Breaking into the Redskins' lineup at the wide receiver position is no small feat. The wideout spot is arguably the deepest on the team.
Laveranues Coles made his first Pro Bowl last season after catching 82 passes for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns. Rod Gardner was a first-round draft choice in 2001 and leads the team with five touchdowns this season. Veteran James Thrash has nearly 3,000 career receiving yards and Darnerien McCants tied Coles for the team lead in touchdown receptions last season.
Where does that leave Taylor Jacobs this season? The second-year player has quietly become a dependable option for the Redskins' offense and is seeing increased action as a third receiver. He has 11 receptions--tied for third-best on the team--for 85 yards this season. He caught a career-high five balls in the Week 8 game against Green Bay and followed that up with four catches for 37 yards in last Sunday's game against Cincinnati.
Jacobs was the Redskins' second-round draft pick in 2003. He was expected to go higher, but he slipped down the draft board to the Redskins, who had earlier in the offseason picked up Coles.
Jacobs enjoyed a promising rookie training camp but suffered a freak abdominal injury in a preseason game against Jacksonville that limited his effectiveness all season. He dove for a pass and fell on a Jaguar defender, and the injury sidelined him for the first three regular season games. He finished his rookie campaign with three catches for 37 yards and one TD.
This year, Jacobs has been a steady contributor on special teams. He saw his first action as a wide receiver in Week 3 against Dallas and caught a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.
Jacobs made his first career start against Baltimore in Week 5 when the Redskins began the game in a three wideout formation.
"You can see that Taylor's confidence is building every game," Gardner said. "When he gets an opportunity to get out on the field, it's good for him. Overall, I think he works hard every day to get better."
Gardner emphasized how important the developmental process is for a player such as Jacobs.
"It's big because in your first year, people don't expect too much," said Gardner, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his second season. "They expect you to come out and go through a learning process. In the second year, they want to see how much you've developed over time. It's a big adjustment."
Jacobs' athletic abilities impressed cornerback Fred Smoot, who squares off against Jacobs regularly in practice.
"He's just been one of those people who is sitting back waiting on his chance," Smoot said. "I told a lot of people last year he was one of the most talented receivers on this team. He's got real combination of strength, speed and quickness that you'll rarely see in a receiver."
Jacobs played for former Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier while the two were at Florida, and Jacobs seemed like a perfect fit for Spurrier's offense at the professional level. During his senior season at Florida, Jacobs was named to the All-Southeastern Conference first team and finished his college career with 2,097 receiving yards, the ninth-most in school history.
Now that Joe Gibbs has replaced Spurrier, Jacobs believes his chances for succeeding in Gibbs' new offense are equally as good.
"It's a great offense, probably one of the best offenses that I've ever played in," Jacobs said of Gibbs' scheme. "I know it's eventually going to work. We're just a step away from it."
He continued: "I'm really just a team player. It's really not that tough. Whatever Coach Gibbs asks me to do I'm going to do it. I'm going to give my best effort."
For now, Jacobs recognizes that he is still maturing as a NFL receiver. He hopes that his playing time continues to increase as he learns from the talented receivers surrounding him. He has pinpointed recognizing defensive coverage and learning the subtleties of running pass routes as skills he needs to improve on in the weeks ahead.
"I feel like I'm getting better," Jacobs said. "I just keep striving to be like the best."