AFC South: Stephen Williams

Free-agency series: Wide receivers

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
12:00
PM ET
Here is the third of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Wide receivers

Who’s on the roster: Justin Blackmon, Mike Brown, Chad Bumphis, Jeremy Ebert, Stephen Burton, Taylor Price, Denard Robinson, Jabin Sambrano, Ace Sanders, Cecil Shorts, Kerry Taylor, Lamaar Thomas and Stephen Williams.

Blackmon
Blackmon
Analysis: This position group is solid provided Blackmon is on the field. However, nobody knows when, or if, he’ll get back on the field. He is eligible to apply for reinstatement from his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy just before the 2014 season begins. Even if he’s reinstated, there’s no guarantee he’ll avoid another suspension. He is clearly the Jaguars’ best receiver, catching 29 passes for 415 yards in the four games in which he played in 2013. Shorts has played well the past two seasons (121 catches for 1,756 yards), though he has missed five games because of injuries and missed the final three games of this past season and went on IR with a sports hernia. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, though, and had some trouble when he was thrust into that role when Blackmon was suspended. Taylor came on at the end of the season and is intriguing as a No. 4/5 receiver. Brown and Sanders, who caught 51 passes last season as a rookie, are dependable slot receivers. In addition to Shorts, Burton, Ebert, Price and Williams finished the season on injured reserve. Bumphis and Sambrano are on the practice squad. Price’s contract expires next month and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

NFL free agents of interest: Hakeem Nicks, Eric Decker, Riley Cooper, Brandon Tate and Golden Tate.

Need meter: 5. The Jaguars could get by without adding a receiver in free agency, because it’s likely they’ll draft at least one. The position group needs an upgrade at the top end, but to get a big-time player the Jaguars will have to spend big-time money, and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll do that on a receiver. Regardless of whether it’s a free agent or a draft pick, it’s likely to be a bigger, more physical receiver, because that’s one thing the Jaguars lack. Burton (6-foot-1, 224 pounds) fits the description, but has just 15 catches in three seasons and battled a concussion much of last season.
Each day for the next two weeks we’ll review how each position group performed in 2013, and take an early look at 2014. Today we’ll examine the wide receivers. We did quarterbacks on Monday, running backs on Tuesday, tight ends on Wednesday, and we will do the offensive line on Friday.

Wide receivers

Breakdown of starts: Cecil Shorts (13), Mike Brown (6), Justin Blackmon (4), Ace Sanders (4), Kerry Taylor (4), Stephen Burton (2).

Shorts
Recap: For four games -- the only four in which Blackmon played -- the Jaguars were in pretty good shape. It was a little rougher in the other 12, however, especially after Shorts went on IR with a groin injury. By the end of the season, though, there were a few pleasant surprises.

Shorts still led the team with 66 catches for 777 yards and three touchdowns despite battling shoulder and groin injuries throughout the season. He struggled in the role as the team’s No. 1 receiver when Blackmon was suspended for the first four games but handled it much better during Blackmon’s second suspension.

He was the only other proven receiver on the roster when the season began but fourth-round draft pick Ace Sanders and first-year player Mike Brown developed into solid complementary receivers. Sanders, drafted mainly to be the team’s punt returner, got more work early because of Blackmon’s suspension and a back injury that kept Brown off the field for four of the first five weeks. His 51 catches were the third-highest among rookie receivers this season.

Brown (32 catches, 446 yards, 2 touchdowns) had the best per-catch average (13.9 yards) among the Jaguars’ wide receivers. He was impressive in his return to the lineup after a four-week absence due to a broken vertebra, catching five passes for 120 yards in his second game back, making him the only receiver beside Blackmon to have a 100-yard receiving game.

Taylor was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. He was signed Nov. 4 and caught 16 passes for 162 yards in the last three games.

Looking ahead to 2014

Players under contract: Blackmon, Shorts, Burton, Sanders, Brown, Taylor, Stephen Williams, Jeremy Ebert, Lamaar Thomas, Chad Bumphis, Jabin Sambrano.

The skinny: Shorts will be in the final year of his contract so he’ll have that as some added motivation to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Sanders, Brown and Taylor will go into camp as the Nos. 2-4 receivers and should be improved in their second season in the offense.

The wildcard is Blackmon. He can apply for reinstatement before the season begins. If he is reinstated, the Jaguars have to decide whether to cut or keep him, knowing that if they do keep him they run the risk of him failing another drug test and being suspended again.

It’s likely the Jaguars also will draft a receiver or try to add one in free agency. It’s also likely that whoever they add will be a bigger, physical receiver, which is something they do not have on the roster. They need a receiver that can go up and win the 50-50 battles for balls, especially in the red zone. Right now tight end Marcedes Lewis is the only player on the roster who has proven he can do that.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had 18 players on Wednesday's injury report but only three, all of whom are receivers, are in jeopardy of not being available for Sunday's game at the Houston Texans.

Starter Mike Brown (shoulder) and Stephen Burton (concussion) were among eight players who did not practice on Wednesday. Brown was hurt during the Jaguars' 27-14 loss to Arizona last Sunday. He is averaging a team-high 17.0 yards per catch (17 catches for 289 yards).

Linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) and defensive tackle Abry Jones (back) also missed practice because of injuries. Defensive end Jason Babin, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, center Brad Meester, and defensive tackle Roy Miller were given a veteran's day off.

Cornerback Will Blackmon (shoulder), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip), safety Winston Guy (hamstring), tight end Danny Noble (hamstring), linebacker Paul Posluszny (concussion), guard Will Rackley (concussion), receiver Cecil Shorts (groin), receiver Stephen Williams (Achilles) and receiver Kerry Taylor (toe) were limited.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Just when the Jaguars offense had started to get on a roll, it’s dealt another setback.

The indefinite suspension of receiver Justin Blackmon takes away the offense’s best weapon, which means quarterback Chad Henne and the passing game are going to have to rely on a group of young, inexperienced receivers to fill the void for the rest of the season.

Blackmon
Blackmon
It also means Cecil Shorts, who leads the Jaguars with 46 catches for 565 yards and one touchdown, will have to shoulder the load as the team’s No. 1 receiver and deal with the resulting attention from opposing defenses.

"Justin’s a very good football player," general manager Dave Caldwell said. "So when you lose a player of his magnitude somebody else is going to have to step up. This is a great opportunity for some of our guys to step up and fill that void.

"We’re just going to have to find a way to get on track here. It’s only a distraction if we allow it to be and Coach [Gus] Bradley is not going to allow it be a distraction."

Shorts was the Jaguars’ top target in the first four games while Blackmon was serving his first suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, catching 26 passes for 337 yards. He was pretty much a one-man show because the other receivers were rookie Ace Sanders, first-year players Mike Brown (a converted quarterback) and Jeremy Ebert, waiver-wire claim Stephen Burton and undrafted rookie free agent Tobais Palmer (who has since been cut).

Blackmon’s return had an immediate impact on the offense. In the first four games of the season the Jaguars averaged 224 yards of total offense and 7.8 points. In the first two games with Blackmon in the lineup the Jaguars averaged 362.5 yards of total offense and 19.5 points. He caught 29 passes for 415 yards and one touchdown in the four games in which he played after catching 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2012.

Now the Jaguars will have to find a way to replace that production. Shorts has proven to be a solid receiver, catching 103 passes for 1,574 yards and nine touchdowns in 32 career games with the Jaguars. The rest of the receivers -- Brown, Sanders, Burton, Ebert (who’s on the practice squad), rookie Denard Robinson and waiver-wire claim Stephen Williams -- have combined for 54 receptions and two touchdowns in their careers.

That’s not exactly proven help.

There is some growing confidence in Brown, who spent most of last season on the practice squad as he made the transition from college quarterback. He made his first career catch in the 2013 season opener against Kansas City before injuring his back and sitting out the next four weeks. Since his return he has caught 12 passes for 212 yards (17.7 yards per catch) and one touchdown.

Sanders has at least played a significant number of snaps (304) and has 16 catches for 182 yards this season. The only other receivers who have caught passes this season are Ebert (two for 10 yards) and Burton (one for 7).

"We look at it as a great opportunity to overcome a situation that's been presented to us," Caldwell said. "And when we look back on situations like this in the future, we're going to remember how tough it was and how rewarding it's going to be when we get to where we want to be."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider