Heading into the 2016 season, pretty much anyone could have told you that the Jaguars strongest position group was their wide receiver corps. With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both coming off of 1000 yard 2015 seasons and a lot of potential stemming from Lee, who had been previously limited by injuries, garnered high expectations heading into last year.
Robinson, Hurns, and Lee — the Jaguars “big three” at receiver since the 2014 offseason, when Robinson and Lee were drafted and Hurns was signed as an undrafted free agent — all remain on the roster. Robinson and Lee are entering a contract year, as both are scheduled to be free agents in the 2018 offseason.
The team also drafted “speedster” wide receiver Dede Westbrook out of the University of Oklahoma in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He has the speed to take the “top” off of NFL defenses and open up the middle of the field for other receivers, as well as accumulates yards of his own down the field.
Arrelious Benn returns to the team on a one year contract (with a second year option) after catching five passes for 116 yards and a walk-off touchdown last year. He was mainly utilized on special teams in 2016.
Bryan Walters, who was a fan-favorite during his time in Jacksonville, is the only receiver who wasn’t brought back from the Jaguars 2016 WR group. He was released with an injury settlement in late May.
The team also signed a couple undrafted free agent receivers to compete for the practice squad, and potentially a roster spot, after the 2017 NFL Draft in Amba Etta-Tawo out of Syracuse and Keelan Cole out of Kentucky Wesleyan.
While the Jaguars receiver group may seem to be, yet again, the team’s strongest position group on paper, there are some reasons for concern for the pass catchers.
Robinson saw a significant dip in production last year, while being totally healthy and not missing a game. He saw his receptions drop from 80 in 2015 to 73 in 2015, his yardage fall from 1400 yards to 883 yards, his touchdown count dip from 14 to six, and his yards per reception go from 17.5 to 12.1.
Hurns struggled as well, and presumably he struggled with nagging injuries the entire season. In 11 games played, Hurns saw his receptions drop from 64 in 2015 to 35 in 2016, his yardage drop from 1031 to 477, his touchdown count drop from 10 to three, and his yards per reception drop from 16.1 to 13.6.
Notice the repetition of the word “drop” in the above paragraph? It was intentional — Hurns dropped six passes (that’s 7.9% of his 76 targets) last year, which was tied for the eighth most drops in the NFL in 2016.
While Robinson and Hurns obviously regressed, Lee had a career year. In 2016, he recorded 63 catches for 851 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 13.5 yards per catch. All of these stats were higher than what he had compiled through his first two years in the league in total.
Given all of this, Robinson and Hurns have a lot to work on to return to their 2015 form, and Lee has to prove that he isn’t a one-year wonder. Although all three of those players will be on the field for the Jaguars in 2017 as well as the rookie Westbrook, this group of receivers has something to prove this season. It isn’t as reassuring of a group right now compared to how it looked at this time last year.
How does the Jaguars wide receiver group compare to this point in the 2016 offseason?
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