Reggie Williams (Sam Greenwood/Getty)
Wide receiver has arguably been the most discussed and most maligned position for the Jaguars in the last several years. Fans, local media and national analysts have all taken their shots at Jacksonville’s seemingly pedestrian receiving corps and rightfully so.
The Jaguars reached for receivers in the first-round in 2004 and 2005 in Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Williams emerged as a legitimate playmaker for the Jaguars last season and Jones has teased Jacksonville fans for three years now, showing off absurd athleticism but rarely putting together all his incredible measurables at one time. Jacksonville brought in Troy Williamson and Jerry Porter this offseason to help solidify the position and now Jacksonville has gone from a depleted receiving corps to perhaps having too much talent (that is debatable), so expect things to get sorted out this offseason, starting with OTAs and training camp.
Williams, who set a club record with 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the few Jacksonville receivers who is seemingly safe from the chopping block. Williams is a big target with great body control who knows how maneuver after he catches the ball. He may never live up to his original draft billing of ninth-overall, but Williams showed enough toughness and energy to validate him as a legitimate starter in the NFL. What Williams lacks is the overall ability to be a true number one receiver, and Jacksonville is hoping they found that in Porter, who signed with the Jags for a six-year, $30 million contract. Porter has never accumulated 1,000 yards in a season and has had problems with coaches when he was in Oakland, but he has solid size (6’2”, 220 lbs.) and top speed. Combine that with his athleticism and Porter might be the well-rounded receiver Jacksonville has lacked since Jimmy Smith retired.
After Porter and Williams, the final three or four receiving positions are up for grabs. Dennis Northcutt, who signed with the club last year, was reliable last season, although some untimely drops in the playoffs are fresh in most fans’ minds. Northcutt is a little undersized, but he can lineup in the slot or outside and also adds value as a punt returner. Northcutt might have to perform well in camp to keep his job because he is due a little more money than some other receivers, but his experience and superior route running should earn him a roster spot.
Where the battle for a roster spot will really heat up this summer is for the final two or three slots. Jones has been the center of much criticism because he has excellent size (6’6”, 240 lbs.), speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and athleticism (40 inch vertical), but he has yet to put it all together consistently. Jones is a terrific red zone target because of the aforementioned measurables, but he rarely overexerts himself. A converted quarterback, Jones might still be developing as a receiver, but coaches and teammates have been disgruntled by lack of effort by Jones in the past and he must show more dedication to stay on the roster.
After Jones, perhaps the players who will provoke the most interest from fans and coaches alike are Mike Walker and Troy Williamson. Walker had an incredible camp as a rookie last year, but was placed on injured reserve because he hadn’t fully recovered from a knee injury he sustained while in college at UCF. Walker has shown similarities to former Jaguar Jimmy Smith because of his size, speed and amazing hands. If he is fully recuperated from his torn ACL, Walker he should be a stable in Jacksonville for years to come.
The other player who has loads of potential but has been plagued by inconsistency is Troy Williamson. Jacksonville acquired the former top-ten selection from Minnesota in hopes that he could turn his career around. Williamson has blazing speed and can get open, but he has always struggled with dropped passes throughout his career. If he improves his hand-eye coordination during OTAs and training camp, then he could emerge as a huge playmaker for Jacksonville. However, if he continues to drop catches consistently, then Williamson will be seen the door.
John Broussard is likely the last player who will be in the running for a roster spot. He has blazing speed but is a little thin at 173 lbs. Broussard’s first NFL catch was a 56-yard touchdown reception early in the season, but his rookie campaign came to an abrupt end after an ankle injury forced him to go on injured reserve. If Williamson shows improvement as a receiver, Broussard’s services may not be needed, but if Williamson fails, Broussard could end up on the roster again.
There are several other players who will be in camp this year but will be long shots to make the roster. D’Juan Woods is familiar with Jacksonville’s offensive scheme after being in camp last year. Woods offers good size and solid hands and athleticism, but he lacks the rounded skills Jacksonville needs. Rookies Clyde Edwards and Jeron Harvey will also battle it out for a roster or practice squad position in camp. Edwards is small at 5’10”, 180 lbs and he doesn’t offer much in the way of size or over the middle route-running. Edwards was productive against smaller competition while at Grambling St., but he will have to be overly impressive to earn a spot on this roster. Harvey is a big, physical receiver, and at 6’5”, 215 lbs, Harvey has surprising sub 4.5 speed. He too is a long shot to make the roster, but he has the size and athleticism to draw some attention.
Ultimately, the Jaguars need their group of receivers to bring their games to another level in order to make it to AFC supremacy. Williams appears to be on the verge of being one of the better playmakers in franchise history and Porter has the ability to join him. There are a lot of question marks behind those two players, so the likes of Jones, Walker and Williamson must show that they are ready to be consistent at the NFL level. This summer will be huge in finding out who is capable of elevating their game and thus, elevating the Jaguars as a Super Bowl contender. Depending on who and how many players improve during OTAs and training camp, Jacksonville might keep five or six receivers on the roster when the season starts, and ultimately Jacksonville needs more reliable play from all of its receivers in order to go from one the league’s most unheralded groups, to one of the league’s deepest and most versatile.