The Jaguars are the worst team in the league. There are no two ways about it. They have 51 points in five games. They've lost those five games by an average of 22.4 points. They're 29th in passing yards and 30th in rushing yards. They've nearly turned Maurice Jones-Drew into a fantasy afterthought.
They do have one saving grace, though, and his name is Justin Blackmon. The fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Blackmon started his rookie year slowly, but came on strong over the season's final seven games. He caught 38 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns in that stretch, and looked like a strong breakout candidate for the 2013 season. He made his season debut last week after missing the first few games due to suspension, and rode a 67-yard score on his first catch of the season to a 136-yard day. He caught five passes and had nine targets, just one fewer than teammate Cecil Shorts. He's easily the best playmaker on this team, and the Jags did what they could to get him involved early and often. Given that the Jaguars will be trailing, and thus throwing, a whole lot the rest of the year, Blackmon is safely inside the top-30 receivers. And that's a conservative ranking. He could easily outdo that should Chad Henne provide but a small upgrade over Blaine Gabbert. It really shouldn't be that hard.
Let's take a look at a few plays for the Jaguars' loss to the Rams last week. We'll begin with his first target of the year, the 67-yard touchdown that put the Jaguars ahead 7-0. Blackmon is lined up in the slot, but what we really have here is simply a blown coverage by the Rams. They're in nickel and the defensive backs do a terrible job of communicating. It results in them losing sight of Jacksonville's most dangerous weapon.
Here, the slot corner, Darian Stewart, is nowhere near his assignment on Blackmon. He then sits down in a zone coverage, and no one rolls over to pick up the second-year man out of Oklahoma State. It's not easy to make it pitch and catch when Gabbert is on the pitch side of that equation, but the Rams succeeded here.
What's really incredible here, at least from Blackmon, is his breakaway speed. He makes one nice cut, but look how close safety Rodney McLeod is to him in the first picture below. That's only two yards separation. McLeod won't get a bit closer and makes a futile dive in an attempt to bring him down.
This next play shows how Gabbert put a ceiling on how productive Blackmon could be for the Jaguars and his fantasy owners. It's 1st and 10 from the St. Louis 47-yard-line. Blackmon is split out wide to the left with corner Janoris Jenkings playing press coverage and a single high safety shading to his side of the field. Here's how it looks at the snap.
He beats Jenkins' coverage and breaks inside for a post. He clearly has a step on Jenkins, and a good ball will result in a huge gain. Instead, Gabbert's pass sails and Matt Giordano returns it 82 yards for a Rams' touchdown.
Look how high over Blackmon's head that pass goes. It's borderline shocking that an NFL quarterback could miss that badly, but we've seen Gabbert for two-plus years now. Throws like that have become commonplace. We're about to see two more.
This is the first play of Jacksonville's first drive in the second half. Blackmon is lined up in the slot on the left side of the formation and runs a simple hitch against the Rams' zone. He correctly reads the coverage and sits down for what should be a simple completion. Just look how open he is right in the middle of the second picture below.
Of course, this is Gabbert, and the throw is way off target. Blackmon lunges for it to his right to no avail.
That play above would have been nice to hit for the Jaguars, picking up six or seven yards on first down, but it wouldn't have moved the needle all that much for Blackmon's fantasy owners. This next one sure would have. It's 3rd and Goal at the St. Louis 5-yard-line, and the Jags trail 24-10. Blackmon is lined up on the right side of the formation inside the numbers. The Rams have three DBs to that side after Ace Sanders motions to the right. Here's the look at the snap.
Blackmon runs another hitch and sits down in front of the coverage. Again, he is wide open. You can see him right at the bottom of the "I" in "Louis." He could not realistically be more open in this situation. Instead of just a 6- or 7-yard gain on first down, though, this is a touchdown if Gabbert makes a throw that any NFL quarterback should make. Instead, it comes out of his hand as if he's throwing to a fan in the first row.
Just for fun, check out Blackmon's exasperated reaction to the overthrow.
Gabbert suffered a hamstring injury later in the game, and Henne ended up throwing for 89 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts. Guess who was under center for most of Blackmon's hot stretch to end the 2012 season? That's right, the Michigan man, Henne. Blackmon has his guy back in the starting lineup. He's set to go off the rest of the year.
All images are screen shots of All-22 film.
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