Justin Blackmon: Fantasy Savior
9.5 receptions for 163 yards. For any player to be putting up a stat line like that is ridiculous. But for that player to be a second-year wide receiver in his second game back from a suspension playing for a winless team in the 32nd-ranked offense? That's even more far-fetched.
What sort of fiend is capable of this? Justin Blackmon. The Jaguar’s sophomore sensation is not only taking the National Football League by storm, but your fantasy leagues as well.
Where did this come from?
Blackmon had many feeling skeptical about his prospects heading into this year. The doubt largely stemmed from four things. The Jaguar’s receiver was third in the NFL in drops a year ago, he accumulated more than a quarter of his yardage in one game, he was suspended for the first four games of this season, and he plays for the perpetually terrible Jacksonville Jaguars. It seemed like the former top-five pick was destined to be a bust. One would read that and assume he had a pretty dreadful season, but Blackmon played pretty well in his rookie year. Boasting a reception net expected points (Rec NEP) per target of .65, Blackmon bested established veterans like DeSean Jackson, Hakeem Nicks. If you're unaware, Rec NEP/Target shows how many points a player added to his teams expected total on every target, proving that Blackmon played exceedingly well for a rookie. Through two games this year, Blackmon is making those who took a late-round flier or waiver wire gamble on him look like clairvoyant geniuses.
While lacking the game-breaking speed that many stud receivers utilize, Blackmon uses his hulking frame to separate from defenders and attack the middle of the field on quick inside routes such as slants and crosses. He doesn't have great hands, suffering from drops on occasion, but makes up for it with elite after-the-catch ability. This unique skill set drew comparisons to guys like Anquan Boldin and Dwayne Bowe before the draft, and he is using those skills to dominate through two weeks of this young NFL season. Blackmon started off his season with a 67-yard touchdown catch in route to a 5-136-1 game against the Rams, and he followed that up with a ludicrous line this week against the Broncos. Blackmon put up 14 receptions for 190 yards on a whopping 20 targets, narrowly missing a touchdown late in the game.
The Jacksonville Offense
Not only is Blackmon playing out of his mind, but his surrounding situation is finally turning into an environment that can nurture a fantasy beast. By now, everyone and their cat knows that Blaine Gabbert is not the solution at quarterback and a generally atrocious football player. Although he is injured, Gabbert has more than likely lost his job to journey-man quarterback Chad Henne. Henne isn’t the most talented of the NFL’s stable of gun-slingers, but he does display competency when throwing a pigskin covered prolate spheroid. Which is something Gabbert has failed to prove. Under Henne, the offense functions much better and generally resembles that of an NFL team. Averaging almost 260 passing yards per game, Jaguars receivers can flourish with Henne in comparison to Gabbert, who has yet to top 200 yards in any game this year.
Blackmon is poised to thrive with a better quarterback, but what about his competition for targets among his teammates? Well, there is no competition. The league leader in targets, Cecil Shorts, left yesterday’s game with a shoulder sprain and according to ESPN, might have a fractured rib that would keep him out a while. Other than Shorts, the only Jaguar with at least 15 targets is Ace Sanders. This is my drawn-out way of telling you that Blackmon is going to get fed. A lot. I’m not saying he’ll get the 20 targets each game like he got this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Blackmon led the NFL in targets here on out if Shorts misses a chunk of time.
Pessimists might argue that if Shorts doesn't miss many games, or any at all, that Blackmon would be rendered less useful. That’s actually the contrary, as poor Cecil can attest. Before Blackmon returned from suspension, Shorts got all the work he could handle. But while he had the quantity of targets, he lacked quality. Shorts only caught 50 percent of his 62 targets before this week, one of the worst rates in the league. He also had a reception success percentage of 77.42, which signifies what percent of his catches have had a positive influence on his teams expected point total, ranking as one of the worst receivers in that metric. This further proves that a healthy Shorts might actually benefit Blackmon, as seen in their one game together this year against the Rams. Although Blackmon only had five receptions on nine targets, they were of good quality averaging 27.2 yards per catch.
Blackmon likely won’t continue to put up these absurd lines much longer, so if someone is offering you a WR1 or a RB1, pull the trigger. Otherwise, I’d hold on to him. He is only in his second year, so he'll likely improve and become more comfortable with the game. In addition to that, given the copious amount of targets he’s bound to see and the inevitable garbage time production, I see Blackmon as an every-week WR2 with WR1 upside.
With that being said, if you find yourself enjoying the Jaguars playing football for more than two hours, call a doctor. Immediately.