If there was anything that went well coming off of a 2-14 record, it had to have been the wide receivers. Justin Blackmon really came into his own during the final stretch of the season and Cecil Shorts almost breached 1,000 yards before an unfortunate concussion put a stop to possibly the only thing to cheer for towards the end of 2012.
Regarding roster turnaround, Laurent Robinson was released coming off an extremely disappointing year. He signed a pretty hefty contract last year, and didn’t do very much once he did get on the field. This is mainly due to the numerous concussions he sustained over the course of last year, and I personally hope he never sets foot on a field again for the sake of his health and his future. Other than that, there have been some new pieces added to the group with free agent acquisition Mohammed Massaquoi, the drafting of Ace Sanders in the 4th round of this year’s draft, and most recently the acquistion of yet another former, Patriot Jeremy Ebert. Jordan Shipley was also re-signed during free agency.
The only two set here are Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, and Blackmon is missing the first 4 games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. This will do nothing but further intensify the most intense position battle we have covered thus far. Here’s the tale of the tape for all 11 receivers on the roster…
- Justin Blackmon: The 2012 5th overall pick started off slow last year, but came out of nowhere for a breakout game against Houston
in mid November when he went absolutely wild with 7 catches for 236 yards and a TD with a long of 81 yards. After that game he seemed to get things on track and finished the season with 64 rec, 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was easy to see Blackmon’s ability when on the field, but unfortunately he’s becoming more known for his off the field antics. He’s already been in trouble twice within a year, and it’s imperative that this young man gets it together. Bradley says he trusts Blackmon, and I think it’s the right thing to do. “Bringing down the hammer” simply helps no one. He’ll certainly be missed the first four games. The only thing he can do now is get on the field by training camp (he’s been sitting out OTAs with a groin injury), work hard and do the best he can to improve his craft.
- Cecil Shorts III: Shorts was selected in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. His rookie year was underwhelming. Then all of a sudden he has a breakout campaign in 2012. Shorts was so much fun to watch as we Jags fans witnessed him take the next step and turn into a professional on the field. He finished the year with 55 rec, 979 yards and 7 touchdowns. That is the most production we’ve seen out of the wide receiver position in a long time, and this was with less than stellar quarterback play. It didn’t seem to matter though who was at QB, Gabbert, Henne, Shorts played well with both. This year he will be relied on even more with Blackmon sitting out the first quarter of the year. Shorts will certainly be one to watch in 2013.
As stated earlier, everything after these two is up for grabs. Introducing “the field”
- Mohamed Massaquoi: a 3rd round pick out of Georgia in the 2009 draft, Massaquoi never really panned out in Cleveland. Blame it on injury, poor quarterback play, quarterback carousels, whatever, this could be Massaquoi’s last stop. Last year he only had 17 catches for 254 yards. I do, however, like his experience. He’s played in 54 career games, starting in 43 and has 118 career receptions for 1,745 yards and 7 TDs. At 28, I believe he’s one of the oldest wide receivers on the roster. He can play inside and out, and I think he has a chance to be starting opposite Cecil Shorts come September.
- Ace Sanders: Sanders was taken in the 4th round of this year’s draft, and as electric as he could be in the slot, I believe he makes his
impact this year on special teams. In 2012 at South Carolina, Sanders returned 29 punts for 429 yards (14.7 yard average) and 2 TDs with his longest return at 70 yards. The Jaguars have had zero threats in the return game, and hopefully Sanders will be the guy who fixes this ongoing problem.
- Jordan Shipley: Shipley was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft. After a very good college career, Shipley was expected to become a reliable target for the Bengals. As the story goes, injuries caused him to fall out of favor and he was waived in 2012. He was picked up by Tampa Bay, but was released in September after fumbling a punt. He signed on with the Jaguars in November of last year and actually did pretty well all things considered. He played in 6 games, catching 23 passes for 244 yards and 2 TDs. He was re-signed by the Jaguars in March. He’ll be competing for slot duty.
- Mike Brown: Brown showed up last year as a workout guy, but earned himself a contract. There was a nice little piece written recently on Brown at on jaguars.com. You should definitely read it. Anyways Brown was a QB in college, and worked very hard last year, starting as a workout player, and finishing the season on the active roster.
- Toney Clemons: Clemons was drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round of the 2012 draft. He spent the year on their practice squad, and was signed off of their practice squad by Jacksonville in late November. He finished the season with 3 grabs for 41 yards. On a team that is trying to get younger, Clemons at least has age on his side.
- Jeremy Ebert: Ebert was drafted by New England last year in the 7th round, released during final cuts, and then signed onto the Eagles practice squad where he spent the majority of last season. He was picked up by the Patriots again…and then released again. The Jaguars signed him last week where he will add even more competition to an already crowded group.
- Taylor Price: Another former Patriot, Price was drafted in the 2nd round by New England in 2010. It didn’t work out in New England, and Price was picked up off waivers by Jacksonville in late 2011. He was having a pretty decent camp and preseason last year before hitting injured reserve in August. Price has been with the team longer than most of the other guys at the wide receiver position, and this will certainly be his last chance with the team, and possibly the NFL.
- Jamal Miles: Miles is an UDFA out of Arizona State who is a part of the 23 collegiate free agents who signed after this year’s draft. He’s 5’09, 188 lbs., runs a 4.44, has a 36 inch vertical and 10 ft. broad jump. He played in 43 games for the Sun Devils and made his mark mainly as a returner. Actually he was the best returner in school history, 1,866 career return yards, 80 career kick returns for an average of 23.2 yards per return and 43.3 return yards per game. Four return TDs, 10 receiving TDs, 2 rushing TDs, and even threw for a TD. Brought 3 kicks back for a TD and had a long of 99 yards. Miles seems to offer a little bit of everything, but as impressive as his college stats are he’s not getting as much attention as this next UDFA…
- Tobias Palmer: Palmer was signed out of NC State after the draft. His 2012 college stats: 54 rec, 781 yards and 6 TDs. However, his most important number is 4.39, which of course is referring to his blazing speed which has apparently been pretty easy to see in OTAs. If Palmer continues to show up in OTAs and on into training camp and preseason, he could sneak on as the 5th or 6th receiver, depending on how many the team decides to carry.
The battle for the last 3 or 4 spots will be one of the absolute fiercest, most intense battles to watch. There are plenty of competitors at the position, all young and hungry.
Blackmon missing the first 4 games changes the entire landscape of the wide receiver group. They might decide to go a little heavier at the position than originally intended. Who will start opposite Cecil Shorts? Who will man the slot? Are there any holdovers (Price, Brown, Clemons) who have any shot to make this roster? What about Ace Sanders? Can he be the return threat who can change the outcome of a game? Where did the Jags brass find these two collegiate free agents? Their college resumes look pretty impressive, and Palmer’s speed isn’t anything to sneeze at. Will Massaquoi and Shipley make the most of what could be a final chance at an NFL career? Will Justin Blackmon stop drinking?
So much to watch for at this one folks. Get your popcorn ready.
-David R. Johns