David Johns just wrote a great article here on B&T on the Jaguars’ upside for the rest of the season. And despite the 1-6 record, upside there is. Back-to-back good games for Blaine Gabbert and the defense lead the optimism for Jaguar players and fans, and if the Jaguars can continue to develop individually and as a team, the second half of the season should prove to be much more enjoyable than the first.
With this being said, I want to take the halfway point of the season to look towards the offseason. Before you know it, football will be over, and offseason talk will begin about NFL prospects and their various strengths and weaknesses. Halfway through the college season, I want to use this opportunity to give you a primer on the top NFL prospects at positions the Jaguars are particularly needy at – this way, when the offseason comes around and you’re inundated with 40 times and bench press measures, you’ll have a frame of reference about the expectations and production of Jaguars prospects during the course of the actual college football season. Plus, it’ll make Saturdays more interesting, when you realize you’re watching a player you’ve read about.
Before we start, you might be wondering why I’m focusing on positions of need, rather than the top overall prospects. Gene Smith is best-available-player (BAP) drafter, not a needs-based drafter, but every year, he seems to find a way to matchup our draft position with a BAP at a position of need. In 2009, we desperately needed O-line help, and we got back-to-back offensive tackles. In 2010, we desperately needed defensive line help, and we got Tyson Alualu. In 2011, we needed a quarterback, and Smith traded up to draft Blaine Gabbert. In 2012, we needed a wide receiver, and Smith traded up to draft Justin Blackmon. Thus, while Gene Smith is a BAP drafter, it’s likely that he’ll find a way to draft based on the Jags needs anyway. If he’s still around, of course. So let’s get to it.
Despite the re-signing of Jeremy Mincey, the drafting of Andre Branch, and the return of depth players like Austen Lane, John Chick, and George Selvie, the Jaguars still have a major need for an impact pass rusher. Additionally, defensive end is one of the few positions besides quarterback and left tackle which is considered truly a premium position. For this reason, we will consider defensive end prospects first. Right now, the defensive end prospects haven’t really separated themselves out too much. No defensive end prospect is listed in the top two of the five rankings I looked at currently and highest rated of the pass-rushers isn’t even a defensive end prospect.
- Barkevious Mingo, Louisiana State – 6’5, 240 lbs – A physically imposing specimen with the athletic gifts to play either 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE, Mingo has had a somewhat disappointing season thus far after a stellar end to his 2011 season. Coming off an 8 sack season with 15 tackles for loss as a rotation player, his 23 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss thus far are far under what was expected for a player who has the athletic gifts of, and perhaps is also as raw as, Jason Pierre-Paul.
- Damontre Moore, Texas A&M – 6’4, 248 lbs – With 66 tackles, 11 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss on the year already, Moore has been a monster and arguably the highest riser at this position this year. While I haven’t seen him play yet, I’ll surely be keeping my eyes peeled to see if he can keep this up the rest of the season.
- Bjoern Werner, Florida State – 6’4, 255 lbs – With 24 tackles, 8 sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss on the year, Werner is listed as the top DE on a few draft websites and for good reason. However, his 1.5 sacks last week against were the first he’s had in over a month, so we’ll see whether his production is a little more consistent going forward.
Others: Sam Montgomery (LSU), Corey Lemonier (Auburn), Cornellius Carradine (FSU), Dion Jordan (Oregon)
*Perhaps the highest rated pass-rusher overall is Georgia DE/OLB Jarvis Jones, who is projected to be a 3-4 OLB in the NFL. On the off chance that the Jaguars want to change up the defense (not that there’s any indication of that right now), Jones will certainly be on the radar (even though I haven’t been as impressed by him this season).
Cornerback is arguably the biggest need for the Jaguars, despite the fact that they addressed it in band-aid fashion this offseason by re-signing Rashean Mathis and signing Aaron Ross in free agency. While there’s proof on the Jaguars own team that good cornerbacks can be found late, as the NFL continues to progress as more of a passing league, the cornerback position has become increasingly more valuable, and is likely among the top 5 premium positions in the NFL (QB, DE, LT, WR, CB).
- Dee Millner, Alabama – 6’1, 200lbs – The top cornerback in the draft right now helps man the nation’s most feared defense. Following in the footsteps of former Alabama CB (and current NFL CB) Dre Kirkpatrick, Millner is a fluid cornerback with an evident physicality and toughness to his game.
- Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State – 6’2, 185 lbs – Another big, physical corner, Banks has had a mostly impressive season before a hiccup against Alabama last week. He may struggle against quicker receivers in general, and throughout the rest of the season scouts will be looking out to see if he has the short-area quickness and top-end speed to be a shutdown corner at the next level.
- David Amerson, North Carolina State – 6’3, 189 lbs – These college cornerbacks must be on a new nutrition plan, as Amerson is the next top cornerback whose also over six feet! Amerson is coming off one of the best seasons in FBS history for a cornerback, as he recorded 13 interceptions last season, second all-time. While it’s unreasonable to expect his production to match his totals last year, Amerson hasn’t completely disappointed, with 4 interceptions already recorded this year. Another big physical cornerback with the size to move to safety at the next level, Amerson didn’t play well at all in a matchup against some premier Tennessee wideouts, but still has a chance to shine when he lines up against Clemson later in the year. While his ball skills are indeed elite, it remains to see whether Amerson can be a Nnamdi Asomugha-type press corner at the next level.
Keep an eye out for these guys as the season goes on, and let me know if there are others we should be keeping an eye on.
– Zain Gowani
* This analysis was done with the assistance of scouting reports and rankings provided by ESPN, CBSSports, NationalFootballPost, and NFLDraftScout.com.