Photo: Doug Benc, Getty Images
When Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio stated early in the off-season that the Jaguars wide receiver competition was declared open, many fans and media members were skeptical, to say the least.
The Jaguars currently have two receivers that are former first round picks, who have put up moderate numbers at best, while earning money that has far exceeded their moderate play, in Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Add free agent acquisition Dennis Northcutt and third round pick Mike Walker to the mix, and there was four of the Jaguars projected five or six wide receivers for 2007.
Del Rio further insisted that the competition would be open entering training camp, and he went as far as saying that “some guys need to stop living off potential.” He was clearly talking about Williams and Jones when he made that statement. Del Rio made the message clear entering camp that the five or six best receivers would make the team, but still we were skeptical.
So what has happened since OTA’s to make us believe that Williams, Jones, Northcutt, and Walker aren’t locks for the roster? The play of a few guys named Wilford, Broussard, and Sharon.
After a poor start to training camp that was riddled with drops, Ernest Wilford has made his mark by catching nearly every ball thrown his way. Wilford has also worked on his route running and concentration. This has moved Wilford from the “roster bubble,” all the way up to a starting job on the current depth chart. When Wilford was asked about his confidence in that spot he responded by saying “all I can worry about is staying consistent, I just want to be a complete receiver.” When asked about the open competition at wide receiver, Wilford responded “it’s a definite battle out there, and that’s what you want. Everyone accepts that it is a competition and it’s going to make the team better."
John Broussard may be the biggest surprise of camp for the Jaguars. Broussard came into camp as a seventh round pick from San Jose State, with a rather small stature at 5’11”, 170 lbs. Most of the small, speedy guys like Broussard tend to have poor hands and are afraid to go over the middle, but Broussard has dispelled those stereotypes. Broussard has shown himself to be one of the Jaguars biggest playmakers in camp, and has taken his solid play with him into the preseason. With Broussard’s speed, hands, and route running abilities, he has propelled himself from a practice squad candidate to a guy that the team simply can not release.
The rise of Charles Sharon may be the most improbable of the three. Sharon has exactly zero receptions in his NFL career, one fewer than the amount of weapons arrests. During the spring, Sharon and a friend were arrested and charged with having an illegal firearm in their possession. There was a lot of talk from fans and media about releasing Sharon on the spot, and the idea of the undrafted free agent moving up from near the bottom of the Jaguars depth chart seemed like the longshot of longshots, being that the Jaguars drafted two more wide receivers in April. Sharon stayed positive and straightened out his off the field issues, and is now playing at a level that’s as high as any receiver on the Jaguars roster. When asked about the opportunity that Sharon has, he responded “I’m just blessed to be in this situation. I have to keep going out there and have great practices and be consistent in the games. I have to keep taking advantage of the opportunities I have, and I have to do all the little things right. I have my off the field issues taken care of, and I need to stay focused on football.” When asked about the skills that he brings to the table, Sharon said “I like the way I run routes, and consistently catch the football.” I don’t think anyone would have given Sharon a chance to make the roster before the OTA’s, and now he’s playing at a level as high as anyone on the team.
So where are our guys that were formerly on top of the wide receiver food chain? Dennis Northcutt is still a lock, thanks to his stellar play in practice, despite not being utilized much in the preseason games. Mike Walker has been fantastic in practice, and has looked solid in the Jaguars two games, despite not having a ball thrown his way in last Saturday’s victory over the Buccaneers. Matt Jones hasn’t seemed to improve at all since last season, and if it wasn’t for his contract, he would likely be firmly on the bubble. What Jones does have going for him is his tendency to make big plays, as evidenced by his nine touchdowns in his first two years. Reggie Williams is another story. Reggie has all the physical skills to be a fantastic receiver, but he doesn’t seem to be catching on in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense. I talked to a source inside the Jaguars organization who said “Reggie doesn’t run the right routes, and that he just don’t seem to get it.” That same source has said that Williams is probably not even seventh on the Jaguars depth chart at wide receiver.
So with roughly two weeks to go until the final cuts, who will be the guys that make the roster? If the competition is indeed open, like the head coach has stated, then reiterated, we would see a group of Northcutt, Walker, Sharon, Wilford, Broussard, and possibly Jones, assuming nothing drastic happens in the final two games. We will certainly find out if politics and pedigree outweigh productivity.