As one of our commenters, Honso, said, “…Hopefully Gene quits playing the pick and pray game on this one.”
Too true my dear sir.
In the three years that Gene Smith has been the general manager for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has picked three first round players. Blaine Gabbert in 2011, Tyson Alualu in 2010, and Eugene Monroe in 2009. All three are starting for the Jags (some would say prematurely in Gabbert’s case), and all three have an impact on what occurs in each and every game.
Honso brought up the Shack Harris era when the Jags swung (and missed) on Byron Leftwich at seven when they could have picked Terrell Suggs at ten. While Shack Harris was known for a number of misses, free agent and otherwise, Gene Smith has established a reputation of being a solid drafter. Maybe not exceptional, but solid nonetheless.
But outside of the first round, how has Gene Smith done?
Let’s take a peek at the 2nd and 3rd rounds (rounds that usually provide solid talent for numerous teams).
In the second round, Gene Smith has taken tackle Eben Britton (2009) and nobody in 2010 and 2011 With such a small class coming from the second round for the Jaguars, we must evaluate Smith’s swinging (and missing?) on one player: Eben Britton. Britton was selected to be the complement to bookend left tackle Eugene Monroe. Together the two of them were to be the solid acquisitions that see the Jaguars well into the future. Despite rocking the first season, Britton was injured. he came back the next year but didn’t look like the same player. He ended the season on IR in 2010 and 2011 and hasn’t been the dominant and reliable force that Monroe has been ont he left side. Taken 11 picks after Britton in the second round was wide receiver Mohamed Massoquoi who has played in almost double the number of games in Cleveland and presents a solid receiving threat even with Colt McCoy at quarterback.
The second round is a spot where Gene Smith could have picked better value rather than focusing solely on rebuilding the line. Despite Britton’s talent, his oft-injured status makes his pick questionable especially with numerous perennial starters being picked after him in the second round (I count five players who have been the primary starters for their team all three seasons, including Phil Loadholt at tackle for Minnesota).
In the third round, Gene Smith has picked Terrance Knighton (2009), cornerback Derek Cox (2009 – Traded Up), D’Anthony Smith (2010), and Will Rackley (2011). Let’s take these guys one at a time:
Terrance Knighton a.k.a. Pot Roast has been the primary starter at defensive tackle since he was selected int he third round of 2009. His three seasons of starting marks his value has considerably high for the Jags, especially with him now being paired with Tyson Alualu. Pot Roast has struggled with weight issues his entire career (Though that may be changing if you read his very motivated Twitter postings) and could be considerably more dominant if he kept his weight in check. That said, Knighton is secretly considered one of the best at his position (yes, even the national media mentions him when the Jags are doing well) and sets the play up well for the linebackers and Alualu by clogging the middle. No other defensive tackle taken that round has had as many seasons as the primary starter as Knighton, and one – Corey Irvin – now plays for the Jags after being bounced from Carolina to Detroit.
- Derek Cox was brought to Jacksonville by Gene Smith trading up to grab him the pick after Knighton. Cox has been the primary starter for his first two seasons (even while being benched for part of 2010) but succumbed to injury during the 2011 campaign. Cox’s first season was a superb season statistically. Widely considered a reach by pundits and every fan who said “Who!?” on draft day, Cox’s four interceptions, 11 passes defensed, one fumbled recovered, one fumble forced, and fifty eight tackles (largely due to teams throwing at the untested rookie) are among the best for cornerbacks in the draft class (Jairus Byrd was selected four picks after Eben Britton and did slightly better). It’s tough to argue that Cox was truly a reach based on his solid rookie play and consistent presence. Another full year of starting would be nice and help in evaluation of him, but for now we know we have a corner who can play opposite Rashean Mathis at an equal level.
- D’Anthony Smith has yet to ever see the field since being drafted in 2010. This is especially unfortunate since he was supposed to be the final piece in the rotation of Knighton and Alualu. I worry that not having seen the field in two full seasons will make him unable to transition to NFL game speed and think he probably should be cut. If we believe what we’ve heard from the Jaguars’ coaching staff then Smith’s talent is superb. However, taking a perennially injured player when Atlanta’s Corey Peters was still on the board doesn’t appear to be that great in retrospect. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.
Will Rackley did well for a rookie guard in 2011. He started 14 of the 15 games he appeared in at left guard and started to gel with Eugene Monroe and Brad Meester around him. However, he was the weakest link on that side and while I don’t want to say he was a sieve, he certainly wasn’t a brick wall. Gabbert really could use some improvement out of Rackley if he doesn’t want to end up on his butt 40 times a season. Fortunately, it would appear that Rackley has the ability to make the jump to the next level following a full offseason of workouts. Behind Rackely there really isn’t anybody of note – yet. The jury’s out on whether there were better players to be had at this point in the third round. It seems to be a slow development class, or at least no rookie standouts.
To conclude, looking at Gene Smith’s second and third round picks, it’s apparent that the Jags have made off with some solid players. This enforces Smith’s reputation as a solid drafter. But nobody has become dominant yet. Cox and Knighton have the best chance of establishing themselves as some of the leagues best at their positions. Meanwhile Britton and D’Anthony Smith are forced to watch the team play from the sidelines every year. While that’s unfortunate, both have the talent level to be successful. We know this of Britton, but Smith has a bit more of a question mark over his head.
While I would like to see some improvement from Rackley, play from Smith, and health from Britton, I really can’t say that Smith has been a very bad drafter. Sure there were some other people on the board that could have done wonders to solve modern problems for the Jags, but keep in mind that these players also provided solutions to problems the Jags had. Namely two terrible lines that Gene Smith inherited following the 2008 campaign.
I don’t think Smith is truly following a “pick and pray” strategy. I think his picks appear to have solid outcomes.
That said, most of us fans are still praying that they can return to the field.
- Luke N. Sims