The Jacksonville Jaguars have a stacked position group at wide receiver, and Keelan Cole Sr. is near the top of the pecking order, especially after the training camp he just went through.
An undrafted free agent in 2017, Cole burst onto the seen as one of the most-impressive receivers in the NFL. While many rookie receivers struggle, Cole seemed to do just the opposite, becoming the team’s most-successful receiver during the year.
In his rookie season, Cole hauled in 42 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns, leading the Jaguars in receiving yards.
His play would only seemingly decline from there, however. A lackluster 2018 saw Cole’s production plummet, hauling in only 38 passes for 491 yards and one touchdown. In 2019, it seemed to be more of the same after the then-third-year player saw his snaps continue to decrease, seemingly out of the game plan week-in-and-week-out.
This year, however, the Jaguars have seen a resurgence in the fourth-year player, and head coach Doug Marrone has noticed his improvement.
“In regards to Cole, he plays multiple spots and he has had a really good camp,” Marrone said not long before camp broke in August. “He’s got really good hands, can play all three positions, he makes the tough catch, he’s been very consistent, he’s become better at this route running, he’s been able to get in and out a little better, so you see an improvement from last year to this year.”
Cole has had the appearance of being one of the team’s best receivers during camp, perhaps second only to DJ Chark Jr., the team’s unquestioned No. 1 wideout. In what Marrone once called one of the most competitive rooms on the team, in terms of position groups, Cole’s performance is unquestionably notable.
Through all of the adversity, and lack of playing time, Cole’s chemistry with second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II has grown exponentially through training camp. Minshew glowed when asked about Cole during a Microsoft Teams press conference last week.
“I love Cole,” he said. “I mean, really going back to last year, we had some good things working. When he’s in the lineup he’s really, really good for us and I expect that to continue.”
As mentioned previously, Cole’s role in the Jaguars offense under former Jaguars offensive coordinator John DeFilippo seemingly decreased week after week. In all, the fourth-year receiver played in only 34% of the snaps, a steep decrease from the 66% and 67% he accumulated over 2018 and 2018, respectively.
From what Minshew has seen this year, it is clear he’s becoming a target-favorite for the young quarterback, something that should bode well for a team needing success out of its receivers this year.
“He’s a really fast guy,” Minshew continued. “He’s got a stride, great ball skills, big catch radius, friendly target for us QBs. And he’s a fun one to just kind of talk [to], because he’ll give it to you straight. He’ll tell you how he sees it, we tell him how we see it and we can get on the same page that way.
Entering this offseason, Cole was slated to be a restricted free agent. The Jaguars subsequently placed a second-round tender on him, giving him a one-year contract worth $3,259,000. For the organization, and Cole, this year could mean everything.
“I love throwing to Cole and I’m excited to see what he’s going to be doing.”