The 2013 NFL season has already been a nightmarish one for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but perhaps there is reason for optimism now that wide receiver Justin Blackmon will return from his four-week suspension in Week 5 against the St. Louis Rams.
According to Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union, Blackmon will return to practice with the Jags on Wednesday after serving the suspension levied against him for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Blackmon's return is a welcomed one from Jacksonville's perspective as the Jaguars have the league's worst offense. The Jags are averaging less than eight points per game, and to put that output into perspective, they have the same amount of points this season as the Denver Broncos put up against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half in Week 4, according to Numbers Never Lie.
It remains to be seen how much Blackmon will help in terms of curing their offensive woes, but he certainly can't hurt. He showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie last season with 64 grabs for 865 yards and five touchdowns.
He was especially strong down the stretch with at least six catches in each of Jacksonville's final four games, so he'll look to translate that late-season momentum into an immediate impact in Week 5.
While head coach Gus Bradley isn't ready to commit to Blackmon starting on Sunday, it seems likely, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com.
Bradley had nothing but good things to say about Blackmon, according to Carlyon, as he lauded over the star receiver's work ethic.
He’s done tremendous these last four weeks. His body fat has dropped and his weight has gained. He’s in really, really good shape right now. He’s done everything that we’ve asked of him, he went on the trips with us. I could go with a list on some of the things we asked him to do that he’s done, so he’s a in a great frame of mind right now.
Bradley then went on to suggest that a start is probably in line provided Blackmon continues to put the proper effort in over the next week.
“If he continues that, then (starting Sunday is) what we would project,” Bradley said.
Blackmon has a fairly advantageous matchup on the horizon against the St. Louis Rams. The Rams are allowing nearly 254 passing yards per game and they have just one interception on the season, so they aren't particularly proficient when it comes to slowing down opposing passing games.
Also, assuming No. 1 cornerback Cortland Finnegan covers Cecil Shorts for much of Sunday's affair, Blackmon will deal with the talented, but mistake-prone Janoris Jenkins. Shorts' presence could very well cap Blackmon's potential, but the Jags' de facto No. 1 receiver is happy to see his teammate back in the picture.
Shorts has put up great numbers despite a less-than-ideal quarterback situation this season. He has 26 receptions through four games, and he fell just 21 yards short of the 1,000-yard barrier last year with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne taking turns playing mediocre football under center.
Despite Shorts' strong start, he believes that he has been trying too hard to do everything on his own, according to Carlyon.
I think I’m pressing a little bit honestly. When I got home, I started thinking about myself and I think I’m pressing trying to make some plays. I didn’t make some that I can easily make. I’m just thinking, I’ve got to do this. I just need to relax and play ball.
It's likely that Shorts has been pressing due to a desire to do everything himself. His quarterbacks have struggled, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew hasn't gotten anything done on the ground, so Shorts has really been Jacksonville's only source of offense.
Now that Blackmon is back, though, it takes a lot of pressure off Shorts' shoulders. The main concern now relates to who will get them the ball. Gabbert returned from injury to start for the Jags in Week 4, and he was as bad as ever in throwing for 179 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Despite the fact that Gabbert has no scores and five picks on the year, Bradley apparently feels comfortable with keeping him in a starting role, per Carlyon.
I would say stronger now after watching the tape. I saw him scramble around and make a play to Clay Harbor. I saw him scramble around and throw it to Ace on an explosive play. I saw him do some things.
Henne is no great shakes in his own right, but he is capable of making plays down the field. He was the starting quarterback during Blackmon's strong end to the 2012 season, and he also started the game in which Blackmon caught seven passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.
Henne has a much better rapport with both Blackmon and Shorts than Gabbert, and starting Henne seems like an obvious move. Despite that, Gabbert appears to be in line for another start in Week 5.
If that is the case, then Blackmon won't be worth starting in Week 5 regardless of your bye-week situation. The best-case scenario for Blackmon owners is that Gabbert falters yet again during the upcoming game, which will then force Bradley to go back to Henne.
Provided Henne starts for the rest of the season, Blackmon will be a decent WR3 and flex option moving forward due to the fact that the Jags will constantly be playing from behind. Until that happens, though, shy away from putting Blackmon in your starting lineup.
Week 5 Fantasy Projection: three receptions for 37 yards
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