WR Problem Starts With the Draft
We are all aware of the high draft picks the Jaguars organization has spent on wide receivers. We are aware of them because they haven't worked out. Reggie Williams and Matt Jones not only didn't work hard, but they were poor citizens with bad attitudes. Were they talented? Sure. Neither had the will or dedication to become a true professional or character to make it happen either.
After those busts, Jacksonville has shied away from drafting wide receivers, early or otherwise and have a roster full of mediocre guys at the position. Reggie and Matt clearly didn't work out, but to completely ignore the position is much more damaging than a few swings and misses.
Let's play the what-if game for a moment- what if the Jaguars selected Dwayne Bowe in the first round of the 2007 draft instead of Reggie Nelson? To be fair, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis and Anthony Gonzalez each went in the first round and didn't work out.
In 2008 the Jaguars traded up to get Derrick Harvey, costing them several draft picks. What if the team hadn't also traded up in the second round to select Quentin Groves, who was clearly better suited for a 3-4 defense, not the 4-3 Jacksonville employed? They very easily could have stayed put and selected Eagles speedster DeSean Jackson in round two. Jacksonville still had some later round picks in that draft which they used to select linebacker Thomas Williams and cornerback Trae Williams. What if Josh Morgan, Pierre Garcon or seventh-round pick Steve Johnson was wearing teal instead?
In 2009 the Jaguars selected Eugene Monroe, who is right now an average left tackle. The option could have been there to trade back and select Jeremy Maclin, Percey Harvin, Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt. Jacksonville did select Mike Thomas in the fourth round of that draft, but Austin Collie could have served a similar purpose.
In 2010 the Jaguars shocked most experts by selecting Tyson Alualu, who is a very nice player. Already having a standout defensive tackle in Terrance Knighton, would Dez Bryant have made more of an impact? D'Anthony Smith or Eric Decker? Larry Hart or Antonio Brown?
In Thursday night's Oakland-Kansas City game, we saw fifth-round pick Denarius Moore light up the Chargers secondary. He was taken 34 picks after the Jaguars selected Cecil Shorts. Chargers wideout Vincent Brown made acrobatic catches all over the field; He was selected six picks after Will Rackley.
Obviously the team wouldn't have taken all of these receivers and even one different selection would have likely changed their draft position for the next year so we are dealing in the hypothetical. The point is that when the Jaguars swung and missed at wide receiver early, they continued to ignore the position. When they've drafted players late, they've missed badly when there were better players on the board.
Jags May Go Defense Early in the Draft
Inhabiting the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL in decades, it would seem like a priority to get the position fixed early and often in next April's draft. Although the team will address the position, it may not be with a Top 5 or 10 pick.
Sources tell us that the Jaguars will NOT reach for a receiver if they don't believe that one fits the value of their selection. Although the draft is deep with solid players at the position, there's no real A.J. Green or Julio Jones type of do everything receiver who can run exceptionally. The top receivers figure to be Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffrey, and neither is figured to run better than in the mid 4.5 range.
With a plethora of elite cornerbacks such as Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and LSU's Morris Claiborne projected to be available when the Jaguars select, Jacksonville would likely be better served to go in that direction. In this league you simply can't have enough guys who can cover or go after the quarterback. North Carolina defensive end Quentin Coples could give the team the pass rush that Derrick Harvey and later Aaron Kampman were supposed to.
There will be plenty of guys available later that can make an impact at wide receiver. Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Arizona's Juron Criner, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Baylor's Kendall Wright and North Carolina's Dwight Jones can each be upgrades over the mediocre set of pass catchers that is keeping Blaine Gabbert from advancing as a quarterback.
What About Free Agency
The general rule of free agency is that it's great to patch minor holes, but impact players are few and far between. Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald will never become free agents in their primes, but it's very possible to at least find upgrades.
Finding an upgrade for a receiving corps of Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dillard shouldn't be difficult. Here are some names who could become available: Steve Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker are all stars who are scheduled to hit the open market. Obviously Wallace, Welker, Jackson and Bowe will get franchised or find new deals to stay with their teams, but the other players may actually hit free agency.
The Jaguars wide receiving corps will look significantly different next summer than it does now, and that's necessary.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie