The quarterback position is the most scrutinized position in all of sports, and especially in Jacksonville. Most media members and fans alike, have a strong opinion about the quarterback. Some people like Byron Leftwich, some like David Garrard, many members of the local and national media like both or neither, and they all have their reasons, some more legitimate than others. After people talk about the Jaguars quarterbacks, their very next focus is usually the wide receiver position, which is apparently the second-most scrutinized position on the Jaguars.
The Jaguars current crop of receivers is made up of Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford, and Dennis Northcutt. Each of these players have different attributes, good and bad, but the one thing they all have in common is that very few people around the NFL and locally think very much of their play on the field. Lets start with Reggie Williams. Reggie has a lot to prove this year, because his contract becomes voidable after the '07 season. Reggie has been saddled with superstar expectations the moment the Jaguars made him the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft. Reggie is a physical specimen, at 6'4", 225 lbs., and is as tough as nails. Unfortunately like most young receivers, Reggie has struggled to be productive in the league. Many felt that Reggie should have been a late first, early second-round pick, and that he didn't possess top-ten talent. Many think that the Jaguars certainly reached for him at pick #9. His production over his first two years fueled the criticism, as well as his brash attitude, and tendency to celebrate the smallest on-field accomplishments. Reggie had to watch fellow '04 draftees Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Mark Clayton, and Lee Evans become 1000 yard receivers early on in their careers, while he was labeled with the term, "bust". Last season, it seemed Reggie was putting the critics to bed as he broke out with highlight reel plays during the first five weeks of the season, and found himself among the league leaders in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Then when Byron Leftwich's season ended prematurely, so did Williams production. The "bust" label was back on, and Reggie has to endure another off-season of criticism.
Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones was the definition of "workout warrior", as he ran a blazing 4.38, 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 2005, and when you put it on a 6'6", 238 lb. frame, and add in soft hands, the Jaguars thought they were getting a physical phenomenon. That workout, as well as a strong Senior Bowl, took a guy who played quarterback in college, and what was supposed to be a complete project, from a second day pick, to first round money. Both fans and media members alike saw the Matt Jones highlight reels, as well as those combine times, and some compared him to Randy Moss, before he ever lined up on the outside in pads. In the first two years of Matt Jones' career in Jacksonville, we learned a few things about Matt. First, the play-making ability is there, as long as it doesn't involve contact with another human being. Secondly, the 4.38 speed that he displayed does not translate with pads on. So what do we have? A young guy with an aversion to contact who is trying to learn the receiver position, and trying to learn how to run routes, but who is expected to be a superstar.
Ernest Wilford may be the most interesting story out of any of the Jaguars wide receivers. Wilford has a big frame (6'5", 223 lbs.), but virtually no speed for a wide receiver, and doesn't possess great hands. Those attributes left him as a fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft. Wilford came into the league with virtually no expectations, and in his first game as a pro, made a Sportscenter highlight, by catching the game-winning touchdown while surrounded by three players with no time left on the clock in Buffalo. Throughout his first two seasons in the league, Wilford over-achieved, and out-played the first round pick (Reggie Williams), mainly due to the lack of expectations placed upon him. Wilford had holes in his game, but caught nine touchdown passes in his first two seasons. Then came year three, time for Ernest to step up to the next level, and it didn't happen. Wilford had just 36 receptions for 526 yards, and 2 touchdowns in '06, including a multitude of drops. Ernest quickly went from overachiever to underachiever.
Finally, we have Dennis Northcutt, a 5'11", 171 lb., receiver entering his eighth season from the University of Arizona. Northcutt has been a number three wide receiver, basically a slot guy for his entire career up to this point. Northcutt's best season up to this point was in 2004, when he caught 55 balls for 806 yards, and two touchdowns. The Jaguars brought him in last month as a free agent, and gave him a five-year contract valued at approximately $17 million, which is a pretty sizeable contract for a guy without much size, or much of a body of work. Northcutt is expected to be a deep threat for the team, and be the guy that Leftwich can count on to get open quickly. When Northcutt was asked about the public perception of the Jaguars wide receivers, he said that he's taking it personally, "We should want to be the best receiving corps in the league, but we've got to do it together, this isn't an individual game. The more success we have in passing the ball, the more catches we're going to get. Everyone will get theirs, trust me. I've been there before. There shouldn't be any selfishness about who's getting the ball, I'm not getting the ball, or whatever. I've been a part of a four-receiver set in the past and we all had over 40 catches, and we went to the playoffs with that. I'm excited about getting out there with Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and those big giants on the side of me, being a part of that and seeing them make plays. And then me going in there and making a big play. That's what football is all about."
The Jaguars receivers all seem to have the right attitude concerning the '07 football season. The good news for them is that there really shouldn't be much expectations, any more. Reggie Williams has been labeled "a bust", Matt Jones has been labeled "soft", Wilford has been labeled, "not good enough", and if Northcutt was so great, why wouldn't Cleveland have re-signed him with their $20 million or so, cap room? Williams showed flashes of greatness last season, and if the quarterback position stays consistent, he could be the surprise of the NFL season. Matt Jones has improved as a receiver each year, and is working hard again. Jones, through all his faults, has still caught nine touchdowns in two years, and is averaging 14 yards/catch for his career. Ernest Wilford has been surprising people ever since he came into the league, and has great ability to adjust to the football in air. Wilford is still a go-to-guy when the game is on the line. And finally, Dennis Northcutt has been consistently productive in a limited role, playing with bad quarterbacks. Northcutt will be playing with arguably the most talented QB he's ever played with, and his presence alone should open up the underneath for Wlliams, Jones, and Wilford. The chips on these guys shoulders seem to be stacked up so high, that they can reach the 400 level of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. These guys know that they are talented, and have each showed some of it in flashes. It's time for them to put it all together, and shut up the critics.
Jaguars WR Corps: Chips on their shoulders
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