This past weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars experienced a major setback when starting DT Terrance Knighton, a.k.a. Pot Roast, suffered an injury to his eye while breaking up a fight in a nightclub. Reportedly, Knighton attempted to break up a fight involving some friends when someone reached out and smashed a beer bottle across Knighton’s face. He was taken to a local hospital where emergency surgery was performed around 3 a.m. Knighton is said to be recovering well. The glaring secondary issue beyond his overall well-being is his football well-being.
Injuries to the eye can have major repercussions. Every Jaguars fan remembers the 1999 game against the Cleveland Browns where OT Orlando Brown was hit in the eye with a penalty flag (they are weighed down with metal ball-bearings) and had to leave the game. The resulting eye injury caused Brown to miss the following three seasons, file a lawsuit against the NFL, and forever diminished his career.
We are all waiting anxiously to see how quickly Terrance Knighton can recover and how fully he can recover. Even if his eye itself was unscathed (and we all hope that is the case) the recovery period for facial surgery can be extensive. If the worst is true and Knighton has to miss a major part of the 2012 season and possibly beyond, there will be a new need for the Jaguars with just two weeks before the draft.
Should the Jaguars address this potential need through the draft? D’Anthony Smith should be coming back healthy but we all know that is subject to change. They could sign a veteran free agent. Free agency would be the way to go if Knighton is not projected to miss more than one season, allowing the Jags to keep focus on their original draft plan. But if he could miss multiple seasons, the search for his replacement may need to take place sooner rather than later. Strength at the defensive tackle position is crucial to our run defense and large players like Knighton that can get a push up front are necessary for a good pass rush. The interior push keeps the quarterback from stepping up in the pocket and thus vulnerable to defensive ends and linebackers from the outside.
If the Jaguars choose to draft a defensive tackle in the first round, there are three strong prospects they could pursue:
Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State – Scouts report that Cox is an extremely hard worker. He plays to the whistle from the first play of the game to the last. He is quick enough to occasionally play defensive end and at 6’4” 298lbs, he has the height to knock down passes and size to give opposing linemen more than they can handle. He is a far cry from Knighton’s 350 lbs (plus?), but offers a degree of athleticism that Terrance cannot.
Dontari Poe, Memphis – Poe is an obvious replacement for Knighton since he measures at 6’4”, 348 lbs. He was not considered a top prospect until his Combine workout where he shocked scouts by running a sub-5 second 40 yard dash and pumping out 44 reps of 225 lbs in his bench press. His strength, power, and quickness are very rare for a man his size.
Michael Brockers, LSU – Brockers was more than a major part of the LSU Tigers’ dominant defense in 2011. Some suggest he meant more to the team than standout defensive backs Claiborne and Mathieu. He is 6’6”, 322 lbs and as fast and agile as he was when he weighed 250 lbs as a freshman. Aside from his physical attributes, he has plenty of experience in big games and against NFL-level talent to lead many to think his learning curve won’t be as big as some others in his rookie season.
There are other solid prospects outside the first round that could fill in for Pot Roast. Alameda Ta’amu (Washington) has comparable size to Knighton and could be available in the third or fourth round. Brandon Thompson (Clemson) is very powerful and smart, which are notable Gene Smith traits, and is projected to get drafted in the second round. Outside of the first three rounds it is hard to tell what teams will do or which players will still be available. There are about 23 prospects at defensive tackle that are projected to get picked at some point in this year’s draft so if the Jaguars decide to draft Knighton’s replacement, there will be plenty of options.
If Terrance Knighton’s injury turns from inconvenient to tragic, the Jaguars’ family will be forever saddened. Terrance Knighton has performed admirably to this point in his career and hopefully will continue to be an integral part of the Jags’ success for years to come. The NFL is a business however, and the Jaguars need to act quickly if actions need to be taken to replace Knighton. Our defense finished sixth in the league last year and we cannot afford to take another hit at defensive tackle. That being said, I can’t imagine a scenario where the Jaguars draft a tackle in the early rounds, but Gene Smith tends to prove me wrong on an annual basis.