 receptions (53.8% catch rate), 567 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns, 119.8 point per reception points (9.98 points per game), WR37 overall
For context, Hester scored the same number of points in that span as Robert Woods has in 2021 to date. It does not sound that impressive given Woods has done so in four fewer games but hey, the NFL is different now than it was back then! Teams throw more now! At any rate, why go through all this trouble? Maybe this comparison is lazy, but I believe the similarities are present. How about we look at what Agnew has contributed over these last three games played?
Jamal Agnew Week 5-8 of the 2021 season (per FantasyData):
3 games, 25 targets, 17 receptions (68% catch rate), 157 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 39.5 point per reception points (13.2 points per game), WR31 overall
Kind of interesting, right? Both players ran sub-4.45 40 yard dash times at the NFL Combine, initially contributed as special teams players, and played cornerback before transitioning to wide receiver. Crazy! Want to know a key difference between the two? Unlike Hester’s immediate year two transition, Agnew only converted to wide receiver last year, his fourth year in the league. Granted, Hester is widely considered to be the greatest return man of all time and was a second-round pick in the NFL Draft, whereas Agnew is a former fifth-round pick without nearly the same acclaim. But hey, plenty of people (including myself) thought we would never see another player like Hester upon his retirement, and perhaps we have stumbled upon another with greater upside as an offensive weapon. While I am not ready to boldly stake that claim, signs are at minimum encouraging. Now feels like a good time to zoom out and consider whether or not Agnew is worth the add in fantasy football leagues.
Now, I am not a particularly big fan of this exercise, but if we are to extrapolate this usage rest of the season, we’re looking at about 68 catches for nearly 700 receiving yards, should Agnew maintain this pace. There are many factors that make this evaluation difficult, none more than Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer’s widely recognized baffling inconsistency as a play-caller. Don’t believe me? Just Google it. I don’t need to cite a specific source to speak to that point.
But if you take nothing else away from this piece, remember that this is not the first time we have seen a return specialist find relevance in an offensive role like this. Hell, it’s not even the first time we’ve seen it this season! Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson? Ever heard of him? To quote the great Tom Jones, this is not unusual for the year 2021. I implore you to at minimum take a flyer on Agnew and add him to your fantasy roster’s bench. Don’t believe me? Here is some further reading from my friend Jeff Bell of FantasyPros about the new wave of hybrid position players. Sneak Agnew on your bench and wow your friends and fantasy rivals if this pops off.