The Jaguars have a number of in-house unrestricted free agents that they're going to need to make decisions on in the next month or so. Last week, I broke down veteran slot cornerback DJ Hayden. Today, it's time to switch sides of the ball, as we'll take a look at wide receiver Keelan Cole.
Cole has had a bit of a bumpy ride as a receiver in Jacksonville. As an undrafted free agent in 2017, Cole shined down the stretch as a role player during his rookie year. He was an explosive threat, catching 42 passes for 782 yards during the regular season. But in 2018, when the Jaguars placed more responsibility on Cole's shoulders due to injuries and poor play from other receivers, he wilted as the season dragged on. Cole dropped six of his 70 targets that year and hauled in less than 55% of the passes intended for him. But just as everyone was ready to write Cole off heading into 2019, he began to emerge as a more reliable weapon. In 2019 and 2020, Keelan Cole showed that he could win on the outside and in the slot, as he caught 64% of his targets and scored eight total touchdowns. He's an excellent route runner with enough speed and route running ability to get open more often than not, and he has a penchant for making spectacular grabs. He also proved to be a reasonably dangerous kick returner. Drops are still a minor issue for Cole, but he's shown that he can be an effective and versatile depth target in any offensive system.
Now, as Cole enters his prime, he's set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Should the Jaguars attempt to retain Cole, who's openly admitted that he'd like to stay in Jacksonville?
"When it comes to being in Jacksonville, I'm not really a party guy or anything, and apparently Jacksonville doesn't have that, so I feel really good here," Cole told the media. "I like the warm weather, hate the col; shoutout to Green Bay. I like the warm weather. I like being here, I like being a Jaguar. I'd rather be a Jaguar than a Falcon or a bird or some s*** like that."
As always, it depends on the price tag. In a perfect world, Cole would be your fourth or fifth option at wide receiver and also provide special teams value. But how much is that worth in a day and age when quality receivers seemingly grow on trees? And in a year that dozens of impressive wideouts are set to hit the open market, how much can Cole fetch from another team? The bottom line is, I wouldn't pay more than $4-5 million per season for Cole at this point. If Cole weren't so prone to drops, I'd have more interest in his return, but there are better options available on the free-agent market, and the upcoming draft class is loaded with talented pass catchers. A better use of the Jaguars' immense salary cap resources, from my point of view, would be to sign a bonafide number one receiver — think Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay — to pair with DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, and Collin Johnson. And then you supplement the WR group with a draftee or two.
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