Jaguars select LSU WR Brian Thomas Jr. in the NFL draft, giving QB Trevor Lawrence a big target

Updated Apr. 26, 2024 12:27 a.m. ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Brian Thomas Jr. grew up idolizing former Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, mostly because they had similar body types.

The Jacksonville Jaguars would welcome Thomas coming close to Jones' pro production.

Jacksonville traded down six spots and drafted the LSU standout with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, continuing to build around franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Adding the 6-foot-3, 209-pound speedster should help offset the loss of Calvin Ridley to division rival Tennessee in free agency and give the Jaguars a chance to have a legitimate No. 1 receiver for the first time since Jimmy Smith retired following the 2005 season.


Thomas led the Bowl Subdivision with 17 receiving touchdowns last season. He finished with 68 catches for 1,177 yards, averaging a whopping 17.3 yards a reception and 34.9 yards on his 17 scores.

“Just my ability to use my speed, be able to get open and create space on defenders," Thomas said. "I would say that's a big role I played.”

Thomas joins a position group that includes Christian Kirk, Gabe Davis and Zay Jones. No one would be surprised to see the newcomer become Lawrence’s go-to guy at some point, maybe even in 2024.

“It’s a stacked room," Thomas said. "Just want to get in there and work and learn from all those guys and be the best I can be and work hard and do the things that I can do best, put in the work and see where the work takes me.”

Jacksonville signed Davis in free agency to a three-year, $39 million contract that included $24 million guaranteed. Kirk is scheduled to count $24.2 million against the salary cap.

Jacksonville's biggest issue last year was a lack of depth in the position room. Kirk and Jones both missed games, and none of their backups stepped up when called on to help.

“The more opportunities and more weapons you can surround your quarterback with, the better your chances are gonna be,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Now we have to coach ’em and we got to play, and there’s a lot of things that go into that, but it does help your chances.”

Added Baalke: “He is a guy that brings a skillset that we haven’t necessarily had to the level that he brings. He's (6-3), 209 pounds and he runs sub 4.4, and he's got the production to back it up."

It is the second consecutive year the Jaguars used their first-round pick to help Lawrence. They chose Oklahoma standout Anton Harrison with the 27th pick in 2023. Harrison stepped in at right tackle and was the team’s best lineman as a rookie.

They bolstered the O-line more by signing veteran center Mitch Morse in free agency and re-signing left guard Ezra Cleveland.

Hitting on receivers has been a weakness for the franchise. Jacksonville has selected nine wideouts over the first three rounds of the NFL draft in three decades of existence, and only two of those guys (DJ Chark and Allen Robinson) notched 1,000-yard seasons and just one (Marqise Lee) signed a second contract with Jacksonville.

It’s been a head-scratching stretch of futility the Jags hope to end with Thomas. He's the fifth receiver Jacksonville has selected in the first round — joining R. Jay Soward (2000), Reggie Williams (2004), Matt Jones (2005) and Justin Blackmon (2012). None of the previous four even reached 2,500 career receiving yards.

So Thomas has a chance to give the team something it has rarely experienced — a first-round success story at receiver and a big-time playmaker who could be around for years at the position.