Finding The Jaguars’ Larry Fitzgerald
By Luke Sims
There are a few receivers in the NFL that are a cut above the rest. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Houston’ Andre Johnson, and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson are monsters that create mismatches and give defensive coordinators fits. The Wes Welkers, Mario Manninghams, and Marques Colstons only serve as supporting casts to the players that dominate the wide receiver position.
On the whole, the Jaguars have failed to find adequate receivers for some time now. Since the departure of Jimmy Smith, names like Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams, and Mike Sims-Walker have attemptedto gain the same kind of respect and production that Smith had. None have even found a foothold. With the start of the 2012 season two newcomers to the team will attempt to finally right the ship and fill the shoes of Jimmy Smith.
Laurent Robinson, the number three man in Dallas last year, and Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars 2012 first round pick, have the best shot to put up impressive numbers and begin to be recognized as a top receiver in the NFL. How do we measure these two receivers? Should they be compared to past Jaguars receivers and passing offenses or should they be compared to the league greats? As the headline suggests, I am going to examine the latter.
When comparing Blackmon and Robinson to Fitz, we will have to look at two sets of numbers: his first year in the league to compare to how Blackmon needs to play and his later years to match with Robinson. Keep in mind that Fitzgerald played with Anquan Boldin in Arizona for a number of years so he was not always the premier receiver on the team.
In Fitzgerald’s first season in the league, he started all 16 games and came away with 58 catches for a respectable 780 yards and eight touchdowns. His 48.8 yards per game was nowhere near the league leader (Carolina’s Muhsin Muhammad averaged 87.8 ypg) but helped to provide a spark for the team. His yards per game was a solid 14 below teammate Anquan Boldin but he helped to free up space by drawing defenders away from the other side.
When measuring Blackmon, I think that his ability to get open is similar to that of Fitzgerald’s. He has the skills to make plays on balls that other receivers do not and he has a knack for slipping past coverage and getting open. In an offense led by Blaine Gabbert – who I believe to be better than Josh McCown ever was – the odds of Blackmon getting a few more balls from the passing game are pretty high. I think that anywhere from 45-50 yards per game would be a success for Blackmon in his rookie year and would show that he is on the right path to be similar to one of the modern elite receivers. To keep pace with Fitzgerald, Blackmon does not have to be the best receiver on the team during his rookie season but, rather, a very strong contributor.
Comparing Fitzgerald to Robinson, we need to look at the production of Fitzgerald in his sixth season and see if Robinson can project to emulate that success in 2012 (entering his sixth season). As we do this, it is important to note that in 2009 (Fitzgerald’s sixth season), Kurt Warner had a superb season following Arizona’s 2008 Super Bowl run. In 2009, Fitzgerald had 97 receptions, 1,092 yards, and a career high 13 touchdowns. He accounted for about a fourth of all passing yards for the team that season. He consistently beat coverage and tied his counterpart, Boldin, with 68.3 yards per game and had an impressive 11.3 yards per reception.
Robinson has showen aptitude at his yards per reception, turning anything he touches into a big gain. In 2011, Robinson posted a whopping 15.1 yards per reception, more than doubled his yardage from the year before (344 to 858) and increased his receptions from 34 to 54. His production per reception is greater than any of Fitzgerald’s until the 2011 season. Robinson’s 11 touchdown receptions are a career high and should only rise with more targets and being a considerably larger receiver for the Jaguars in the red zone (in comparison to the rest of the receiving corps). While this will be Robinson’s third team in three years and fourth in his six years in the league, his ability to turn it on could make him comparable to Fitzgerald when he takes over as the premier receiver in Jacksonville.
While projecting Robinson to become Fitzgerald is a bit more difficult than Blackmon, the potential for both players to have breakout years and possibly be in the discussion as some of the best receivers on the season is there. Gene Smith did a good job getting top-flight receivers to Jacksonville for the coming years and that should translate into success for the passing game. Blaine Gabbert isn’t Kurt Warner, but he’s a lot better than Josh McCown and has some serious upside in comparison to John Skelton and Derek Anderson. If Fitzgerald can do it with no supporting cast, then I think one of the two Jaguars’ new targets can probably make a run and gain a foothold to start finally filling Jimmy Smith’s shoes.
– Luke N. Sims
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