‘Element of speed’: Brian Thomas Jr. can open up Jaguars offense

Following a six-spot trade-back with Minnesota in the first round, Jacksonville exited Day 1 of the 2024 NFL draft with one of the class’s top wide receivers, Brian Thomas Jr. from LSU.

Not only is Thomas a proven pass-catcher from the most demanding conference in college football, he’s also an elite athlete, confirmed by his 94th percentile 40-yard dash time among wide receivers (4.33 seconds) and 82nd percentile vertical jump result (38 and 1/2 inches).

Speed and explosiveness stood out to Jacksonville general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson in their evaluation of Thomas, making him an ideal replacement for WR Calvin Ridley, who signed with Tennessee in March.

“You’re adding a skilled receiver, you’re adding depth, you’re adding a guy that has an element of speed that we haven’t had probably since Calvin last year,” Baalke said about Thomas.

“Once we get him in here too and really get our hands on him, get him into the playbook in a couple of weeks and really see how we can use him, I think it can only be a great asset for us on offense to not only open up the field, but I think open up some other elements of the offense.”

Pederson had similar takeaways, emphasizing Thomas’ frame — nearly 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds with plus arm length — and sharpness as a route runner, proven against some of the best competition college football has to offer in the SEC.

Over three seasons and 38 games with the Tigers, Thomas tallied 127 receptions for 1,897 yards (24.9 yards per catch) and 24 touchdowns.

He exploded in his junior season with Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels at quarterback, hauling in 68 catches for 1,177 yards (17.3 yards per reception) and 17 touchdowns in 2023.

“Great size, great size. He’s big, tall, has a really good route tree and can run all of the routes. Definitely, as you’ve seen, he can take the top off,” Pederson said.

“He’s going to see some different coverages too, he’s going to see a little bit better secondary guys. The SEC has good coverage guys, but he was going to see more defenses, different defenses. Those are things, as coaches, we will scheme up for him.”

Jacksonville has prioritized upgrading its wide receiving corps this offseason, even before Ridley’s exit. It agreed to terms with former Buffalo WR Gabe Davis and former Baltimore WR and return specialist Devin Duvernay during March’s legal tampering period, before Ridley surprisingly signed with Tennessee.

With veterans Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, the quintet appears poised to offer quarterback Trevor Lawrence the deepest wide receiver room he’s had.

Thomas is excited to infuse his talent into the group.

“Just my ability to use my speed, be able to get open, create space on defenders. I would say that’s just a big role in how I play,” Thomas said of his playing style. “I’m just happy to be a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars and just ready to get going.”

Story originally appeared on Jaguars Wire