Editor’s Note: Pictured here is the infamous 2008 Jaguars’ receiving corps. Can anyone guess how many of these players are still on the Jaguars’ roster? Bonus question – How many are still in the NFL?
Here are a couple of things Zoltan thinks about after the Jaguars’ wide receiver situation…
- I think the Jaguars are once again officially lacking a #1 wideout. Yes, Mike Thomas is a multi-purpose tactical weapon, but he is not an “X” receiver – your traditional #1 WR with the size to beat the jam and the speed and moves to run the entire route tree. What about Jason Hill? What he showed in the second half of the season looked promising, averaging 22.5 yard/catch in the last 6 games, but he will no longer be a surprise for opposing defenses, as he was last year. We’ll have to wait for next season to decide if the Jags found treasure in
the 49ers trash or if the Hill pick up was simply Fool’s Gold. What about Jarett Dillard? Now, he is an interesting player; Vic Ketchman once said that Dillard could become a “catch machine” in the Jaguars’ passing game. I think if he can stay healthy, which has been his biggest problem as a pro, he can become a Mike Sims-Walker type of player. For now, he must prove his durability or the Jaguars will likely move on without him. Is rookie Cecil Shorts an option? General manager Gene Smith is counting him as a 3rd/slot receiver, so let’s see if he can fulfill that role first. The remaining guys – Osgood, Underwood, Hughes - have very minimal chance to becoming the #1 WR. Sadly, the “X” or split-end receiver in the Jaguars’ offense has been more of a decoy then a real threat for the last two years, with the #2 WR receiving most of the benefits. In 2009, opposing defensive backs and coordinators zeroed in on Torry Holt, paving the way for Mike Sims-Walker’s emergence, who racked up 869 receiving yards and 7 TD. After the Jaguars and Holt parted ways, Sims-Walker became the top receiver on the depth chart, but his results were underwhelming – besides his 7 TD’s, he often struggled with injuries and managed only 562 receiving yards. Some of this was due to more attention from opposing secondaries, some was due to the Jaguars’ play calling (slants, slants, slants), and some was due to unstable QB play, but no matter which way you slice it, MSW underacheived in 2010. Meanwhile, Mike Thomas showed no signs of a sophomore slump and had a great year, leading the Jaguars’ in receiving yards and receptions. That, plus the promising contribution by Jason Hill, lead Gene Smith to extend the former 49er’s contract, instead of Shack Harris’ 2007 3rd round pick. With Sims-Walker gone, the Jaguars must once again find a go-to receiver, something they’ve truly lacked since Jimmy Smith retired. Who could be that player in 2011? Right now, the best anyone can offer is a guess. Maybe Mike Thomas will play the role of the “decoy receiver” this year and Jarrett Dillard, Hill, or even Shorts will reap the benefits and become the statistical leader, despite not being the designated #1.
- I think though Gene Smith prefers big, powerful linemen, he does not particularly looks for size and strength in his receivers. Not long ago, the Jaguars receivers more closely resembled basketball players: Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, and Ernest
Wilford all towered at 6’4” or higher. The top four receivers on the projected depth chart are all 6’ tall or less: Jason Hill, Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard, and Cecil Shorts. A few guys further down the list are slightly above 6 feet, with Kassim Osgood being the only “big target” at 6’5”, but he is used mostly in special teams. There was a rumor during before the draft that Jacksonville could go after a big, go-to receiver in an early round, but the only pass catcher selected was 5’11” Cecil Shorts in the 4th round. Sure, the Jaguars have a big target in 6’6” Marcedes Lewis, but in the endzone, you would like to see some big receivers. I wonder if the Jaguars will go into the season with this undersized receiving corps or if the front office is planning on adding a tall undrafted rookie or a veteran free agent. The front office has alluded that their free agency signings will likely be defensive upgrades, so don’t expect the Jags to make a big addition to the WR position. I would prefer to see another big pass-catcher who can be a dependable option, in addition to Marcedes Lewis.
- I think I see four and half locks at the wide receiver position. Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts are pretty safe bets and Jarrett Dillard should be too, if he can prove that his health problems are behind him. He could easily pull a “Mike Sims-Walker” in 2011, breaking out in his third year after his first two seasons were marred by injury. I think Kassim Osgood is a lock, because of his massive contributions as a special teams player and because of his size, which is now rare on this roster. He and his coaches are probably underwhelmed with his receiving numbers, but he was drafted to be a “gunner” on kickoffs and punts, so I don’t think he is in a bubble. I think the Jaguars will go with six wideouts, with the last spot filled by one of two players who are going into a true “make or break” offseason. Nate Hughes is will push hard, but we’ve seen many time that he has pronounced limitations. Tiquan Underwood will be the other WR competeting for the last spot, and is currently heading for the dreaded distinction of being the first of the GM Gene draftees to be released. Thus far, the Jaguars have seen more from him as a kick returner than as a wide receiver and he will need a lights-out training camp and preseason to stay on the final roster.
- I think in the near future, the Jaguars must address the #1 wide receiver position, most likely via the draft. I don’t want to start the “draft early-round weapons for Gabbert” movement, because the last time the Jaguars did that, Matt Jones and Reggie Williams gave the Jaguars a few years of mediocre production and then never played another regular-season down of NFL football. If nobody emerges as a true #1 out of the Hill-Dillard-Shorts trio, I would like to see the Jaguars sign a proven veteran free agent in the next offseason, who fits the Jaguars system (as both a player and a person) OR spend a 2nd round pick on a top-notch receiver, although the front office may already have their eye on tight-end Michael Egnew, who will be a senior next year at Missouri and was one of Gabbert’s favorite weapons. During “Evening with the Scouts” earlier this month, Gene Smith said that he will study Egnew very closely this season. Another great pass catching TE would be great, but I hope the Jaguars try to get their own Larry Fitzgerald/ Andre Johnson/Calvin Johnson/A. J. Green – in other words, a true #1 wideout. Gene Smith will most likely not draft a receiver in the first round, but I hope he will address that need sooner rather than later, because Mike Thomas is the only proven receiver on the Jaguars’ roster and as I wrote earlier, is not the answer at the split-end/”X”/#1 WR spot.
- I think Cecil Shorts is another one of the Jaguars’ picks who must prove the critics wrong regarding Gene Smith’s small-school drafting trademark. I wrote in my post-draft article that I’m apprehensive of this pick, because I think this might be another attempt to copy the Colts’, this time by picking Pierre Garcon ver. 2.0. Also, some people I trust that have actually seen Shorts play at Mount Union and were not optimistic about this pick either. They say it would be very difficult for Shorts to repeat his success in the NFL. Those who see this pick in a more positive light are saying that Shorts runs great routes, has a natural instinct for the position, and possesses great hands. I fear that the jump between Division III and the NFL will be a huge challenge for Shorts and his smaller stature might leave him vulnerable to big hits in his first few years. I hope he proves me wrong, but I have limited expectations for him.
- Zoltan Paksa