Jacksonville Jaguars May Have Found Modern Era ‘Thunder & Lightning’
Have the Jacksonville Jaguars finally found a wide receiver combination that could be as good as Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell?
In the early years of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the dynamic duo of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, better known as ‘Thunder & Lightning’ was all the rage.
Have the Big Cats of Duval County now found their modern era personnel for the re-birth of this dynamic duo? With the team’s recent moves in the NFL Draft, it is a possibility. Let’s take a look.
Back in the early spring of 1995, what is now known as ‘The Bold New City of the South’, Jacksonville, Florida, was awarded the NFL’s 30th expansion franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Coughlin, the team’s first head coach (and later football czar) held tryouts where a wide receiver from Jackson, Mississippi was just trying to make the team. Little did then-Jacksonville Mayor, the late Jake Godbold, and his city know just what Jimmy ‘J-Smooth’ Smith would become.
Many might not know the name, but Gary Uberstine played a huge part in the historic 1996 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Was he a player? No.
Was he a coach? No.
Was he a front office executive? No.
Uberstine was the agent who represented Smith, and one of the team’s free-agent signings (and current wide receivers coach), McCardell. The two pass-catching legends knew each other rather well, but still had some concerns about wearing the same team colors.
"“My first reaction to my agent was, ‘What?’ ” said Smith. “I told Keenan, ‘Dude, I don’t like you coming down here.’ I kept thinking about the revolving door. I didn’t understand then how Tom [Coughlin] was building that team.”"
The Jacksonville Jaguars struggled heavily to find an identity early on that season, but after the departure of the highly-touted Andre Rison during the bye week, Smith finally had his chance to shine in the spotlight, finishing the 1996 campaign with an AFC-best 1,244 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He helped the team win five consecutive games to put themselves in their first-ever AFC Championship Game.
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As impressive as it was, Smith wasn’t the only receiver that year with over 1,000 receiving yards as McCardell had gained 1,129 yards of his own.
The Jacksonville Jaguars pass catchers had found their identity – Thunder & Lightning.
From 1996 to 2001, no other receiving duo would outperform Smith and McCardell, arguably the league’s best tandem of the ’90s.
Since then, the Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled to find that same kind of production, durability, and consistency at the wide receiver position. Sure, they’ve pulled the trigger on plenty of guys who they thought might be ‘those guys’. Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, Justin Blackmon, Allen Robinson… those four names are painful enough for the Duval faithful but it could go on and on.
As painful as things have been, with third-year wideout DJ Chark (a 2018 second-round draft pick) and the 42nd overall selection of the 2020 NFL Draft, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., you have to wonder, have the Jaguars found the perfect dynamic duo for the re-birth of the ‘Thunder & Lightning’ brand.
Let’s take a deeper look.
The Strong, Physical Thunder
The havoc that McCardell wrecked against defenses in the middle of the field is what earned him the nickname of ‘Thunder’. Shenault Jr. brings that same style of aggressive intensity with his ability to break tackles and the kind of physicality you just can’t coach, to Jay Gruden’s offense.
Having the very same ‘Thunder’ from the early 90’s coach the modern era ‘Thunder’ is going to be really fun to watch. Shenault Jr. could find himself in the Black and Teal for a very, very long time.
McCardell and Shenault measure up fairly closer as they are both 6-foot-1 with the rookie being a thicker player. Both have the same kind of speed and can play on the outside or work the underneath route.
The Smooth Speed of Lightning
As Field Yates stated, Chark is a star in the making, leading the Jaguars with 1,008 yards receiving last season in 15 games. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season and figures to be the team’s go-to receiver once again.
Smith was iconic for elite speed and smooth agility. It was the combination of the two that paired so well with what McCardell brought to the table, that he was the quicker half of the duo. Smith is still in possession of several franchise records including career receptions (862), career receiving yards (12,287), and career touchdown receptions (67) to name just a few.
Chark is a lightning-fast pass-catcher who is now part of a unit that has three players – with Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley, who runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash. And at 6-foot-4, he has the height to go up and take away 50-50 balls in the air from defenders.
Both Chark and Shenault may not make Jacksonville Jaguars fans forget the greatness of Smith and McCardell, but they could carve out their own identity and niche as one of the greatest wide receiver duos in team history.