Four weeks from now, we will be treated to the biggest influx of hope we’ve had concerning football in a long time; not because the labor issues will be solved, but because all 32 teams will have a handful of unknown commodities acquired through the NFL Draft and nothing feeds hope for the next season like the wonderful imaginations of fans. The biggest question on Jaguars fans’ mind is who will be the next 1st round selection by Jacksonville GM, Gene Smith. Here are my grades for how happy or upset I’ll be if the following names are called. Each of these players is projecting to be in the mid-to-late 1st round, close to the Jaguars’ #16 pick.
We’ll start with the best-case scenarios and work our way down to the worst-case…
Grade: “Draft this guy and I will personally pay his contract”
- Bowers or Amukamara falls to #16 (2009 all over again, baby!)
There is a possibility that a player who was ranked very high in every mock draft will take a (minor) fall like Eugene Monroe did in 2009. He was a Top 5 (mostly in the Top 3) pick in every mock and he fell down to the Jaguars at #8. There is growing concern that Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers has not healed completely from his knee injury and subsequent surgery. He ran a 4.9 40-yard dash, which is horribly low for a pass-rusher and will likely seriously hurt his stock. Just a few weeks ago he was a guaranteed Top-5 candidate and has been mocked as the #1 overall pick more than once (the all-important mock drafts), but with this news, he looks to be taking a tumble and who knows how far? Sure, his injury may hamper his ability to contribute immediately, but if Gene’s medical staff believe he will fully heal, you better believe that the Jaguars will take top 5 talent for a mid-1st pick and price.
Another candidate for falling back could be Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. Why? Because there are certain positions (QB, DE, OT) that tend to be over-drafted and positions like CB are more apt to falling back. Patrick Peterson is the consensus top CB and many believe he is the best player in the draft, but with the need in the top 5, he is most often seen falling to San Francisco at #7. The other teams between San Fran and Jacksonville with secondary needs are Dallas, who is rumored to be heavily targeting an offensive lineman and even cancelled their private workout with Amukamara and Houston, who is converting to the 3-4 defense this year and may place more priority on stabilizing their front seven for the overhaul. Amukamara would be a perfect match for the Jaguars, marrying “Best Available Player” philosophy with one of the key “Need” positions for the Jaguars – which is also the case for Bowers, because the Jaguars sadly have not fixed the passrush yet and have plenty of room to go.
- Cameron Jordan (DE California)
From the pool of players likely available for the Jaguars at 16th, Jordan is the leading candidate in my book for several reasons. He would be a perfect left Defensive End (the more stout, run-defending DE position), a position where the team has issues. Derrick Harvey’s days are numbered – I’ve heard no mention of his name by Gene Smith or Joe Cullen this off-season, which likely signals the end for him. Austen Lane played commendably at LDE in the second half of the season, certainly well enough to be the primary backup at the position, but the starter should be of higher caliber, in my opinion. Jeremy Mincey is more of a pass-rushing RDE and has had injury issues, although his play in second half of the season (playing with a cast over his broken arm, mind you) were very promising. Jordan has another interesting advantage. Having played for three years next to Tyson Alualu at Cal, they have the type of rapport that could make the transition to the NFL a much easier process for Cameron. With Tyson mentoring him through his rookie season, he can concentrate single-mindedly on football. As a senior, a renowned hard worker, team captain, and high motor – these forecast nicely into a signature GM Gene football player.
- JJ Watt (DE Wisconsin)
Now Watt is a very interesting player. He is a junior who played as a TE at Central Michigan in 2007, but has played the last two years as a DE at Wisconsin. Gene Smith has only drafted one player who was not a senior out of his fifteen draft picks in the last two years (Eben Britton, 2009 2nd rounder), so that may be working against Watt. However, he has an excellent work ethic and has very successfully made the transition to DE. He earned was co-MVP of last year’s Wisconsin team that made the Pro Bowl. Watt has elite strength and every tool to become a star DE in the NFL, as well. His technique could use improvement, but I’m sure Joe Cullen and Aaron Kampman will give him all the help he needs.
- Trading down and drafting Christian Ponder (QB Florida State)
Ponder is the only quarterback I would take in the 1st round, to be honest. Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton will be gone (plus, I have serious issues with Newton), Ryan Mallett has red flags all around him, and I have problems with Jake Locker, as well. I think Christian Ponder is the most NFL-ready QB in this class, but because of his recent arm injuries, many would consider him to be a big reach at 16th. I even spoke with two FSU supporters who said even with his strong combine and Senior Bowl, he is a late 1st round pick at best. I had a debate with the editor of Big Cat Country, Alfie Crow, about whether the Jaguars should pick Ponder or not at #16, if they are indeed sold on him. He argued that they should, because if Gene Smith thinks he is “the guy”, then they should not risk losing him and should pull the trigger at 16. I think that if the Jaguars trade down a few spots in exchange for an extra pick or two, that’s a risk worth taking. The teams picking between 16 and 24 have very little QB need and let’s be honest, the Jaguars’ draft last year was full of reaches. I think Austen Lane and Deji Karim were picked around where they should have been, but the rest could have been had later than we selected them. Don’t get me wrong, I could care less what Mel Kiper or other “experts” think about the Jaguars picks, but it would be nice to not spend the next several months until the season kicks off defending the Jaguars’ draft to EVERYBODY yet again.
Back to Ponder – there is nothing for me (or GM Gene) not to like about this guy. He is a senior, a hard worker, and a team captain. He has all the tools to be successful in the NFL (just give him good pass protection). As an added bonus, he’s very popular in Jacksonville since he is a local product. Team Teal is doing a great job, but drafting Ponder would offer the excitement and optimism that could really show a boost in ticket sales. If the Jags are able to trade down a few spots, I am all about drafting Christian Ponder.