One Play Propelled Shorts Into Prominence
With less than one minute remaining in regulation, Jacksonville's Week 3 matchup with division rival Indianapolis was about to conclude. The team was in danger of beginning the 2012 season with an 0-3 record, as they trailed the Colts 17-16. They were out of timeouts, located 80 yards away from the goal line, and were dependent upon Blaine Gabbert to somehow lead the offense to a score. On 1st down, he tossed a 17-yard pass to Cecil Shorts, who proceeded to explode through the middle of Indy's coverage, and eventually stopped with his arms outstretched across the goal line. It was an eye-opening effort by Shorts to seal a victory. And with that game winning play, he sprinted into our consciousness, and our consideration as a fantasy option. Much with the same suddenness with which he dissected Indy's pass defense. He re-emerged in Week 7 to generate 79 yards and a TD in Oakland, and eventually averaged 86 YPG while amassing six TDs over the remaining nine contests.
Shorts Is Now A Dependable, Prolific Receiver
Despite starting the season as an unknown second-year receiver, and not collecting his first start until Week 7, Shorts ended the 2012 season as Jacksonville’s leader in yardage (979) and TDs (seven). He tied for fifth among all WRs by producing five receptions in excess of 40 yards. And he tied for ninth with 17 catches of 20+ yards. He also averaged 17.8 YPC, and generated at least 100 yards in four different contests. In doing so, he ascended over free agent bust Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon. That tandem had begun the year as the starting WRs for the Jaguars, after Robinson had signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract, and Blackmon had been selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
But Robinson only performed in seven games, caught 24 passes for 252 yards, and failed to score. While Blackmon overcame an underwhelming first half of the season to eventually manufacture 865 yards and five TDs. But Shorts clearly established himself as the Jaguars’ most consistent and dynamic playmaker at WR last season, and became a savior for owners who were scrambling for receiving options as the year unfolded. He now enters the 2013 regular season as the team's top receiver. Not only due to his exceptional performances last season, but also because new G.M. David Caldwell has relieved the franchise of Robinson and his ill-advised contract, and Blackmon will be suspended for the team's initial four contests.
Shorts Can Excel Despite QB Issues
Shorts will need to thrive despite obvious deficiencies with Jacksonville’s QBs. Former first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert has managed just 21 TDs with 17 INTs in 24 career starts, and has been very unimpressive to say the least. Chad Henne does not have the capabilities of performing as the long term solution at the position either, although he did elevate the aerial attack when he took over for Gabbert in 2012. Fortunately, Shorts can still remain highly productive, just as he did while overcoming the shortcomings of Gabbert and Henne last season. He is both a fluid and intelligent route runner, who achieves success by blending those attributes with speed. That enables him to gain separation from defensive backs, and turn short or intermediate throws into huge gains. The fact that he does not require deep, accurate throws in order to be productive is extremely beneficial, considering the inadequacies of the team’s signal callers.
An Improved Rushing Attack Would Help
Maurice Jones-Drew is returning after a substandard 2012 season that began with a 38 day holdout, and concluded prematurely after just six games. As a serious foot injury (Lisfranc) limited MJD to a career worst 414 yards on 86 attempts, which ended a streak of three years with at least 1,324 yards. Jones-Drew is still recovering from this lingering problem, which makes his availability for training camp uncertain at this time. If he is not subject to a prolonged recovery, and can instead perform for the majority of the regular season as the Jaguars’ primary back, then it would provide a sorely needed boost to the team’s rushing attack. The Jaguars ranked an anemic 30th last season, while averaging only 85.6 YPG. The team’s ongoing struggles to establish a ground game negatively impacted the entire offense, which ranked 19th overall, and managed just 299 YPG. But a revitalized MJD would not only help the Jaguars improve upon last year’s rushing output, but could also bolster the passing game. Because he would then become a second difference maker for opponents to contend with, which could open up much needed space for Shorts to operate.
Where You Should Draft Him
Shorts proved to be an explosive and consistent playmaker despite starting only nine contests last season. If that number rises to 16 in 2013, then he should deliver very desirable numbers to fantasy owners. He must overcome severe deficiencies at QB, and the fact that he suffered several concussions toward the close of 2012 is legitimate reason for concern. Still, his game breaking ability is undeniable, and is sufficient reason to draft him with that high upside in mind. Plus, he will become the primary beneficiary from Blackmon’s absence during September. That should enable him to attain a fast statistical start to the year, and makes it even more reasonable to select him late in Round 5.