It is pretty easy to go unnoticed when you start the season buried on the depth chart of a team that would eventually win two football games. However, hidden among an otherwise dreadful 2012 for the Jacksonville Jaguars was an encouraging and surprising season from second-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts.
When a franchise has gone seven consecutive seasons without a 1,000 yard receiver, there is no better position to have a Secret Superstar at than wide receiver. Jacksonville has been searching for a quality receiving weapon since 2005, Jimmy Smith’s last 1,000 yard campaign, and has had little success. However, it may be a kid named Shorts from a small Division III college that ends that drought and gives the Jaguars the consistent wide receiver they have been seeking. Despite not becoming a starter until Week 7, and having only nine starts in 2012, Shorts came within 21 yards of becoming just the third Jaguar in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards. With a larger role expected in 2013, Shorts will have an opportunity to go from Secret Superstar to Pro Bowl player.
Small School Gamble
Whenever an NFL team drafts a player from a non-BCS school there will be conversations about their level of competition, so the concerns about a player from a Division III school are massive. Shorts overcame that obstacle and was drafted in the fourth round by the Jaguars in 2011, following Pierre Garcon’s footsteps from the University of Mount Union to NFL player.
While at Mount Union Shorts had quite a decorated career. He was the Division III Offensive Player of the Year in 2009 and a two-time first-team “Little All American”, which honors players from Division II, Division III and NAIA. His dominance in college and strong combine was enough to be drafted 114th overall making him the highest drafted player ever from Mount Union, and the only Division III player ever selected by Jacksonville.
Shorts spent most of his rookie season adapting to the NFL and played very sparingly. He played only 179 total snaps and caught just two passes for 30 yards. Despite one of those two receptions being a touchdown, Jaguars QBs had a meager 27.8 QB rating when targeting Shorts, the lowest among Jaguars receivers. Shorts finished his rookie campaign with a -4.5 PFF grade and uncertainty about his future.
Jacksonville spent most of the 2012 offseason aggressively trying to upgrade their wide receiver position. First they spent big money on free agent Laurent Robinson, and then they used the fifth overall draft pick on blue-chip prospect Justin Blackmon. Robinson and Blackmon were anointed the starters, but an early-season injury to Robinson, and unsuccessful attempts from Mike Thomas and Kevin Elliot to emerge, left the Jaguars searching for a receiving option.
Shorts played just 86 snaps in the first five weeks, but over the Week 6 bye he was inserted as the starter opposite Blackmon and never looked back. Despite what can politely be termed as below average quarterback play, Shorts tallied four 100-yard receiving games in nine starts and narrowly missed the elusive 1,000 yard season. Shorts averaged 1.47 yards per snap, a higher average than some of the elite receivers in the NFL, including Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones. Shorts averaged 2.31 Yards Per Route Run, which ranked him eighth in the NFL. Conversely from his rookie campaign, Jaguars’ quarterbacks had a lot of success when targeting Shorts, finishing the season with a QB rating of 94.5 on balls thrown his way, which was 15th-highest in the NFL. He will look to build on these numbers as he enters his third season in the NFL, this time as a starting wide receiver.
Bigger Things Coming
The 2013 season brings a new coaching staff and new challenges to Jacksonville. The next major obstacle for Cecil Shorts to overcome will be to handle being the top receiving target for the Jaguars to open the season. Jacksonville has since released Laurent Robinson and Blackmon will be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season. Those four weeks will be important for Shorts to prove that he belongs in the conversation as an up-and-coming elite wide receiver. He will most certainly garner a lot of attention from opposing defensive coordinators and may even face some double teams. For Shorts to fully emerge and become a true star he will have to cut down on his drops. He had the third-highest Drop Rate among wide receivers in the league last year, dropping 14.06% of the catchable passes thrown his way. Had he caught just one more of those passes he could have joined Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell as 1,000 yard Jaguars receivers. Maybe this year…
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_Castellane