Countdown to Jaguars Football: No. 42 and Keelan Cole's Successful Rookie Season

John Shipley

In fewer than 100 days, the Jacksonville Jaguars will return ... at least as things stand today.

While there is still some uncertainty surrounding the start of the NFL season, the league office has made it clear that they are planning to kick the season off on Sept. 10 and then have every other team play on Sept. 13.

By going off that timeline, we are now just 42 days from watching the Jaguars take the field against the Indianapolis Colts for the first regular season game of 2020.

Quite a few safeties and special teamers, namely Barry Church and Gerald Alexander, have work No. 42 for the Jaguars, but we are instead going to look at how the number relates to the Jaguars moving forward.

For the Jaguars, the No. 42 represents Keelan Cole, one of the best undrafted free agent success stories in team history and a critical piece to the team's 2017 playoff run.

There have been ebbs and flows to Cole's tenure with the Jaguars since he signed with the team as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kentucky Wesleyan College in 2017, but there is little question that he was a big reason for Jacksonville's run to the postseason. 

As a rookie, Cole caught 42 receptions for 748 yards (17.8 yards per reception)  and three touchdowns during a season in which he appeared in all 16 games and started six. He set or tied career-highs in virtually every receiving category while ranking second in the league in yards per reception that season.

The wide receiver position was perhaps Jacksonville's weakest offensive unit during the 10-6 season in 2017. Allen Robinson was lost for the year to an ACL injury in Week 1, while Allen Hurns battled injuries throughout the season and Dede Westbrook played just seven regular season games. This made Cole, a longshot candidate to make the team when he signed, one of the offense's most prominent wideouts right away in his career. 

Cole's rookie season was filled with highlight moments. Whether it was his seven-catch, 186-yard performance vs. the Texans in Week 14 or his frequently spectacular catches, such as one particularly noteworthy one vs. the Bengals, the arrow simply pointed up all year for Cole in 2017.

"I was like: "oh damn it." Then he made that play and I was like "whew." That was unbelievable. You know he did a good job. He got off press coverage and I think it was Pacman (Adam Jones) over there that got up in him a little bit but he did a good job winning. Made an unbelievable catch. Part of us converting on third downs, this guy making good plays like that," head coach Doug Marrone said after the Bengals game. 

As a rookie, Cole led the Jaguars in receiving yards and yards per reception and was second in receptions. In terms of franchise rookie records, he set the mark for yards per reception and tied lead for most receiving yards, while he also had the eighth-most receptions as a rookie in team history (sixth among receivers), second-most rookie receiving yards and tied for the fourth-most receiving touchdowns. 

Cole has yet to hit similar numbers since his rookie season, but there is still optimism with the veteran receiver. He has flashed plenty of talent in his career, particularly as a big-play threat, and he caught three touchdowns on just 35 targets last season. Theoretically, an increase in snaps could lead to an increase in production for the talented receiver. 

But while a crowded receiver room in 2020 may halter Cole's chances to replicate his 2017 numbers, his 42 receptions and impact on Jacksonville's offense as a rookie that year should not be forgotten anytime soon.