Laviska Shenault: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been at the heart of fantasy football talks over the last week. In the span of 3 days the Jags traded away star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings, and outright cut their lead running back, and former number 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette. Nothing can be said to debunk the fact that the team is in full "tear it down and rebuild" mode, however this doesn't mean that the team is a fantasy wasteland in 2020. As the pillars of the team crumble one after the other, the dust begins to settle, and the silhouette of the Jags future can be seen. That figure, is none other than rookie second round pick Laviska Shenault.
Shenault was selected with the 42nd overall pick in this years draft out of Colorado. A 'do it all" man in college, Shenault was played all over the field, outside, inside the slot, and even out of the backfield. Looking at his measurements, it is easy to see exactly why he is able to be so versatile of a player. At 6'1"and 227lbs, Shenault is what we in the biz call THICC. Over the two college years of note, he was able to put up in 20 games; 142 rec for 1775 yards and 10 TD's through the air, and 40 car for 276 yards and 7 TD's on the ground. Those stats when averaged out to a per game basis come to approximately; 7 rec for 89 yards through the air and 2 car for 14 yards on the ground, with a TD through the air in 1 of every 2 games, and a TD on the ground in 1 of every 3 games. In a 0.5PPR format that equates to the 14 ppg without even factoring in the TD upside.
The talent is undeniable, but the two things that most people like to cling on to when shooting down Shenault are his overall health as a player for his team, and the conference that he played in. Only missing a total of 3 games over his last 2 years, one could think on the surface that Laviska was always helping his team on the field. But when diving deeper, it was easy to see that a majority of his time spent on the field, last year specifically, was time spent with lingering injuries. Multiple lower body injuries plagued Shenault's time at Colorado, and although not affecting the time spent on the field, the production did indeed take a hit. His overall on field speed and elusiveness took a massive dive as the season progressed in 2019, surmounting with a missed Bowl Game to end his Colorado career. Injuries are always a sticky talking point to get over when discussing fantasy outlook for players, because as the age old adage says "the best ability is availability." This fact may cause some fantasy owners to stay away from the Duval Deviant in 2020, but doing so would be a mistake in my book. The players track record from playing through pain and still producing at a moderate to high level is one not easily found in fantasy landscapes. That when paired with the teams massive need for a complement to the deep target style of DJ Chark, makes Shenault's promise in the offense for this year mouthwatering.
The competition debate is also one that many take note of when diminishing Shenault's college production. Residing in the Pac-12, Colorado still hold Power-5 conference luster, but unfortunately it is currently the lowest ranked conference in said pool. The recent decline of perennial powerhouses such as Stanford, USC, and UCLA, has left the conference feeling weaker in recent years. But what often gets ignored is how a player truly dominates against lower competition, and their ability to rise up against the stronger opponents. With Washington, and Utah still on the schedule for Colorado, Shenault found himself up against 2 of the Top-10 Defenses in FBS over the last two years. In those match-ups he was able to average 7 rec for 70 yards, and 2 car for 10 yards. The defenses knew they had to stop only one man, and although they were able to slightly limit his production, they could not quiet the beast. Shenault's numbers against non Power-5 teams followed suit by showing complete dominance of his inadequate competition. He averaged 9 rec for 113 yards and 2 car for 27 yards. No matter the competition, if fed the ball, Shenault was able to show out.
The Eye Test
The traits that jump off the screen for Laviska are his burst in the open field, his elusiveness, and his blatant refusal to go down on first contact. Using these traits with his physical measurement, Shenault is a problem for all defensive players, linebackers and defensive backs alike.
This first play by Laviska, encapsulates his raw athleticism and ability to play out of the backfield, in this case as a Wildcat QB. It takes him all of one second to read his hole, put his foot in the ground, and engage his burners. With a man in the gap and a DB with outside leverage, Shenault takes the direct snap up between the tackles and races 50 yards for the TD, humiliating the DB's who attempt to run him down. The most impressive thing to me about this play is the simple fact that it comes from out of the backfield. His positional versatility when paired with his open field speed makes him one of the most intriguing offensive weapons I've seen in a while.
This next play shows Shenault's unreal stop on a dime elusiveness in the open field. Similar to Deandre Swift, Shenault has a propensity to shake defenders with his sickening dead leg without losing much if any speed in the process. Even the slightest over pursuit by a defender, is cause for him to enact punishment on the poor man's soul in route to the endzone. Regardless of the defense you're playing against it is difficult to make so many defenders look SO badly, as often as Laviska is able to do on tape.
This next play is the definition of grit. Man on Man brutality. Dead to rights in the backfield Shenault lays the boom on the first defender, and then drives 3 defenders, 3 more yards in route to a 4 yard gain on a play that should have resulted in a loss of 1. This physicality is what NFL head coaches drool over from every position, but when it comes from your WR's, many times its the difference between a successful play, and disastrous one.
This last clip needs no explanation, it encompasses all of Laviska's traits into one juicy package. Watch. Enjoy. Learn.
Laviska is a polarizing prospect for most. Many see the physicality of a RB with the elusiveness and smarts of a WR. That kind of profile can scare the average fantasy player because often times it means the player has no true role. They could one day become as dominant as prime time Percy Harvin and shock the world, just as easily as they could become a forgettable gadget player ala' Tayvon Austin. For Shenault it is all about opportunity and health. If he can leave the nagging injuries that plagued his collegiate career behind him, he has all of the tools to become the new engine of the Jags offense in 2020. His versatility in position and stocky build, when paired with the newly available targets and carries left by the off-season departure of Fournette, show a pathway to fantasy relevance for the Colorado phenom. I don't expect a large volume of carries to go the way of Shenault but i do see him working into the backfield rotation, as well as manning a starting WR role opposite of Chark. This may seem like a lofty comparison, but if the cards fall like I think they will, and Minshew is forced to throw the ball more due to a lack of consistency on the ground, I can see a slightly less efficient version of A.J. Brown's rookie year. A season filled with physical play, the occasional breakaway TD, and chunk plays from the backfield. Shenault is my top rookie breakout candidate for 2020, and one of the only WR's in the class with a legitimate shot at 70+ touches for the year. Don't be shocked if this allegedly "fragile" sheep of the 2020 rookie class, soon becomes an alpha predator in your flex, as he stalks the open woods of the AFC South defensive backfields.
Current ADP: WR73
2020 Outlook: WR34