What Justin Blackmon’s Possible Return Could Mean for 2015

Would Blackmon help turn things around for the Jaguars and their passing offense?

It’s been said that we, as a society, love a comeback story.

When someone rises from the ashes after receiving a second (or third) chance, something inside of our hearts and minds seems to click. To know that others who have fallen can bounce back gives us hope for ourselves when we fall short.

Without getting too philosophical, the same can be said about sports figures.

Justin Blackmon’s career was ascending up until his first suspension in 2013 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for which he missed four games. Later that same year, he was suspended again, this time indefinitely, for another violation of the substance abuse policy.

He missed the entire 2014 season, but word from the Jacksonville front office is that he is “doing the right things” in order to return in 2015.

What does that mean for the Jaguars, as well as for fantasy owners? Let’s take a look.

The Story So Far

Blackmon was oozing with promise after his 2012 rookie season that saw him join some fairly elite company.

But when you view his combine metrics with the help of, you can see that his workout metrics are rather ordinary. His overall athleticism score, which is normalized by height and weight, puts him in the 59th percentile -- not bad, but not exceedingly great either.

What he did on the field during stretches of his rookie season, however, is hard to ignore, including a 7-catch, 236-yard, 1-touchdown performance in Week 10. He finished 2012 with at least 6 catches in his last four games.

From a metrics standpoint in 2012, Blackmon finished as the 22nd best wide receiver in terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is our metric that determines how much a player adds to his team compared to a league-average player (or expectation) and is based on various factors such as down-and-distance, field position, and game score.

Going even deeper, Blackmon ranked 23rd in Reception NEP per target among 39 receivers with at least 100 targets. The area where Blackmon really struggled was his catch rate (48.48%) which ranked 35th among the same group of 39 pass catchers.

After missing the first four games in 2013, Blackmon stormed back in Weeks 5 and 6 racking up 19 catches, 326 yards and a touchdown in both games combined. He trailed off slightly in Weeks 7 and 8 before he was suspended again, and missed the reminder of the season.

Much like in 2012, despite flashes of brilliance, Blackmon was still near-average in terms of efficiency, ranking 14th in Reception NEP among 28 receivers with between 40 and 60 targets and 11th in Reception NEP per target among the same grouping.

Taking his entire analytical history into account, Blackmon presents a boom-or-bust player who, over the long run, is a slightly above-average wide receiver.

Other Factors Worth Considering

There are a few other issues that are sure to affect what Blackmon can do if he returns this season. First is what to make of the other wide receivers on Jacksonville’s current roster.

The top-three Jaguar pass catchers from last season -- Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Cecil Shorts -- were relatively unimpressive when it comes to our metrics here at numberFire.

Below is a table showing their respective NEP totals and rankings among the 62 wide receivers with at least 75 targets last season.

PlayerReception NEP (rank)Reception NEP per Target (rank)
Cecil Shorts33.32 (60th)0.30 (62nd)
Allen Robinson41.17 (59th)0.51 (54th)
Allen Hurns52.01 (53rd)0.54 (52nd)

As you can see, to call this trio inefficient would be a rather kind way to describe them. And although it’s tempting to jump to conclusions and say that the receiver corps in Jacksonville was horrendous last season, as the old saying goes, “it takes two to tango.”

Even the most dedicated Jacksonville fans had to have come into Blake Bortles’ rookie season in 2014 with a few reservations. Placed on a roster that was severely lacking offensive talent last season, Bortles’ struggles were to be expected.

But, as it turned out, “struggles” would end up as an understatement.

Last season there were 72 quarterbacks who attempted a pass. Bortles finished dead last in Passing NEP among them. His -97.97 mark was more than twice as poor as the 71st-ranked quarterback, Derek Carr (-40.94).

It’s obvious that the Jacksonville passing game needs to improve for the team to continue to make strides. Cecil Shorts may end up elsewhere before the 2015 season starts, but both Hurns and Robinson remain under contract.

Even so, it’s difficult to predict a massive turn around for this offense -- even if Blackmon gets re-instated.

What It All Could Mean

If Blackmon comes back and can play at the high level he has shown for spurts during his early career, he would instantly become the best receiver on the Jags roster. If Robinson and Hurns can improve, they would form a theoretically dangerous trio.

But Blackmon has shown throughout his time in the NFL that he is a spotty performer. After spending an entire season away from football, it’s tough to know what physical shape he’s in, let alone how he’s handling the time away mentally.

Throw in Blake Bortles, who was literally the worst quarterback in football last season according to our metrics, and it’s going to take more than one receiver coming back to save the passing offense.

If the Jacksonville front office truly believes he has made positive changes, there’s no doubt he’ll be back. But we should keep our expectations in check should he make his return in 2015.