Jaguars must rely on WR Donte Moncrief with Marqise Lee out

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone isn't looking for just one receiver to replace the loss of Marqise Lee, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Saturday night. That responsibility falls to every receiver in the room, he said.

In theory, that works. Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett would be happy if Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Jaydon Mickens, Rashad Greene, and Donte Moncrief would all elevate their level of play to compensate for losing the team's most experienced receiver.

In reality, though, it has to be Moncrief.

He's the most experienced (152 catches in 53 games) and among oldest (25) receivers on the roster. The Jaguars signed him to a one-year, prove-it contract to help provide some veteran leadership along with Lee after Allen Robinson departed in free agency.

With Lee gone, that responsibility is all on Moncrief. He has to be the player the rest of the receivers -- who have appeared in a combined 45 games -- lean on. Marrone said they want Lee around the team after his surgery because they value his toughness and leadership, but it's just not the same coming from a player that isn't out there on Sundays.

"I like to let my actions [lead]," Moncrief said. "Just go out there and give them something to see. Just basically tell the young guys, 'You've got to come out there every day ready to work. It's not just going into a game and go out there and make plays. You've got to do it at practice. You've got to be able to go out there every day and get trust and gain trust from the quarterbacks, so go out there and be ready to make plays all around the field blocking and catching.'"

Moncrief had some issues in his four seasons with Indianapolis. He played in every game his first two seasons and caught 96 passes. However, he missed 11 games in his final two seasons because of injuries, and there were times when his effort and attitude were called into question.

His physical attributes -- 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, 4.3 40-yard dash -- are fantastic, but the Colts eventually gave up on the player they took in the third round in 2014, because he never consistently played to those attributes. Part of that is certainly because he didn't have Andrew Luck in 2017.

Moncrief has a fresh start in Jacksonville, where GM Dave Caldwell gave him $9.6 million guaranteed, and the reviews have been positive. He fought through a leg injury early in camp and has eight catches for 106 yards in three preseason games.

Moncrief certainly makes the Jaguars better equipped to handle the loss of their top receiver than they were last season. When Robinson went down in the season opener, the Jaguars were forced to rely on Cole and Westbrook more than planned. Cole was an undrafted rookie out of Kentucky Wesleyan and he was clearly overwhelmed the first half of the season. Westbrook missed the first nine games because of a sports hernia.

Lee and Allen Hurns were experienced veterans, but Hurns missed six of the final seven games of the season because of an ankle injury. So it was Lee, the two shaky rookies, and Mickens (an undrafted first-year player) during the stretch run of the regular season. Blake Bortles admitted there were times when he called plays in the huddle and got blank looks from the young receivers -- not what you want to see as a quarterback.

It's a much better situation in 2018 and Moncrief is a major reason, which is why the Jaguars aren't likely to pursue free agent Dez Bryant. Bryant doesn't replace Lee's skills, and his own skills have eroded to the point where he struggles to get separation.

Cole, Westbrook and Greene will have bigger roles with Lee gone, but the most pressure is on Moncrief.