The NFL's announcement that second year wide receiver Justin Blackmon would be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 regular season is certainly a cause for concern. In addition to the obvious reason for unease that this creates, it is occurring because is his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy in less than a year. It becomes even worse news, because Blackmon’s resume now includes a total of three issues with the law. Not only does the entire situation represent a setback for Blackmon's career, but it is a damaging development for the talent challenged Jaguars, who need their short list of playmakers to be on the field as much as possible. It also negatively impacts his fantasy value, and creates concern for his guide in general.
His first legal difficulty occurred in 2010, when he was arrested for DUI. But his on the field production was impressive, as he accumulated 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns for Oklahoma State in 2011 and 2012. As a result, he became a two-time All-American, and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. After his final collegiate season, Jacksonville opted to utilize the fifth overall pick of the 2012 draft on Blackmon, which made him the first wide receiver chosen.
Improvement As A Rookie
His numbers were underwhelming during the first half of the season, and it was reasonable to consider him as a enormous disappointment after the first nine games. He had only surpassed 40 receiving yards twice during that span, and had produced just 250 yards and one touchdown. But his stock rose considerably as the regular season progressed, particularly after he exploded for 236 yards in Week 10. He also established a new franchise record by averaging 33.7 yards per catch, and his total was also the third most receiving yards ever by a rookie. That performance ignited an upturn in his production for the remainder of the season, as four of his five touchdowns, 615 of his 865 yards, and 38 of his 64 receptions all occurred during his final seven contests.
His statistical surge coincided with the elevation of Chad Henne into the starting lineup for that Week 11 matchup against Houston, as the former Wolverine launched more deep throws than previous starter Blaine Gabbert had been successful in executing. Even though Blackmon would appear to have a better chance of accumulating numbers if Henne emerged from this summer’s quarterback competition as the starter instead of Gabbert, Blackmon seemed primed to continue the late season momentum from 2012 into this season. Until the suspension was announced.
Instead, Blackmon will miss encounters with the Chiefs, Raiders, Seahawks and Colts during September. As a result, his overall production will be diminished due to his absence, and Jacksonville's entire offensive effort will suffer in the process. The Week 3 contest with Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner would have presented Blackmon with a daunting challenge, but the opportunity to lineup against a Kansas City secondary that allowed 29 touchdowns passes in 2012, a Oakland unit that surrendered 28, and a Colt defense that permitted 23 would have been more appealing. Even though each defensive unit possesses varying reasons to believe that their pass defenses might provide more resistance this year.
He would then begin his season with Jacksonville, unless new General Manager Dave Caldwell decides to cut him. That is highly unlikely, but Caldwell does possess the option. Thanks to contract language that was created by former GM Gene Smith, the team is no longer under obligation to pay Blackmon any guaranteed money on the remaining four years of his contract, nor would they owe him anything if they did decide to cut ties. However, it is safe to expect Blackmon to be in uniform when the Jaguars host the Rams on October 6. Providing that he does not have another setback.
Which brings us to the ultimate concern. Because Blackmon is now one strike away from a one year suspension, which will occur if he violates the league's policy again. That would obviously be a devastating development for Blackmon and the Jaguars.
Blackmon's fantasy value will of course decline, as he will be relegated to late round selections, rather than much higher projections if he had been available for the onset of the regular season. Conversely, fellow Jaguar wideout Cecil Shorts will become a primary beneficiary during the draft process. He proved to be an explosive and consistent playmaker last season, and the potential for him to generate a highly productive September as Jacksonville's only dangerous wide receiving option will make him a more coveted roster addition. But there are no other receivers currently on the roster that should be targeted by fantasy owners.