Allen Hurns closer to locking himself in as a starter

The Jacksonville Jaguars wisely made some huge investments on the offensive side of the ball to help ensure that Blake Bortles has a much better sophomore season, but the steps forward from their second-year wide receiver trio of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee could prove to be even more important than the signing of possible No. 1 target Julius Thomas.

This morning, the Florida Times Union’s Ryan O’Halloran gave some more unsurprising praise to Robinson for his impressive work in training camp, and he also confirmed that Hurns continues to run as one of the starting wide receiver in two-wide sets. This, of course, means that he continues to be over the more touted and physically gifted Lee, who would have been a first-round pick in the 2014 draft had he not had injury concerns.

Lee, in addition to the injury issues, also had drop and consistency issues as a draft prospect, and those marred his elite playmaking ability and smooth route-running. He flashed both of those at times as a rookie, but those flashes were few and far between. He finished his first season in the league with a 54.4% catch rate, as per Advanced Football Analytics, failing to make the most of his 68 targets.

Meanwhile, Hurns immediately looked like the biggest UDFA steal of the class by putting up 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles easily-torched secondary. Hurns’s star faded after that, but he still managed to look like a promising find by finishing with 51 receptions for 677 yards, six touchdowns, and a hefty 13.3 yards per reception as the offenses’s main source of playmaking juice.

Hurns had some negatives to mull over as a rookie, as he dropped seven passes, as per Pro Football Focus, and was 70th out of 90 qualifiers in yards per route run. But on the bright side, Hurns had a lower drop rate than Lee and averaged slightly more yards per route run than his more touted rookie counterpart. And when it comes to efficiency, he did well on a “per target” basis with a team-leading 7.0 yards per target to overcome his 52.6% catch rate.

Lee and rookie Rashad Greene, whose ability to get open in college was a treat to watch, will give Hurns plenty of competition, but the 6’3″, 195-pound Miami product is well on his way to being the team’s No. 2 wide receiver again as a sophomore after receiving 97 targets last year. Those targets will go down as Thomas and Robinson get targets (Robinson will surely have more than 77 targets thrown his way), but Hurns continues to lead the way over Lee, whose consistency and injury issues have been the story.

There’s a chance Lee could blossom in the preseason and may just be dealing with a run of bad health, but Allen Hurns is getting closer and closer to locking up that No. 2 job. He’s an intriguing player due to his relatively high yards per reception and semi-respectable yards per target marks as a rookie, and only Robinson looked more impressive last season when examining the Jaguars wide receivers last season.

As it stands right now, it looks like Hurns will be the “Z” to Robinson’s “X” in two-wide sets before kicking inside in three-wide sets, which will allow Lee to move to the outside. But in a run-heavy offense that figures to turn to Thomas and Robinson frequently (they are clearly the team’s two most talented pass-catching weapons) when Bortles steps back to pass, Hurns, again, can’t expect to have a high volume of targets headed his way in 2015.

Like Lee, Hurns has his own consistency issues to work out, but it wasn’t surprising to see a UDFA disappearing from stretches of games as a rookie. He clearly doesn’t have the athletic ability that Lee does, but he does have a good size-speed combination and is a more productive and less injury-prone player than the former USC star. Lee has the upside, but Hurns has the leg up.

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