Less than 24 hours after Baylor WR Tevin Reese notified the club of his intentions to retire before ever sporting a Blue & Gold jersey, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced the signing of a new hopeful in former New York Giants receiver Jerell Jernigan.
Jernigan, 26, comes to the Bombers after four years with the New York Giants, who selected him in the third-round of the 2012 NFL draft, and a Super Bowl ring. In 34 career games, the 26-year-old recorded 38 catches for 391 yards, 3 receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown before being released last August. He has experience as a return specialist, and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL combine after an illustrious career at Troy University.
Jernigan starred in a three game stretch to close out the 2013 regular season as a starter for the injured Victor Cruz, recording 19 catches. In week 17 against the Redskins, the 5-foot-8, 189-pound speedster had the greatest game of his young career with 6 catches for 90 yards, a 29-yard TD catch and a 49-yard TD run.
Although we’ve seen several players with excellent NFL pedigrees flop in the CFL before, Jernigan should be viewed as the favorite to start at Julian Feoli-Gudino’s slot-back position – ahead of Ricky Collins and Justin Veltung – heading into mini-camp with the Bombers expected to start four international receivers in 2016. And, in this case, the Bombers would easily boast the smallest receiving corps in the CFL with three starting slot-backs listed around 5-foot-7 in Jernigan, Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler – all of whom have been acquired during the Paul Lapolice era.
The Bombers have signed seven receivers (including Tevin Reese) this off-season that stand under six-feet – six of which fail to exceed 5-foot-9 – and it’s become apparent that offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice doesn’t value size like Chris Jones and Stephen McAdoo do in Saskatchewan. Lapolice is evidently bringing in players that are fits in his scheme, and having only signed two receivers that stand over six feet (Jace Davis, 6’1″, 210-lbs; Ricky Collins, 6’0″, 198-lbs) and re-signed two others of similar, larger statures – Kevin Cone (6’2″, 215-lbs) and Jhomo Gordon (6’1″, 198-lbs) both made starts for the Bombers in 2015 – a trend has certainly developed.
Lapolice is looking for shifty, explosive receivers that supply great speed and yards-after-catch ability. Building an offence that accommodates franchise QB Drew Willy’s strengths – as well as keeps him off of his back – is paramount. As an excellent deep-ball thrower who’s not the greatest under pressure, Lapolice’s idea to bring in quicker receivers that can use their shiftiness to both take the top off of defenses, and also make big gains from innocent speed-outs, makes a lot of sense for a team looking to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hand fast while still capitalizing on his comforts and strengths in the medium and deep passing game.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, has a different idea in mind, bringing in tall, possession receivers to form a clock-managing, ball-controlling offense similar to that of Jason Maas’ offense while in Ottawa. Instead of being a run-heavy team, Saskatchewan will use the passing game in a similar fashion to control the clock with short, high-percentage completions to big, reliable targets. Ideally, with bigger receivers, there will be fewer incomplete passes and interceptions as a result of the routes called and the receivers’ large frame that shields defensive backs from making a play on the ball, even when the quarterback is less accurate.
The tactics of both Lapolice and McAdoo are completely conflicting, and while both have their advantages and disadvantages, even in Lapolice’s scheme, the possibility of having three starting slot-backs that are around 5-foot-7 isn’t necessarily ideal – and I’m under the belief that size for CFL receivers is vastly overrated by fans and pundits.
Now, Ricky Collins or any of the other aforementioned pass-catchers that stand over 6-foot could still win the final starting job in the receiving corps over Jernigan all the while being equally good fits in the scheme – it’s about the traits of the receiver, not the actual size – but, difference is, the larger players offer traits that can’t be supplied by a 5-foot-7 player, such as a larger catch-radius to haul in less accurate passes, jump-ball abilities and different release techniques off of the line of scrimmage. Darvin Adams, who’ll start again at boundary wide receiver, makes up for some lack of size at 6-foot-2, but doesn’t necessarily play like a bigger receiver in all aspects. Adams can effectively use his big body to shield defenders while catching the football and while releasing off of the line, but isn’t as much of a threat as someone like Jeff Fuller, Terance Toliver or Tori Gurley on fade-routes against cover-0 blitzes, a route that gives defensive backs another threat to defend in heavy-blitz, man-on-man situations rather than just quick slants and speed-outs.
Even as someone who believes height is overrated for slot-backs in today’s CFL – they are rarely jammed at the line and can no longer push defensive backs off to gain separation without being flagged – the possibility of starting three ultra-short receivers at slot-back is still somewhat disconcerting. While there is a silver-lining in a sense that it is also advantageous, the Bombers still could be missing a piece in the offense without any bigger bodies, failing to reach their full potential as a receiving corps.
Nonetheless, Jernigan has tremendous upside and, going off what he demonstrated in the NFL, could give the offense another incredibly dangerous weapon. It would be up to Lapolice, himself, to compensate for the lack of size in the offense and take full advantage of having three dynamic, shifty receivers at the slot-back position.
Bombers’ receiving corps: tallest to shortest
1 .Addison Richards, Regina (6-foot-4, 212-lbs)
2. Kris Bastien, Concordia (6-foot-3, 210-lbs)
3. Kevin Cone, Georgia Tech (6-foot-2, 215 lbs)
4. Rory Kohlert, Saskatchewan (6-foot-2, 215-lbs)
5. Darvin Adams, Auburn (6-foot-2, 185-lbs)
6. Jace Davis, Northern Colorado (6-foot-one, 210-lbs)
7. Jhomo Gordon, Bethune-Cookman (6-foot-one, 198-lbs)
8. Julian Feoli-Gudino, Laval (6-foot, 211-lbs)
9. Ricky Collins, TAMC (6-foot, 198-lbs)
10. Evan Pszczonak, Windsor (6-foot, 185-lbs)
11. Justin Veltung, Idaho (5-foot-11, 185-lbs)
12. Quincy McDuffie, UCF (5-foot-10, 178-lbs)
13. Soloman Patton, Florida (5-foot-9, 177-lbs)
14. Jerell Jernigan, Troy (5-foot-8, 189-lbs)
15. Spencer Davis, Southeast Missouri State (5-foot-7, 197-lbs)
16. Weston Dressler, North Dakota (5-foot-7, 179-lbs)
17. Ryan Smith, NDSU (5-foot-7, 175-lbs)