Faceoff: The Jaguars Receiving Corps
Clayton Gray: The most noise we've heard from any Jacksonville receiver is how much Mike Sims-Walker wants to play with his buddy in Miami. Sort out the Jacksonville receivers. Will there be a fantasy-worthy player there? Is this mess simply a mess?
Matt Waldman: I think Jason Hill is an excellent value pick. The former Washington State star was considered a future starter when the 49ers drafted him. However, minor injuries kept him out of camp and frustrated an old school coach like Mike Nolan. I remember Nolan playing Grinch to Mike Martz's initial enthusiasm about Hill, who did yeoman's work with San Francisco with limited opportunities. When the 49ers finally cut Hill loose, the Jaguars were almost giddy about adding him to their roster. Although he saw limited time and didn't have a full training camp, he did some great work for Jacksonville late last year. The stats aren't the way to judge a player like Hill last year - you had to watch the games. Hill wasn't just targeted (successfully I might add) on go routes. David Garrard was confident enough in Hill to target the receiver on routes inside the hashes like intermediate digs and skinny posts on third downs. I think Hill has a stylistic similarity to Isaac Bruce. I don't think Hill has that talent, but he has enough skill to become and 1100-1200 yard receiver in a good offense. David Garrard has enough skill to pull that "I'll show the organization what I didn't show enough of consistently before they dump me for the rookie," mentality that we saw from Jon Kitna in Cincinnati (Carson Palmer waiting in the wings) and Drew Brees in San Diego. I don't think he'll do it, but even if the Jaguars passing game is up and down in 2011, I think Hill can easily reach 700 yards and a 6 scores and I think 800-900 yards is more likely.
Jeff Pasquino: I also like Jason Hill, but something tells me that the lineup of Mike Thomas / Hill / Cecil Shorts will be impacted by whatever wide receiver they snag in free agency. This group screams "we need a veteran" to make an impact, and there are enough WRs without homes that could land in Jacksonville. While I don't see the Jaguars as an attractive landing spot for a free agent, some may not have that many options and sign a one-year contract.
Should the Jaguars add a player like Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens (I think it most likely will be TO), that would push Mike Thomas back down to WR2 and into his proper Z-WR / flanker spot outside of the tight end. Primadonna WRs go to the WR1 / split end / "X" receiver spot on their own island, and Mike Thomas is not that kind of guy. Adding a true WR1 would also push Hill into the slot and allow for formation flexibility with rookie Cecil Shorts. Of course, Marcedes Lewis at tight end will have a big impact, but the lack of a true WR1 really hurts this team right now. I expect the depth chart to adjust after free agency to put the players in different spots where they will likely be more successful in those roles.
Jason Wood: When I think of the Jaguars receiving corps, I think of Jason Hill because I know Matt (Waldman) is so high on the kid. I trust Matt's eyes and that's made me at least pay attention to Hill, but I'm still not sold enough to rank Hill in my Top 60 at the position. He got targets (18 in the final three games) late, but didn't do very much with them (9 catches for 185 yards and no scores), and that was as much about last man standing as it was recognition of an emerging talent. Let's be honest, the Jaguars WR situation is a mess of epic proportions right now, and there are jobs on the line up and down the Jaguars front office and coaching staff. I know some beat writers have gone so far as to say David Garrard might not even make the team, but I doubt that and think he'll be the opening week starter. I do think, however, that the team will struggle enough that the team will hand the huddle over to Blaine Gabbert in the second half of the season.
I think Pasquino is spot on here in his view that Jacksonville will add a veteran to the mix. No matter which veteran they add, even someone like TO, I think he instantly becomes their best receiver -- hands down. A veteran WR + Mike Thomas as the WR2/posession guy + Marcedes Lewis as the main inside/goal line target + some combination of Hill/Shorts in multi-WR sets seems the most likely depth chart.
Mark Wimer: As Jason and Jeff note, Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver has reportedly asserted (contrary to his tight-fisted reputation as an owner) that the Jaguars will be players in free agency this year ("Wayne made very clear he is going to be a player going into the free-agent market," head coach Jack Del Rio said on June 16th. "We also believe until we have established ourselves, we're going have to use free agency to fill some holes.").
Keeping in mind that free agency may well usher in a new depth chart at WR, I'm avoiding the top of the depth chart in Jacksonville at the position - it is truly a mess from the fantasy perspective as of mid-June.
However, I'm willing to take final-round flyers on the following Jaguars' wide receivers in the event that they rise up the depth chart during 2011: Tiquan Underwood and Kassim Osgood. Underwood will enter his third NFL season this year (a season when, generally speaking, players who have underwhelmed at WR will either break out or bust out of the league), while Osgood is a big, 6'5" target who enters his second season with Jacksonville after arriving as a free agent from San Diego last year. It's now or never for Osgood after a season with this team. He should be more comfortable with Garrard (who is also in a "now-or-never" scenario in Jacksonville). If neither Underwood or Osgood surprise during training camp/early September, I'll churn them for a new "flavor of the week" from the waiver wire.
Sigmund Bloom: The Jags WR corps is at the intersection of a lot of uncertainty:
- The QB throwing to them? It should be David Garrard at the beginning of the season, but at least one Jags beat writer believes the team will give #10 overall pick Blaine Gabbert the opportunity to win the job in training camp. Garrard is prone to bouts of inconsistency and entire games when he looks like one of the worst starting QBs in the league (only to follow them with games when he looks like one of the best), so even if Gabbert can't win the job in camp, he should get the call at some point during the season.
- Former #1 Mike Sims-Walker is as good as gone, leaving Mike Thomas, a player better suited as a complementary #2 as the senior wideout of the group.
- Jason Hill showed the ability to be a downfield threat after he was claimed when the 49ers foolishly let him go mid-season, but he is mostly unproven and would have benefitted from the missed OTAs as much as WR on the roster.
- Small-school rookie Cecil Shorts and talented, but oft-injured Jarett Dillard will compete for the #3 receiver spot in training camp.
What this all points to is a #1 receiver who doesn't line up wide - in other words, a tight end - Marcedes Lewis. Lewis blew his career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns out of the water last season, and he could eclipse last season's totals this year by filling the vacuum in the passing game. Converted option QB Zach Miller could also help out if he can stay healthy, but Lewis will get the lion's share of target at TE. He is often going outside of the top 10 tight ends in early fantasy drafts and could be a good reason to wait on the position until after you have started stocking your bench with high upside RBs and WRs.