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Can Christian Kirk be a true No. 1 WR in Jacksonville?

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) runs the ball after a catch against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars set the NFL on fire when they signed former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72-million dollar contract this offseason. The deal reset the wide receiver market, leading to a domino effect around the league that resulted in stars such as Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown getting traded.

Many have ridiculed the Jaguars for the move, pointing to Kirk’s middling box score as a sign of the overpay. The question still remains: was it worth it? Can Kirk become the alpha wideout Jacksonville has lacked since Allen Robinson‘s departure in 2018?

Kirk’s production in Arizona was hampered by the talent around him. He ranked second on the team in targets each of his first three years, the first two behind Larry Fitzgerald and the third behind DeAndre Hopkins. He finally led the team in that category with 112 in 2021 because Hopkins was limited to 10 games. 

Hopkins' injury and Fitzgerald's departure allowed Kirk to step up as a full-time option, and his PFF grade reaped the benefits. He posted a career-high 72.7 receiving grade in 2021 — just lower than Adam Thielen and Amari Cooper and higher than Courtland Sutton and Hollywood Brown. Overall, Kirk finished 22nd in receptions (83) and yards (1,035) and 14th in contested-catch percentage among those with at least 25 targets (68.4%).

The former second-round pick mainly operated inside last season, running 77.8% of his routes from the slot. His 82.6 drop grade from the position was higher than elite receivers such as Hill and Chris Godwin. Meanwhile, his 11.8-yard average depth of target figure from inside ranked seventh, tying Stefon Diggs, and his eight contested catches tied CeeDee Lamb and Cooper Kupp for third-most from the slot. 

Kirk is much more effective inside than outside, as he posted a 62.5 receiving grade in 2020 when he ran 83.7% of his routes outside. Kirk will likely take slot snaps away from former second-round pick Laviska Shenault Jr. and corner-turned-receiver Jamal Agnew, who ran 57.8% and 70.8% of their routes from inside, respectively. 

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