The Jacksonville Jaguars finished last in the NFL in passing in 2011. They were determined to fix that in the offseason. Acquiring veterans Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans in free agency was a start, but no one was predicting a complete reversal in the Jaguars' passing game because of the two veterans.
They might now.
The Jaguars may have found the biggest missing piece to fixing their passing game when they were able to grab Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft. It cost the Jaguars their fourth round pick in the draft, but that appeared to be a relatively small price to pay for the most talented wide receiver in this year's draft.
Blackmon, the All-American receiver from Oklahoma State, caught 122 passes for the Cowboys his senior season, good for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns. By comparison, all of the Jaguars receivers in 2011 combined to catch 121 passes.
Blackmon played just three seasons with OSU, red-shirting as a freshman before posting highly productive seasons as a junior (111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 TDs) and senior.
While Blackmon doesn't have blazing speed (4.46 in the 40) and had a tendency to veer on his routes, there's no questioning his ability to go after passes. His well-proportioned and muscular frame creates mismatches against smaller cornerbacks and his leaping ability makes it difficult for second level defenders to stop him going for the ball at its highest point.
General manager Gene Smith talked highly of Blackmon in the weeks leading up to the draft. There was some doubt whether the Jaguars would go offense or defense at the end spot, as there's also a glaring need for a pass-rushing defensive end. But when the trade became available to move up to get Blackmon, Smith took the bait and got his man.
"He's a competitor, he's strong to the ball and strong with the ball," Smith said.
Obtaining Blackmon will likely help solidify Smith's first-round pick of Blaine Gabbert a year ago.
The rookie quarterback struggled after taking over starting duties the third game of the season. But much of Gabbert's deficiencies can be attributed to the team's woeful collection of wide receivers. That's not the case anymore with the addition of Robinson and Evans and now the latest acquisition, Blackmon.
"I'm a competitor, someone who likes to compete. I'm a guy who likes to go up and get the ball and I'm not afraid to go across the middle," Blackmon said. "I'm a guy who will give 100 percent every time I go out there."
Blackmon is familiar with his new quarterback. Gabbert was a record-setting quarterback at Missouri for two seasons while Blackmon was making catches for Big XXII rival Oklahoma State.
"He's a great competitor. I saw him several times when we played them in league play," Blackmon said. "He's a great competitor. I'm looking forward to being out there on the field with him."
Jacksonville fans are too. The woeful passing game that ranked dead last in the NFL had plenty of critics, many who cried that Gabbert needed quality receivers to throw to. With the club's addition of the trio of wide receivers, what was a team weak spot could now become one of its assets.
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