NFL AM: Forgotten Man At WR For Jaguars


The Forgotten Jaguar

The Jacksonville Jaguars offense was one of the biggest surprises in football last season.  Fans in North Florida saw their group of heralded and unheralded second-year talents blossom into real offensive production.

Quarterback Blake Bortles re-wrote most of the franchise’s passing records while wide receiver Allen Robinson earned a Pro Bowl selection on the heels of an 80-catch, 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown 2015 campaign.  Former undrafted free agent Allen Hurns had a career year while playing second-fiddle to Robinson by catching 64 passes, for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns of his own.

Absent from most of the fun was the receiver that was selected highest by the team in the 2014 NFL Draft, Marqise Lee.

After a few stellar seasons at USC, Lee had a somewhat disappointing junior campaign which caused him to fall into the second round of the draft (39th overall).  Armed with game-breaking speed and a solid set of hands, fans and coaches alike were excited to see him on the field for the Jags.

Unfortunately, those occurrences have been all too few and far in-between for Jaguars fans and coaches, causing him to be monikered, “The Albino Tiger” by offensive coordinator Greg Olsen, as Lee has battled knee, ankle and hamstring injuries since being selected by the team.

“He’s to me like the albino tiger at the zoo,” Olson said, via The Florida Times-Union. “You get there and if you’re lucky enough to get him to come out of the cage and see him, it’s a good day. I’ve only seen him three times (in practice) since I’ve been here. Those three days he was very impressive, but he’s only been out three days. So, we’re hoping we can get him healthy and see him a little bit more.”

That was during last season’s training camp and it would be a sign of things to come, as Lee had just 15 catches for 191 yards with a touchdown in his sophomore season of 2015.

The problem for Lee is that nobody has really missed him.  “The Allen’s,” Robinson and Hurns more than picked up the slack and the team has an elite tight end passing target in Julius Thomas. Add in newly acquired running back Chris Ivory with 2015’s second-round pick T.J. Yeldon, and it’s difficult to figure out where Lee fits in to this offense.

The good news for the former Trojans star is that the pressure is almost completely off of him. The Jaguars have proven that they don’t need him to be a No. 1 guy.  It’s honestly uncertain if they even need him at all.  All Lee has to worry about this year is staying healthy and finding a niche in an offense where he’s likely never going to see a double-team.

One of the guys rooting for him is Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, who has always sang the praises of Lee, even when it was easy to pile on the “Albino Tiger.”

“It’s just what we had asked him to do,” Bradley said when asked about Lee and his new-found health. “Now you only have four days. Come back, be smart over this time. But he is. You see him doing more things to take care of his body. That’s the one thing with our wide receiving crew. I talked to Allen Robinson too. He said he’s learning his body more – what it can handle, what he needs to do, he can protect things. Hopefully Marqise is in that same.”

Lee’s career in Jacksonville and possibly his NFL career hinge on him being able to suit up for 16 games, or somewhere close to that.  He’s not a diva, and he’s a great teammate who is always supporting his guys, even if they’re potentially taking reps away from him.  This is an organization that has believed in him and stuck by him, and also one where he has a great opportunity to succeed, even if it’s in a niche role.

The Jaguars spent last training camp putting GPS style locators and monitors on Lee to try and limit his reps and keep him as healthy as possible.

Bradley was asked about if he was done managing Lee’s health.

“I don’t know if I’d say I ever – I guess managing – I talk to the whole team a lot,” he said. “I think we just have conversations still. We still have continued conversations. I think he’s starting to take ownership of it more, I feel a lot.”

Lee is hoping to make Jaguars fans wake up and remember the reason why he was drafted ahead of guys like Jordan Matthews, John Brown, Martavis Bryant and current teammates Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

Another Tough Break For Morris

Just four years ago, Alfred Morris was the underrated backbone to the Washington Redskins rushing attack which catapulted them to the NFC East title.

Of course, fellow rookie Robert Griffin, III stole away most of the headlines en route to his Rookie of the Year season which he would never again come close to.

All Morris did was run for an NFL high 1,613 yards with 13 touchdowns and somehow, someway, Griffin received most of the credit as a “decoy.”

In the three proceeding years, Morris saw his carries and production diminish, as it all came to a head in 2015 when the team drafted former University of Florida running back Matt Jones to eventually replace him.  The two split carries and the writing was clearly on the wall that Morris’ talents would soon no longer be necessary in the nation’s capital.

Following his 1,600 yard season, Morris’ yardage totals were 1,275, 1,074 and then 751.  A four year total of 4,713 rushing yards is nothing to sneeze at and shouldn’t have a guy be little more than an afterthought in the free agency market.

What if the totals came in reverse order?

If they did, he would be…..DeMarco Murray.  Murray’s first three season’s in Dallas amount to rushing totals of 897, 663, 1,121 before breaking out in his fourth season to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards behind a great offensive line.

Murray’s four year total was 4,526 yards and that resulted in a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles that included $21 million of guaranteed money.

Morris took an opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys a few months ago worth a modest $3.5 million over two years with a $1 million signing bonus.

To make matters exponentially worse for Morris, the team used the fourth-overall pick in the draft on former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot.

Although Elliot said earlier this week after the team’s first set of OTA’s that the game “moves so much faster,” it’s pretty much understood by all that he is the present and future of the Cowboys ground game.

Where does that leave Morris?  Married to a situation for the next two years in which he’ll never be “the man” and he will likely hit free agency at the age of 29 with a presumably thin resume.

Morris was a great story as a rookie as he drove his 1991 Mazda 626 while he was saving money in an NFL world which longevity is extremely uncertain.  Unfortunately for the former sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, he’s going to likely have to pinch his pennies for the rest of his career.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.