Does Potential Matter Anymore?

After a disappointing 8-8 season, many of the Jaguars players and coaching staff have a lot to prove entering the 2007 season. Seated as firmly as anyone on the Jaguars training camp hot-seats are former first round draft picks, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones.

Unfair expectations, development time, new offensive systems, injuries, and different quarterbacks throwing the passes are just a host of excuses that these two can make on why they haven't lived up to their hype or draft status. Can you think of any others? I just wanted to get the excuses out of the way early on so the Jaguars first round draft pick wide receivers can now concentrate on being useful football players on the field.

All of the "excuses" listed above are legitimate, and they certainly are reasons why both Reggie Williams and Matt   Jones haven't reached their potential. But it's years four and three in the wide receivers' respective careers, and the excuses need to go away for these guys. Reggie and Matt have both shown flashes of potential in their brief NFL careers, but neither has shown that they can be the consistent play-makers that the Jaguars envisioned them to be when they made them first round selections, and multi-millionaires.

Time certainly appears to be running out on Williams and Jones in Jacksonville. The Jaguars signed Dennis Northcutt as a free agent this season and drafted both Mike Walker and John Broussard to try and strengthen the wide receiving corps, and it now appears that Williams and Jones may not have automatic roster spots in '07, as they had in previous seasons. Reggie Williams has potential that is as great as any receiver in football, but his on-field production has been less than average for a third-round pick, much less a guy that was drafted ninth overall. Matt Jones has physical abilities that are not usually found in a guy his size, but appears to lack the toughness and desire that it takes to be an NFL star, or even an average NFL receiver that is consistent and can be counted on.

So what do the Jaguars do? Head coach Jack Del Rio has said that some of the players on the roster need to stop "living off their potential." He was clearly talking about Williams and Jones when uttering those comments. Del Rio has also said that nobody's job is safe. I'd like to believe that, but I'm not so sure. A lot has been whispered about the Jaguars parting ways with Williams and Jones before this season if they don't perform as well as some of the other guys, but I don't think it makes sense, at least not yet. The Jaguars can absorb the salary cap hit of releasing either player, Jones especially, but is it really in the teams' best interests?

All of the excuses above have undoubtedly had an impact on Reggie Williams' lack of production. Many fans hold him to a higher standard because of his draft status, but what if he was a fourth round pick? Many people would be talking about his upside and toughness, and how he's just coming into his own. Injuries have also played a part in Reggie's numbers. Not so much injuries to him, but to his quarterback. Williams started the '06 off like a house of fire as he had 24 receptions for 297 yards, and four touchdowns in the Jaguars first five games. After Leftwich's injury, Williams finished with only 28 catches for 319 yards and no TD in the final 11 games of the season. Reggie may be brash, and may celebrate some of the smallest on-field accomplishments like it was a gold metal in the Olympics, but what he showed in the beginning of the '06 season leads me to believe that he deserves another shot with his starting quarterback.

As for Matt Jones, he suffers from some of the same issues. A lot of people forget that Jones had never played wide receiver prior to entering the NFL, and he has the expectations of a first round draft pick. If Jones were drafted later on, many people would be talking about his nine career touchdowns in just five career starts. Sure, Jones 4.38/40 speed doesn't translate onto the football field, and he has some toughness questions and issues, but why would you give up on a first round pick just two years into his career? A first round pick that's scored nine touchdowns in very limited duty.

If I were part of the Jaguars coaching staff, and someone who made roster decisions, I would keep both Williams and Jones, but I'd also make it very clear that this is their final opportunity to prove something. Sure, up to this point neither guy has earned their paycheck or lived up to their draft status, but most of the great receivers in the NFL didn't blossom until year three. Matt is just now entering his third year, and Reggie appeared to be blossoming right before our eyes before his quarterback went down for the season. Sure, it looks like a mistake drafting both guys in the first round, but the staff gave these guys a first round grade not that long ago and it would be silly not to see if they can live up to those expectations, for at least one more year.



Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Feel free to contact Charlie HERE

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