Heading into the 2018 season, the Jaguars have a intriguing array of young, talented options at the wide receiver position.
When most people go to their favorite restaurant, they have in mind that one dish they’re going to order. Maybe it’s the sirloin, the cocktail shrimp or the gourmet fish tacos. Regardless, when another person or group goes to that same restaurant for the first time, they’re much more likely to comb through the menu. Ultimately they may opt to try several dishes or courses, sharing them with friends.
Just like that person or group of people treating themselves to the special dish at their favorite restaurant, most NFL teams have that number one wide receiver that’s their flashy, explosive, supremely talented, go-to guy.
When thinking of a true WR1, The likes of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and T.Y. Hilton all come to mind. But GM Dave Caldwell and Oldly Minted (pun intended) VP of Pro Personnel Tom Coughlin are like the later group of people walking into the upscale restaurant blindly for the first time. Instead of seeing that one eye popping dish to invest in, they order a number of dishes hoping their gamble will leave them satisfied.
In 2017, the Jaguars – who ran the ball on 50 percent of their offensive snaps from scrimmage (ESPN Stats & Information) – had two receivers with over 700 yards receiving in Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole. They had two other pass catchers – Allen Hurns and Dede Westbrook – who would’ve been on pace to meet that mark had their season not been cut short by injury. Although Hurns was released by the Jags, he was replaced by the equally talented Donte Moncrief whose career has also been hampered by injuries.
Both Cole and Westbrook were rookies last year, and had to step up after perennial number one wideout Allen Robinson tore his ACL on the third offensive play of the season. Both should also give Jaguars fans plenty to look forward in the passing game for years to come. Cole went on a tear over a four game stretch last year, recording one of the best individual game performances for a wide receiver last season in Week 15. While he was very streaky, and took the first half of the season to get going, the former undrafted rookie was only a rookie.
With Cole’s impressive route running, explosiveness, and ability to win 50-50 balls, his production should only improve from here. Additionally, he has a year under his belt playing under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system, and building a rapport with quarterback Blake Bortles. There’s no doubt that he could evolve into a prototypical number one wideout in 2018, however because of lack of consistency it’d be unreasonable to depend on him as such. Regardless, the sky is truly the limit for Cole.
Westbrook was widely seen as one of the top wide receivers in last year’s draft class – being projected to go as highly as the first round in some mock drafts – before off-field issues shoved him into the fourth round. A core muscle injury pushed his NFL debut back to week 10 of last season.
Once on the field, Westbrook flashed glimpses of what scouts loved about him at Oklahoma. He was a contributor as a outside receiver where he averaged an impressive 12.56 yards a catch. Westbrook was also able to consistently gain separation and catch balls in tight windows, showing outstanding concentration. Like his rookie counterpart, Keelan Cole, Westbrook is another exciting, young player that has big time potential.
Both players were talented enough to the point where the Jags brass in the front office allowed a 2015 Pro Bowler in Robinson to depart.
Instead they opted for the football version of a two-for-one, re-signing Marqise Lee and signing Donte Moncrief from the Indianapolis Colts. Lee was Bortles go-to target over the middle – leading the team in receptions. Lee is at his best when creating matchup nightmares in the slot, and making plays in space with green grass in front of him. Moncrief is more of a mid-long range vertical threat who can take the top of defenses while opening up the underneath routes. Both guys feel like they have yet to reach their ceiling.
In Cole, Westbrook, Lee, and Moncrief, the Jacksonville Jaguars have four wideouts who have a uniquely different skill set, yet possess the ability to be big time difference makers. As a result, the Jags have a much more evenly distributed level of talent across their wide receiver depth chart than most teams. The drop off from the WR1 to his WR2 sidekick is typically significant – for example, in Indianapolis the next best wideout after T.Y. Hilton is Kamar Aiken. The even level of talent depth chart wide will create one-on-one mismatches all over the field.
The idea of having a deep depth chart of wideouts without a definitive number one isn’t some kind of novelty, either. Take for example the Superbowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, whose leading receiver – tight end Zach Ertz – had 824 yards through the air.
Being able to spread the ball around is an innovative, effective strategy that keeps defenses both guessing and off balance. It also gives offensive coordinators more free range/creativity in their play calling, and options in the playbook.
Speaking of offenses, Bortles is going to have to keep up his end of the bargain, too. While the 2014 third overall pick made leaps and bounds in 2017, he’s going to need to maintain accuracy throwing the football and consistency in his performance for these receivers to truly reach their potential.
If he’s able to consistently get the ball to his talented wideouts, opposing defenses will be forced to respect the Jags passing attack, which ranked in the bottom half of the league in yard per game and touchdowns last season. This’ll also open up more holes for bell cow Leonard Fournette who was pitted against stacked boxes and defensive fronts his entire rookie year.
Considering that the Jags may add another talented wide receiver prospect in the draft, have improved their offensive line in free agency, and utilize a run-first approach, this could be a offense that’s cooking with gas for years to come.
Rather than opting for a singular dish at the five star restaurant that they loved and investing all their resources in that, Caldwell, Coughlin, Marone, & Co. opted for the smorgasbord sampler platter. In that platter they got dishes that were all different, but equally as good. We’ll see how the return on their investment pays dividends.