The Jaguars path to 9-4 in 2017 has been filled with ups, downs, excitement, and aggravation. The Jaguars passing offense has struggled for much of the season, but in recent weeks the Big Cats have hit their stride when it comes to moving the ball through the air. Dede Westbrook, a fourth round pick out of Oklahoma, and Keelan Cole, an undrafted free agent from Kentucky Wesleyan, have become two key cogs in the Jaguars newly potent passing attack.
Both Cole and Westbrook had impressive training camps and preseasons. Cole regularly showed off his speed and playmaking ability in camp, while Westbrook led the NFL in receiving yards during the preseason.
But both players got off to a slow start in the regular season. Westbrook suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery and was forced to miss the Jaguars first nine games of the 2017 regular season. Cole was forced into action early on during the regular season due to a heavily injured receiving corp and struggled with consistency.
But over the last few weeks the Jaguars pair of rookie WRs have had a big impact on offense, and have been a major part of the turnaround for the Jags passing attack.
Against the Colts and the Seahawks in week 13 and week 14 the Jaguars passing offense was electric. The team scored 30 points in each contest. In the two contests combined QB Blake Bortles completed 71% of his passes for 577 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and a passing rating over or 120.
The play of the offensive line, the running game, and Marqise Lee have all been major factors in the turnaround for the Jaguars aerial attack, but the emergence of Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook as reliable playmakers cannot be overlooked.
Over the last two weeks Cole has caught each of his six targets and has catches of 32 and 75 yards. His explosiveness and his strong hands have been on display. Never more so than during his 75 yard catch and run against the Seahawks that helped the Jaguars to achieve victory on Sunday. His 100% catch rate during the last two games combined with his speed makes him a huge factor, not only for the rest of 2017, but also into the future.
Westbrook has been a perfect addition to the Jaguars offense since being activated in week 11. The rookie has been targeted 33 times in the four games he's played and has caught 20 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown.
With Allen Robinson out for the season and Allen Hurns battling a high ankle sprain the emergence of these two rookie wide receivers for the Jaguars is exactly what the doctor ordered. Keelan Cole has become a huge threat down the field, while Westbrook has been a reliable possession receiver. If they can continue to play at a high level then the Jaguars offense might be one of the hottest and most surprising units in the NFL to finish the season.
Not bad for a fourth round pick that was heavily criticized due to off field issues and an undrafted free agent who was given no respect due to the level of competition he played against in college.
Have you been impressed with the play of these two rookies? Let us know in th comments below.
Stay tuned for more!
Follow Jordan de Lugo on Twitter.