When Jordan Shipley was drafted out of the University of Texas during the 2010 NFL Draft, some called him our very own Wes Welker. While an unfair comparison, one could easily see the similarities, starting with the fact both are from Texas Schools (Welker being from Texas Tech) who currently work primarily as slot receivers. While Welker is the best in the business at what he does, Shipley still has a lot to prove. Another similarity between the two is that they have both torn ligaments in their knee at some point during their respective careers. Welker tore his at the end of the 2009 season, while Shipley tore his at the beginning of the 2011 season. Welker struggled a bit during the 2010 season, catching 86 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. These are still good numbers, but not what we have grown accustomed to seeing out of Welker. Of course, Welker had less time to rehab for the 2010 season than Shipley does this year, but he eventually resumed his production last season, posting 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. If Shipley full recovers from his injury, he should give Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense a huge boost.
Because of his injury, we did not get to see how a Shipley and Dalton relationship impacting the team. We saw Andy Dalton's career explode into the NFL with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, absent Shipley. Now imagine adding a dimension like Shipley to the offense, the underneath routes, hot reads and exposed zones in undercoverage.
It has been often documented that Dalton does not have the strongest arm in the NFL. While reportedly working to getting stronger during the offseason, Shipley actually works perfectly for the type of arm that Dalton possesses. Shipley will run shorter routes from the slot position, reading and reacting to the opposing defensive coverages. But it's especially the timing of routes that could boom a relationship between Dalton and Shipley.
Look at current Jets and former TCU receiver Jeremy Kerley. He was Dalton's favorite target at TCU. Like Shipley, Kerley provides solid speed, solid route running with a fearlessness to catches passes over the middle. Shipley could mean to Dalton in the NFL what Kerley meant to Dalton in college. Additionally Shipley hopefully allows Gresham to run more vertical down the seam of opposing defenses. According to Pro Football Focus, 40 of Gresham's 61 catches last season were on routes ran of ten yards or less. In order for this offense to gain in lethal explosion, Gresham needs to make bigger plays. The use of Shipley in the short passing game will allow Gresham match-up problems against linebackers and safeties.
Towards the end of the season, Dalton appeared to be forcing the ball to Green. Who can really blame him for that? But Dalton needs to feel comfortable with his other targets as well. Adding Sanu, Jones, and Orson Charles will help, but Shipley could become Dalton's security blanket. Slot receivers need to be comfortable catching the ball in heavy traffic, with the use of great hands, while reading the defense and generating separation. This is especially true in the West Coast offense.
While Jordan Shipley will probably not make or break the team's overall postseason chances this season, he will be a positive force on the field among a collection of very young and inexperienced receivers. He will extend possessions with third down receptions and provide a measure of security in the slot that Dalton did not have last season. The receiver battle will be the top position battle to watch during training camp, in my opinion. While the number two receiver spot is still up in the air, Shipley will be given every opportunity lock down the slot with ease.