The Jacksonville Jaguars' receiving corps was one of the weakest units on the team for years, but that all changed last season.
Due to the emergence of Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon, the receivers were one of the few bright spots on an otherwise horrible team.
Even with their success, the Jaguars didn't allow themselves to feel content with the group of receivers they had last year. Like almost every other position group on the team, Jacksonville overhauled the receiving corps through free agency and the draft.
How do the new faces fit in with the players who are returning? Here is a breakdown of how Jacksonville's depth chart at wide receiver may look like.
The Jaguars signed Tobais Palmer as an undrafted free agent after a great senior season at North Carolina State.
He hauled in 54 receptions for 781 yards and six touchdowns during his final year in college. He had a breakout game against the Clemson Tigers where he recorded seven catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
Palmer is also a dangerous return man and returned two kicks for touchdowns last year.
His blazing speed—4.31-second 40-yard dash at his pro day—and good route running abilities quickly made a good first impression on Jacksonville's coaches, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
He was one of the stars of rookie minicamp, per O'Halloran.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said, via O'Halloran's report:
“We talked about him quite a bit after the rookie minicamp,” coach Gus Bradley said. “We really like his speed and we’re trying to move him around to find a home for him.”
It's still early in the offseason process, but Palmer has a good shot at making the team. His return abilities alone should make him a commodity for the Jaguars, but he could also contribute at receiver, too.
Mohamed Massaquoi is looking to get his career on track, and playing in Jacksonville may be the perfect opportunity to do so.
He has never been able to replicate the success of his rookie season in 2009. He caught 34 passes for 624 and three touchdowns during his first season.
His numbers have declined each year since then, with 2012 being the worst year of his career. He had just 17 receptions for 254 yards before being placed on injured reserved for an injured knee.
Massaquoi could bounce back in a big way this year due to the four-game suspension of Justin Blackmon.
Massaquoi and Jordan Shipley are likely the two leading candidates to fill in for Blackmon during the first month of the regular season. Massaquoi could get the nod over Shipley since Massaquoi has more experience playing on the outside. He is a better fit as an outside receiver and could provide the Jaguars with better production at the position than Shipley during the first four games.
Massaquoi could struggle to see the field much after the first four games. He doesn't fit as a slot receiver and won't get much playing time on the outside with Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III as the team's primary weapons on the outside.
Massaquoi's attempt to revive his career could hinge on his performance during Blackmon's absence. If Massaquoi performs well, he could become a rotational player on the outside. If he struggles, however, he may never be able to get his career off the ground.
The Jaguars added some much-needed speed to their wide receiving corps by drafting Ace Sanders in the fourth round of April's draft.
He is dangerous when he gets the ball in space and would be best utilized as a punt returner.
He was an explosive punt returner in college and averaged more than 15 yards per return during his final season as a Gamecock. That average would have boosted the Jaguars into the top three of the NFL in punt returns.
Although he could bring excitement to the franchise's special teams, injuries have slowed him down during the offseason workouts. He suffered ab and hip injuries that could have kept him out a month, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union, but he was able to return to practice much more quickly, per O'Halloran.
His ability to sustain the punishment of an NFL career has been a concern because of his small frame (5'7", 173 lbs). The Jaguars have to hope the injuries he suffered thus far aren't a sign of things of come.
If Sanders does remain healthy, he could eventually develop into a slot receiver. He has the speed to succeed as a slot receiver, but his initial role will be as Jacksonville's punt returner.
Much like Mohamed Massaquoi, Jordan Shipley is looking to revive a once-promising career.
Shipley's career got off to a great start during his rookie year with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010. He caught 52 receptions for 600 yards and three touchdowns.
Injuries have derailed his career since then. He tore his ACL and MCL during the Week 2 of his second season, which caused him to miss the rest of the season.
The Bengals waived Shipley after the first two games of the preseason last year as he was struggling to return from the injuries. He was then picked up by the Buccaneers, but was unable to establish himself on the roster and was released after Week 3.
The Jaguars signed Shipley prior the Week 12, and he was productive for the team during the final six games of the season. He caught 23 passes for 244 yards over the course of his time with the Jaguars.
He played well enough to be re-signed to a two-year contract this offseason.
Shipley will try to continue to build upon his successful second half of 2012. He will likely be given a shot to play in Blackmon's absence during the first four games of the season, but he is better suited to remain in the slot. Shipley could finally latch on with a team and become a key cog in Jacksonville's offense.
There's no denying second-year receiver Justin Blackmon's playmaking abilities when he's on the field.
He had the best rookie season for a wide receiver in franchise history last year. He led all rookies with 64 receptions and set franchise rookie receiving records in receptions, receiving yards (865), average yards per reception (13.5) and tied the record for touchdowns (five).
His bright future on the field could be threatened by his poor decision making off it.
Blackmon has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The substance has yet to be revealed, but he does have a history of alcohol abuse. He has been arrested twice for driving under the influence, which includes an instance of him blowing a .24 on a breathalyzer test in June 2012, according to an AP report.
The suspension has triggered a clause in Blackmon's contract that voids any future guaranteed money, per an AP report. The Jaguars can now release the young receiver without owing him any of the money remaining on his contract.
Blackmon appears to be destined for great things on the field, but he will have to prove himself to be dedicated to the game. Although he still has coach Bradley's trust, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com, he's going to have to have a great season to win the fans over again.
All will be forgiven if Blackmon does well this season, but it's hard to shake the feeling that we're looking at the next Jimmy Smith.
After struggling as a rookie in 2011, Cecil Shorts III was the breakout star of the team last year.
He became a big play threat and led the team with 979 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He was on pace to become the first Jaguars receiver to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in a season since Jimmy Smith did so in 2005, but he was forced onto injured reserve after suffering two concussions in a month.
The 21 yards he needed to break 1,000 has acted as motivation for Shorts so far this offseason, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com.
Shorts said, via Oehser:
“I still feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “That’s just how I’ve always been. I always play with a chip on my shoulder. I want to prove last season wasn’t a fluke, but really, last season doesn’t mean anything anymore. I want to continue to get better."
The motivations appears to be working as he has continued to raise his game during OTAs and looks to be poised to make the Pro Bowl, per Oehser.
While it's too early to definitively say that yet, Shorts will be the Jaguars' primary target on the outside this season. He will likely command double-teams by opposing defenses, which may cause his numbers to drop, but it would free up other receivers.
Shorts is at the top of a group of receivers with something to prove in Jacksonville, and he could take the next step into one of the league's elite pass-catchers in 2013.