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Placing Cecil Shorts’ Production in Context

Shorts made the most of his one catch against the Colts

Shorts made the most of his one catch against the Colts.

One of the surprising success stories of the 2012 season was the breakout performance of second-year Jacksonville wide receiver Cecil Shorts. With a cap value of $729,000 in 2013, Shorts is probably the best value on the Jaguars roster. But he’s one of the more confusing players to project.

The optimistic outlook on Shorts is simple. He missed two games with a concussion and took a couple of weeks to become a key part of the Jacksonville offense (he didn’t record a catch in week two, for example): in his final 12 games, Shorts averaged over 75 yards per game and scored 6 touchdowns. That would put him on a 1200-yard, 8-touchdown pace over a full slate of 16 games as a starter.

But there are other factors to consider. Shorts was only a fourth round pick and gained just 30 yards as a rookie, so he doesn’t have much of a resume beyond 2012. And while he may have produced impressive numbers, Jacksonville ranked 29th in ANY/A last year, making Shorts the co-star (along with Justin Blackmon) of a really bad passing offense. And what’s impressive about that?

So which view should carry more weight? The productive season he had as an individual or the fact that he’s a low-pedigree player who was only responsible for 26.1% of the receiving yards on a terrible passing team?

I decided to look at all second-year wide receivers since 1990 who gained between 23.1 and 29.1 percent of their team’s receiving yards. There were 36 such players before last year, when Shorts, Julio Jones, and Jeremy Kerley joined the list. The table below lists each second-year wide receiver, his age (as of December 31st) and receiving stats in his second season, percentage of team receiving yards, team ANY/A Rank, draft pick, and associated draft value. You can read the fine print here;1 the table is sorted by ascending Team ANY/A rank.

YearTeamPlayerAgeRec          RecYdRecTD        %TmYdsANY/A RkDraft PkDraft Val
1996GNBAntonio Freeman24.656933923.7%1905.9
1997SFOTerrell Owens24.160936827.3%4896
2007PITSantonio Holmes23.852942827.6%62514.1
1995ATLBert Emanuel25.2741039523.3%64510.4
1992CLEMichael Jackson23.747755724.3%61413.1
2012ATLJulio Jones23.97911981025.4%8623.2
1996HOUChris Sanders24.648882426.8%8677.8
1992KANWillie Davis25.236756324.3%80
2011PITAntonio Brown25.3691108225.6%101951
2006BALMark Clayton24.567939526.6%102214.9
2009PHIDeSean Jackson23.1621156926.4%11499.8
2007NORMarques Colston24.69812021127.2%112520
1991NYJRob Moore23.370987528.8%132813.4
2010NYGHakeem Nicks237910521126.3%142913.2
1992PITJeff Graham23.949711123.3%144610.2
2009JAXMike Sims-Walker25.163869724.1%15796.8
2010TENKenny Britt22.342775923.6%163012.9
2000PITBobby Shaw25.740672424.5%161691.9
1997NYJKeyshawn Johnson25.470963527.1%16134.6
1992NYGEd McCaffrey24.449610523.2%18836.5
2002MIAChris Chambers24.452734323.9%19529.4
2002CLEQuincy Morgan25.356964726.3%203312.3
1992PHORandal Hill23.358861325.7%212314.6
2010JAXMike Thomas23.666820424.4%231074.8
1998TAMReidel Anthony22.251708725.4%231616.9
1997INDMarvin Harrison25.373866624.3%231915.8
1999TAMJacquez Green2456791328.4%243412.1
1993TAMCourtney Hawkins24.162933528.3%244410.5
2002WASRod Gardner25.2711006828.6%251517.4
2010CHIJohnny Knox24.251960528.3%261403.1
2005BUFLee Evans24.848743726.1%261318.3
1998NYGIke Hilliard22.751715225.3%26722.2
1996NYJWayne Chrebet23.484909323.2%270
1991PHORicky Proehl23.855766225.2%27588.7
2012JAXCecil Shorts2555979726.1%291144.4
2012NYJJeremy Kerley24.156827226%301532.6
2010MINPercy Harvin22.671868526.1%302214.9
2000CLEKevin Johnson24.557669024.5%303212.5
2006CLEBraylon Edwards23.961884627.2%31327.6

Shorts has a few things going against him. He’s old for his class year (making a comparison to Harvin inappropriate), he played for a poor passing team, and his draft value is low. Even if you ignore age, his combination of bad passing team and low draft value is enough to raise a red flag despite his production. Mike Thomas, Johnny Knox, and Wayne Chrebet (and Kerley) would be comparable players as far as production/draft status/team rank, and Kevin Johnson (the 32nd pick) and Bobby Shaw (16th in ANY/A) would enter the picture if you lowered the thresholds a bit. With the exception of Chrebet — and more on him in a bit — that’s not a very promising set of comparables. What’s often ignored when analyzing wide receivers is that it’s easier to stand out in a crowd of short trees, and that’s an apt description of Marcedes Lewis, Laurent Robinson, Jordan Shipley, and Rashad Jennings (the players who ranked 3rd through 6th in receiving yards for Jacksonville last year). Julio Jones would be responsible for more than 25% of his team’s receiving yards if he wasn’t playing with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

On the other hand, Shorts isn’t really comparable to players with low yards-per-catch averages. Shorts ranked 2nd in the NFL with a 17.8 average gain last year, while Chrebet (10.8), Mike Thomas (12.4), and Kevin Johnson (12.4) were possession receivers. But Shorts wasn’t just a deep threat like Knox — according to Pro Football Focus, Shorts led all players (minimum 500 snaps) in YAC/C (yards after the catch per catch) at 8.5 (ironically, this draft profile noted that Shorts was not a threat in the open field).  Because of his after-the-catch production, Shorts averaged 2.31 yards per route run, good enough for tenth place out of the 82 receivers who saw at least 25% of their team’s targets. [Although, as you can see in the comments, both Football Outsiders and NFL GSIS credit Shorts with only 6.6 YAC.]

Shorts ranked 18th in targets per route run, indicating that he was a big part of the Jaguars passing game (Blackmon ranked 40th), but the real advantage he had was his yards after the catch. Whether that’s a repeatable skill, especially in light of his concussion issues, is the big question.  I’d still take Blackmon over Shorts — he’s two years younger, was a much higher draft pick, and was only a rookie last year — but Shorts is one of those players that’s tough to figure out.  He’s productive, but on a bad team.  He had a huge yards per reception average, but isn’t targeted infrequently like typical deep threats.  He led the league in yards after the catch, but was a lowly drafted player. And that’s before thinking about how Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have held him back. Perhaps the addition of Luke Joeckel and a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will help Shorts in 2013. But I can’t figure out if he’s a rising star or a player who simply took advantage of (1) playing on a team that threw 586 passes, and (2) being better than Laurent Robinson and a 22-year-old rookie wide receiver.

What do you think of Cecil Shorts?

Update: Sigmund Bloom asked on twitter for a breakdown of Shorts’ stats based on situation. The Jaguars had an average Game Scripts score of -4.5, but let’s break it down by score and time remaining. Jacksonville had 636 pass plays.

  • The Jaguars had 95 pass plays down by 21 or more points. Shorts was targeted on 18 of those plays, and caught 12 passes for 186 yards. This means Shorts gained 19% of his receiving yards when down by 21+, but those situations still made up 15% of all Jaguars pass plays.
  • Jacksonville had 52 passes in the 4th quarter when trailing by 14-20 points. Shorts had 3 catches for 31 yards. So Shorts gained 3% of his yards in these situations, which made up 8% of the Jaguars pass plays.
  • Shorts did gain 39% of his receiving yards — 384 yards to be exact — in the 4th quarter. But that includes a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds against Minnesota and an 80-yard game-winning touchdown against the Colts. Neither of those could be considered garbage time but they make up 12% of his total yards (and a good bit of YAC, too). And in any event, 36% of all Jaguars pass plays came in the 4th quarter.


  1. Rob Moore was taken by the Jets in the Supplemental Draft; they chose to give up a first round pick in the 1991 draft for him. There’s no right answer to what his draft value should be, as it involves figuring out a discount rate to get a player a year early and a projection of what pick the Jets would have the following year. I decided to simply treat it as if the Jets surrendered the 28th pick in the draft for Moore, as that was the final pick in the first round during that era.

    ANY/A stands for Adjusted Net Yards per passing Attempt, calculated as follows: (pass yards + 20*passTD – 45*interceptions – sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks). []

  • Ryan

    Great read, interesting to see how he shakes out against some other second year receivers in terms of numbers. As a Jaguars fan, I am fascinated by Shorts just as much as you are. His production was great last year, and every week I thought to myself “this is the week Shorts won’t show up”, but every week he made something happen. Sometimes it can be good to look beyond the stats, Shorts is a clinical route runner with good vision after the catch. He is being coached by Jerry Sullivan and really showed improvement just after one off season with him as his coach. I think he is a solid Number 2 receiver who can stretch the field and make some big plays, there is no doubt the Jaguars need a true Number 1 guy still, and as of now, it is hard to see Blackmon straightening himself out. Shorts is the kind of small school, chip on his shoulder type player that every one loves and I expect him to have a lengthy career with the Jaguars.

    • Chase Stuart

      I agree with you. To be more specific, I think the question is whether he can turn into a number 1 guy. One could argue that a 2nd-year receiver who averaged 75 yards/game is a future #1. Shorts had very similar numbers to what TO produced in his second year. I think things like Shorts’ age and the fact that he put up these numbers on a bad passing team (not a knock on Shorts, but a sign that he wasn’t “competing” for targets with a talented set of targets) are reasons to be less optimistic on his future. The counter to that might be that he had to deal with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, although Jacksonville did rank 11th in pass attempts.

      I do feel comfortable in saying Shorts would be a solid #2 for a bunch of years.

  • Pro Football Focus’s numbers are often wrong, and the number you cited is one of those errors. C.J. Spiller led all players who qualified for receiving leaders in YAC / C at 11.77. Among wide receivers, Percy Harvin averaged 8.66 to lead that position group.

    Cecil Shorts averaged 6.55 YAC / C. That’s still pretty good, ranking him 17th in the League last year, and it’s a couple yards per catch more than Justin Blackmon averaged.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks Chris. According to the NFL’s Game Statistic and Information System, Harvin (8.66), T.Y. Hilton (7.74), Brandon LaFell (7.09), Pierre Garcon (7.02), Andrew Hawkins (6.71), Chris Givens (6.6), and Cecil Shorts (6.55) were the top wide receivers in YAC/C. I have no thoughts on how to resolve the inconsistency between the PFF and NFLGSIS data.

      • Chase Stuart

        I e-mailed Aaron Schatz, and he also has Shorts with a 6.6 average YAC.