Although the NFL draft is still 3 months away, I’m starting to have issues with the 1st round pick of the Jaguars. Picking at 7 is generally a good thing to boost your roster (just think to Joe Haden and Aldon Smith – the 7th picks of the draft in 2010 and 2011), I started to feel that the Jaguars will be in No-Man’s-Land with theirs in 2012. I think the Top 5 picks of the draft are already set – the Colts will select Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the 1st overall pick, and after him Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, USC OT Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon and LSU CB Morris Claiborne will most likely be selected in the Top 5 (unless injuries or something off the field happens). But after those players, I see a significant talent drop. Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick could be great good value at 7, but his recent off the field incindent with the law dropped him back (if not out) from General manager Gene Smith’s list. Although it’s a bit early, here are a couple scenarios that could happen with the 7th pick on April 26th.
The “Eugene Monroe scenario”: In ’09 Monroe was considered as a Top 5, even Top 2 pick. But he was surprisingly still around at 8th on Draft Day, so the Jaguars selected him. This year that player could be CB Morris Claiborne or WR Justin Blackmon. I think Blackmon will be gone by pick 7 and although he established himself as the best WR prospect in this draft class, some say he may be another Michael Crabtree (which is still better than the Jaguars have at the position right now….). The prospect I’d like to see falling back a little is Claiborne. With him the Jaguars can find the successor for Rashean Mathis (who will be a free agent in March, and coming off an ACL injury) and could be a perfect ‘need meets value’ type prospect.
Quinton Coples: Probably the best senior prospect of the draft, he would fill a big need for the Jaguars at DE. Right now almost every mock draft (which tend not to pair a WR with Jacksonville) predict him as the Jaguars’ selection. He did okay in ’11 although his stats fell down a bit from ’10. He registered 7.5 sacks and 10 TFLs in 2011, while in his junior year he recorded 10 sacks & 15.5 TFLs. He is probably a solid player, but he is not the next Julius Peppers. Also observing him this season (last on the Independence Bowl vs Missouri), I noticed he was not playing 100% on every snap he was in on, which raises some questions about his motor and work ethic. That’s obviously not a good sign.
A new offensive lineman: There are three offensive line prospects who might be worth the 7th pick, Stanford’s OG David DeCastro and OT Jonathan Martin and Iowa’s OT Riley Reiff. Gene Smith’s philosophy, to “built this team by the 2 strong lines” is still far from being done. I see bigger problems at the offensive line, which is great in run support, but often still show plenty of weak points in pass protection. DeCastro would be a great fit a G, because Will Rackley often struggled at the position, and he may end up as the successor of Brad Meester at C. The Jaguars have issues at RT as well. Eben Britton dealing with injuries in the last 2 seasons, and Guy Whimper is really nothing more then a backup (and he will be a free agent in March), and although I liked how Cameron Bradfield played in ’11, he is more of a backup than a starter (in which role he fits perfectly). Now the question is, if the Jaguars draft an OT at 7, what will they do with him? That draft position is a bit high for a RT in my opinion, and it would make no sense to put Monroe to the right side, after finally he starting to play well protecting Gabbert’s blind side.
Wide Receiver: This would be the obvious choice, but thare are a couple of problems. Other then Justin Blackmon I see nobody who is worth the 7th pick. There are three other WR prospects who might be drafted in April in the 1st round: South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, and Baylor’s Kendall Wright. It’s no secret I really like Jeffery, and I think he is a more complete player than Blackmon, but his ’11 year was much worse than what he (and everybody else) expected. First off, South Carolina had had enough of the Charlie Sheen-ish lifestyle of QB Stephen Garcia and the college decided to throw him out of the program, then the Gamecocks’ star RB Marcus Lattimore was injured. After these setbacks Jeffery faced double teams from opposing DBs, and very often got 2-3 passes a game for short yardage. But in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska he proved once again, that he is a 1st round prospect. He became the MVP of the game despite he and CB Alfonzo Dennard (who is also a 1st round prospect) being ejected in the middle of the game because of a fight. Still I think he would be a reach and/or desprerate move picking him at 7. Michael Floyd has little chance to became a Jaguars player, mostly because he has serious character issues. Kendall Wright was extremely effective with Robert Griffin at Baylor, but he is (just like most of the current Jaguars WRs) very small sized at 5′ 10″. That being said, he could have an impact like Torrey Smith had for the Ravens in ’11, or Mike Wallace for the Steelers in the recent years. And since Deji Karim’s return is looking very shaky, the Jaguars might need a new kick returner (which Wright could do) too. But still, he is not a Top 10 prospect in my opinion.
Trent Richardson: The junior RB from Alabama is a prospect who I think is worth a high Top 10 pick. The new coaching staff of the Jaguars (head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski) both count on a very strong running game. Although what Maurice Jones-Drew did in ’11 was beyond words, he can’t do that alone for long. I know Rashad Jennings will return as his backup (and he will be entering his final season on his contract) but with Richardson the Jaguars would make a long term move. I hope a lot great of years are still left in Jones-Drew’s legs, but with Richardson, the Jaguars could bring in a young player who can pick up some carries and take off pressure pressure the way MJD did for Fred Taylor between 2006-08. He would be a Best Available Player (BAP) pick too, which is the Jaguars’ declared philosophy. The setback would be that the Jaguars have plenty of needs elsewhere, and have a solid Nr. 2 in Jennings behind Maurice Jones-Drew. But I think Richardson would be worth the 7th pick.
The ‘Alualu effect': Picking a player nobody expects right now, and maybe not even on draft day. Gene Smith has a history of aggressively targeting the player he ‘fell in love’ with (just think about Alualu, Cox, Gabbert, or Rackley). Maybe this year there will be another player like that as well. Although this prospect could be anyone, I offer you a candidate, who can be such a big splash for many, as Tyson Alualu was in 2010 – Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus. He had a breakout year (lead the country in sacks with 14.5 and had 9 forced fumbles) in 2011, and he can play in 4-3 and 3-4 as well. He is a junior, which could be a disadvantage, since other then Eben Britton and Blaine Gabbert, none of the drafted players under Gene Smith were underclassmen. But the recent success of non-senior pass rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith might boost Mercilus’s chances. Also Mike Mularkey or Gene Smith can ask former Illinois Head coach Ron Zook (who almost became the Jaguars ST coach) anytime about Mercilus. Not to mention what a big gift and gesture would be toward Shadid Khan selecting the first player in the draft under his ownership from his alma mater and favorite college…
Trading back: Before every draft Gene Smith always mentions that he wants to get more picks by trading back during the draft. But except one case (when he traded away a 2010 5th round pick to New Orleans to get a 2011 4th rounder) he has never done it. In fact the opposite is true, he traded away a future 2nd round pick for Derek Cox in ’09, and he traded up twice in the ’11 draft. This time it would be perfect to trade down, because maybe nobody is really worth that 7th pick. And I can see many players who are worthy to be elected somewhere in the middle of the 1st round, is there any player worth the Jaguars trading up? Most of the time a QB or a WR is tempting to trade up, but I expect that Luck, Griffin and Blackmon will be long gone before 7. I already explained why I think that none of the remaining receivers are worth a top 10 pick, and I doubt that Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M (who will most likely be the 3rd QB to get drafted) worthy to trade up so early for as well. The only player who maybe can tempt other teams to trade up for is Trent Richardson. We saw last year that his former teammate, Mark Ingram was worth the Saints to sacrifice their 2011 1st round pick for him. Maybe some team will fall in love in Richardson as well. If that happens, and the Jaguars can trade back somewhere in the middle of the 1st round, I see plenty of players, who are worth being picked in that range. A WR like Alshon Jeffery, Kendall Wright or even Rutgers’ Mohammed Sanu could be tempting. Selecting Whitney Mercilus would not be such a shocking move in the middle of the 1st round. Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard or Alabama S Mark Barron (and maybe his teammate, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, but I just can’t see that right now after his legal troubles) would boost the Jaguars’ secondary. Or maybe Gene Smith will want to add another good O-lineman? Then the center from Wisconsin, Peter Konz could be the target. Konz would at least provide good talent for depth behind Brad Meester in case he loses a step. And if the Jaguars want to add another target to Blaine Gabbert, they can select the best TE of this draft class, Dwayne Allen from Clemson. I would like to see this happen, but because there is (outside of maybe Richardson) nobody to trade up for, sadly this is a very unlikely scenario – right now.
Although you can see why I’m not thrilled that the Jaguars have the 7th pick in this draft, there are plenty of options to make something good with the pick. Plus let’s not forget, the draft is 3 months away, plenty of things can happen. The Senior Bowl, the combine and the Pro Days (and interviews) are still ahead, where prospects can really rise or fall. Not to mention free agency will be before the draft, where the Jaguars can address some of their needs, which will impact there decision on Aprll 26th. But this list is a good starting point about what can we expect to happen on Day 1 in the 2012 Draft.
– Zoltan Paksa