JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars have tried to bolster their receiving corps for years, desperately looking to recapture the days when Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell gave opposing defenses fits.
They might finally have the combination to make it happen.
The Jaguars traded up to select Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. They gave up a fourth-round selection to swap spots with Tampa Bay.
That's a reasonable deal for a big, physical, fast and productive receiver Jacksonville hopes will provide an immediate boost to the NFL's worst offense. The Jaguars will pair Blackmon with free-agent signee Laurent Robinson, potentially creating a duo with the kind of big-play ability missing in Jacksonville since Smith and McCardell complemented each other so perfectly between 1996 and 2001.
"I think we've improved since we've been here," new coach Mike Mularkey said. "Obviously, today, that was great addition to our football team."
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert could benefit the most.
Gabbert, drafted with the 10th pick in 2010, struggled as a rookie. He completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 2,214 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The front office cited coaches and receivers as the main reasons for Gabbert's slow development.
The Jaguars have a revamped staff and three new receivers: Blackmon, Robinson and veteran Lee Evans.
The small-market franchise has failed repeatedly to find someone to replace Smith and McCardell. They drafted R. Jay Soward in the first round in 2000, selected Reggie Williams in the first round in 2004 and chose Matt Jones in the first round in 2005. All three are out of the league.
Throw in Mike Sims-Walker, Jerry Porter, Ernest Wilford and Dennis Northcutt, and the Jaguars have simply whiffed while trying to land a go-to guy. Even recently drafted receivers like Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Tiquan Underwood and Cecil Shorts have done little to reverse the trend.
Blackmon could change things for years to come.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder caught 122 passes for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He had 111 receptions for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns the year before.
"He's got an edge to him," Mularkey said. "He's one of these guys who doesn't think he can be covered. That's pretty important at that position with that kind of confidence, that you can line up and dare somebody to try to stop you and believe that you can't be. I like that edge."
Blackmon said it helps.
"With that mindset, you're always thinking about scoring," Blackmon said.
Being able to block also is key in Mularkey's run-oriented offense. Mularkey compares Blackmon to former Pittsburgh Steelers standout Hines Ward and Atlanta's Roddy White.
The Jaguars, though, will ask Blackmon to do much more.
Coaches likely will put him right in the starting lineup opposite Robinson during summer workouts and training camp.
"He's a competitor," general manager Gene Smith said. "He attacks the ball. He's strong to the ball and he's strong with the ball."
Blackmon also could help take some pressure off franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He led the league with a franchise-record 1,606 yards rushing last season despite facing eight- and nine-man defensive fronts.
"If we're productive in the passing game, it will help in a lot of areas — the run game, other receivers, tight ends, backs," Mularkey said.
Blackmon will travel to Jacksonville on Friday, getting a tour of the facility and his first look at the playbook.
"I'm very excited and anxious to get up there and start working and try to earn a way to the playing field," Blackmon said.
The Jaguars talked about wanting to trade down from No. 7, but got few takers. Smith talked to several teams before the draft about trading up, but it didn't start developing until Blackmon fell to the Buccaneers at No. 5. Tampa Bay signed go-to receiver Vincent Jackson in free agency, and the player the Bucs coveted — running back Trent Richardson — was already off the board, so trading down made sense.
And the Jaguars were interested, but only because Blackmon was available.
What will he bring to Jacksonville?
"I'm a competitor, someone that likes to compete, go up and get some ball, not afraid to run across the middle, someone that's going to give it all he has every time he steps across the line," he said.