by Cole Pepper
Of all of the Jaguars position groups, perhaps none has a higher ceiling and lower floor of potential than the wide receivers.
At their best, the Jaguars young wide receiving tandem of Cecil Shorts (above) and Justin Blackmon evoke memories of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. Shorts, who scored five touchdowns of 40 yards or longer and averaged 17.8 yards per catch, second best in the NFL.
Blackmon, meanwhile, came on late in the year. He caught at least five passes in six of the last nine games of the year, including a massive 7 catch, 236 yard game at Houston. Shorts is entering his third season in the NFL, Blackmon his second. You can see the potential.
Then again, Shorts sustained two concussions, including one that ended his season on Christmas Eve, keeping him from a shot at a 1,000 yard season. Blackmon will miss the first four games of the year after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and he’s yet to prove that he can make mature decisions off of the field.
It’s a classic NFL story of not really knowing what you have.
Best case scenario? Shorts continues to make big plays down the field and isn’t slowed by defenses focusing on him and Blackmon returns in week five, motivated and determined to keep his nose clean.
The worst case? Shorts goes the way of Laurent Robinson, becoming concussion-prone and Blackmon keeps making bad decisions off the field and gets suspended for a year. Then what?
Shorts and Blackmon aren’t the only receivers who could make a difference for the Jaguars, but they may be the only ones capable of being every down pass catchers.. After being picked up in November, Jordan Shipley looked like a guy who can play the slot. He caught 23 passes in six games for the Jaguars last season. If the Jaguars are going to have a dynamic offense, Shipley will likely have to play a supporting role.
Other wide receivers to keep an eye on include free agent acquisition Mohamed Massaquoi. The former Georgia Bulldog has never lived up to his draft status (he was a second round pick by the Browns in 2009) but a new team and different expectations may be just what he needs to resurrect his career. Toney Clemons, who showed some flashes at the end of last season. He’s a big receiver at 6’2″ and 210 pounds. It will be interesting to see how much rookie Ace Sanders is used at wide receiver. He will clearly be given the chance to return punts and my feeling is that the Jaguars coaches hope that they don’t have to rush him into service at wide out, at least not early in the season.
Defining Success: For starters, staying healthy. Second, for Blackmon to avoid more off the field problems. Third, for someone, Shipley, Massaquoi, Taylor Price, Ace Sanders…someone, to emerge as a true third option. Denard Robinson may also be looped into this conversation if he is used out of the backfield as an X-factor. Perhaps the best barometer for success for this group is to play well enough that, when evaluating the Jaguars quarterback, coaches and personnel guys won’t be tempted to use wide receiver play as an excuse for QB play.
*-will sit out first four games of the 2013 regulars season under league suspension