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.
[table id=500 /]
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.
- 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). [↩]