In recent years the Jacksonville Jaguars have faced a "yeah, but" problem with their offense. The solid running game, the productive line play, even with the quarterback problems, the sore thumb of the Jaguars offense is the Wide Receiving Corps. Despite having two first round draft picks in Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, the Jaguars have not yet found the heir apparant to Jimmy Smith, and even throughout the outstanding 2007 season lacked the receiver that guaranteed a double team and that would strike fear into defensive game planning.
While the Jaguars went through an offensive explosion last season, there are still question marks surrounding the receivers. Will Reggie Williams repeat his 10 touchdown and 600 yards or was those merely outliers? Will Matt Jones wake up or stay in Jack Del Rio's doghouse?
The offseason only added to those questions as the Jaguars charted an aggressive course to surround quarterback David Garrard with as many weapons as possible. Jerry Porter left the miserable and hopeless Oakland Raiders in a 30 million dollar free agent contract. The Jaguars traded with the Minnesota Vikings to get Troy Williamson for a 6th round pick.
There is an impressive amount of draft picks in the receiving corps. Three first round picks (Williams, Williamson, Jones), two second round picks (Porter, Northcutt), and a 7th round pick in John Broussard round out the group. Toss in the four undrafted free agents and you've got a pretty intense competition for what can only be 5 or 6 roster spots, not including free agency.
It's already obvious that the Jaguars are going to use three roster spots for Quarterbacks. The Jaguars usually have 24-25 players on their final offensive roster, carrying 6 WR's will mean less offensive linemen or tight ends. So while this exercise in roster prediction is based of carrying six, the Jaguars might find themselves in a need of depth elsewhere, leading to a more difficult picture.
Three Wide Receivers can rest easy going into the 2008 Season. Either because of contract or because of performance, these three guys are a lock for a roster spot.
- Jerry Porter: No comment needed here, he's here to bring some spark to our offense and to give David Garrard a consistent target downfield. There are 10 million reasons why he'll be our number one receiver on opening day.
- Reggie Williams: The much maligned and dance loving wide receiver burst onto the scene last season with 10 touchdowns and 629 yards, both career highs. There are some who consider this an outlier, but it could be the awakening that the first round pick was waiting for. This should be toward the end of Reggie's contract with the Jaguars, and another 8-10 touchdowns could ensure him a decent contract with somebody in the near future.
- Dennis Northcutt: The least safe of the safe three, if that makes sense. Dennis brings something to the table that other receivers lack, and that's an ability to return punts. That alone nearly assures him a roster spot. With Porter and Williams on the outside, Northcutt should spend plenty of time working out of the slot, which is a natural spot for him. He was expensive last year, and that fact alone gives him job security
The Muddled Middle:
Predicting the season for the next group of wide receivers is nearly impossible. They're either inconsistent, unproven, or unreliable, but have a substantial investment of some sort that makes them likely to be on the final roster, but it's by no means a sure thing.
- Matt Jones: If the Jaguars elect to carry only five wide receivers, Matt Jones is gone. There are just too many hard working players that actually seem to enjoy the game of Football to let Jones occupy a roster spot. That said, he had a fairly respectable season last year when he was allowed to play, and somehow he catches the ball in clutch situations. The constant fade routes drive fans crazy though. Were Matt Jones to show up to OTA's and Training Camp in good shape and with the right attitude, he could almost be considered a lock. Unfortunately, Matt Jones needs to decide if he wants to be a football player or if he wants to pack it in.
- Mike Walker: If he's healthy, he's a lock. If he's hurt, it's another year on the practice squad, at best. Jacksonville used a third round pick in 2007 to take a chance on an impressive, albeit damaged, talent. So far Mike is batting .500 on OTA participation, but if he can make it through the offseason without knee swelling or other problems, the Jaguars just solved their Wide Receiver problems for sure. The better Mike Walker looks in practice, the less secure Matt Jones may be in his roster spot.
- Troy Williamson: This is a case of a player that has every chance to prove himself and take a roster spot. Troy is the speedy deep threat that keeps the safeties deep and opens up a lot of options for the Jaguars offense. He's also universally derided for his inability to catch the ball when wide open. The Vikings thought they were robbing the Jaguars when they received a 6th round pick for the maligned wide receiver. Now he's fighting for a spot on a team that's willing to give him a chance to prove the critics wrong. Williamson and John Broussard are competing for the same roster spot, if Troy can show sure hands, he's got the job.
The Rest of the Story:
- John Broussard: On his first catch in an NFL regular season game, Broussard was on the receiving end of a 56 yard touchdown pass in what seemed to be a sign of good things yet to come. Unfortunately, an ankle injury forced John onto the Injured Reserve and out of the picture. His size and durability are an issue as 173 lbs is on the frail side for a receiver. John must watch Troy Williamson very closely, as if Williamson falls short, Broussard can make the roster as the speedy deep threat, albeit less proven. If Williamson works out, John can expect another year on the practice squad.
- Derrek Richards: The key to making an NFL Roster is to be as multi-functional as possible. Richards, an undrafted free-agent from Utah, is just that, a 5' 11'', 182 lb receiver that ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and can return both kicks and punts. With the Jaguars wanting to use Maurice Jones-Drew more on offense, there is an opening on the team as a kick returner. Should Derrek show his speed, there's a spot for him as a special teams/return specialist. If nothing else, Richards has practice squad written all over him.
- Jeron Harvey: This is a prototypical Jaguars receiver: 6' 5'', 215lbs, a little slow, a little sloppy in route running, but big enough to dominate for the ball. If anything, Harvey needs to learn to play up to his size. The Houston wide receiver is a long shot for the final roster, but if things play out right, should expect to be on the practice squad. Of course, for things to play out right, he'd probably need to combine a strong performance with either Broussard or Richards making the final roster. What hurts Jeron is his unproven record on special teams. If he can find a second role, he'll improve his odds tremendously.
- D'Juan Woods: Last year's undrafted free agent spent time bouncing from the roster to the practice squad. He's clearly a player the Jaguars have an eye on as a developing prospect, but will probably be a victim of the numbers game. It's unlikely that the Jaguars put more than two wide receivers on the practice squad, so only the most outstanding of performances puts him on the team in any fashion.
- Clyde Edwards: This UDFA from Grambling will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad. He's not as strong as a return man as Richards, and has the longest of long shots to make the team. He'll be performing in the preseason for the NFL Scouts, rather than the Jaguars coaching staff.
6 Receivers, 2 practice squad
Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams, Dennis Northcutt, Mike Walker, Troy Williamson, Derek Richards (PS: John Broussard, Jeron Harvey)
5 Receivers, 2 Practice Squad
Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams, Dennis Northcutt, Mike Walker, Troy Williamson (PS: Derek Richards, John Broussard)