Fans have bemoaned the fact that the top of the draft is one of the weakest in recent memory, but for what it lacks in can’t-miss-prospects, it somewhat makes up for it in versatility. Of the top prospects available at this position, there are at least five that would fit perfectly in the Jaguars’ new offensive and defensive schemes – Eric Fisher, Star Lotulelei, Dion Jordan, Dee Milliner, and Ezekiel Ansah. Of these five, I believe that Milliner and Ansah are the first two out – due to the positional depth in this draft at cornerback (especially the big rangy cornerbacks that Bradley likes) and the rawness of Ansah – even though Ansah would be one heckuva physical specimen at the LEO.
Thus, Caldwell’s options start with Eric Fisher, the perfect zone-blocking LT prospect for a team that has to make a tough decision about whether or not to pay Eugene Monroe top-10 LT money after next season. We initially brought up the idea of the Jaguars taking a LT back in February here on B&T as part of the evolution of the offensive line against the varied defensive fronts and blitzes that quarterbacks see nowadays. Much of this was just speculation, but now the idea has gained steam – especially based upon recent data compiled by Pro Football Focus on the how the play of quarterbacks varies based upon where they see pressure. But the real question is, can the Jaguars afford to spend two top-10 picks on offensive linemen? Monroe has become a top-10 player at his position, and the Jaguars would expect no less from Fisher. But for a team that has so many holes, is that the biggest impact they can make when picking in the top 5? Another thing to consider, however, is that this pick isn’t purely a luxury pick – it’s a security pick as well. Not only is Fisher likely the most complete prospect in the draft at this point – he easily led all offensive linemen in Pass Blocker Rating, but he also makes sense doubly as Eugene Monroe is only under contract for one more year. Caldwell has made cheap, young signings his MO, and while Monroe is a top-10 player at his position, he will command significant money next offseason, and thus there’s no guarantee that he actually gets re-signed by the Jaguars. Picking Fisher at #2 has the potential to solidify the line for years to come if they keep Monroe. If they don’t, it still gives them the opportunity to save that money they would’ve given to Monroe over the long-term, solidify RT for a year, and swap Monroe out for a player who is not only four years younger but also a perfect fit in the Jaguars’ new zone-blocking scheme.
Next up is Star Lotulelei, a DT/DE prospect who has to have Gus Bradley and Todd Wash salivating with his potential. The most versatile and polished defensive lineman in this draft, Lotulelei could hypothetically line up at three out of the four positions on the new Jaguars defensive line – the strong-side DE/5-technique, nose tackle/1-tecnique, or the under-tackle/3-technique, who is the premier interior rusher on the d-line (and the most likely position for the Jaguars potential new Star). That type of scheme versatility in arguably the cleanest prospect in the draft – one who has consistently been considered a top-10 pick dating back to last season - has to be incredibly enticing for a Jaguars coaching staff that may fail to see any impact defensive linemen on their roster. But Lotulelei’s not just a jack-of-all-trades DT– he led all interior defensive linemen in Pass Rusher Rating, a statistic that incorporates sacks, QB hits, hurries, pass rushing turnovers, and pass rush penalties generated, all as a function of the number of pass rushing snaps. Moreover, his rating was even higher than that of interior sack-artist Ndamukong Suh when he entered the draft. When you consider the unproven commodities the Jaguars have manning those positions on their defensive line currently (Alualu, Smith, Marks, Miller, Mincey), even the most casual of fans realizes that the Jaguars are in need of a significant upgrade, especially given the injury history of guys like Alualu and Smith.
The LEO has been a popular topic of conversation this offseason, and no player fits the LEO in this draft better than Dion Jordan. He’s incredibly quick, flexible, long, and athletic. Moreover, his coverage skills add a dimension of versatility that is rarely seen from a player at his position and/or of his size. Jordan was a popular “trade-back” pick amongst Jaguar fans early in the offseason, but his stock has skyrocketed through the roof since the NFL combine. This is partially due to the Combine itself – it measures “measurables” – pure, unadulterated athleticism. This is the type of forum where Jordan has probably excelled all his life. But even more than this, he showcased some of those unique coverage skills during the Combine as well. However, what doesn’t get discussed as much with Jordan is the lack of production he’s shown during the course of his college career. I mean, Jarvis Jones had more sacks in the SEC this past year than Jordan did in his last two years. Jordan apologists will point to the fact that he dropped into coverage more often than a guy with his pass rush potential likely should’ve, and they may also point out that Jordan has only spent two years at defensive end. However, his production is almost identical to the other prototypical LEO in the draft, Barkevious Mingo – who got his production in the SEC against the likes of Luke Joeckel and DJ Fluker. In fact, amongst all the top DE/OLBs, Jordan had the easiest “strength of schedule” – that is, he got his sacks against the worst pass protecting teams. Pro Football Focus does a pretty good breakdown of Mingo and Jordan, distinguishing Mingo as the “creator” of the two and Jordan as the “reactor.” However, Jordan also had the highest Pass Rusher Rating of any DE/OLB not named Jarvis Jones in this draft, posting a PRR almost twice as high as Mingo’s (without the luxury of a 1st-2nd round DE on the other side of his line, to boot). Regardless of what you think about Jordan’s production – and of the three potential Jaguars picked at #2, he does have the most production questions – there’s no doubt that he is a perfect fit as the LEO in Gus Bradley’s defense.
I have little doubt that all three of these players are truly rare talents at their respective positions – particularly due to their elite athleticism for their size. However, aside from their physical talents, we also have to consider the depth of this year’s draft. Judging from ESPN / Scouts Inc’s draft tiers, there’s not a whole lot of variation between the amount of 1st or 2nd round OTs (6), DTs (9), and LEO eligible DEs/OLBs (9). Of these positions, it’s probably hardest to get a true pass-protecting tackle outside of the first round (and exponentially harder as you get further away from the top 10). Yet, this is also the position that the Jaguars are strongest at, with Monroe already at LT, and more than a few RTs available in the draft and free agency. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to see how a DT or a LEO wouldn’t be more valuable to the Jaguars in the short term. But I have no doubt Caldwell is thinking about the long-term when he makes this pick, so much of it will depend on how Eugene Monroe fits into the long-term plan. For now, on the day before the draft, I believe that the Jaguars pass on both defensive players for a “luxury” pick at OT – and I have no doubt that Eric Fisher will be worthy of the second overall pick for years to come.
– Zain Gowani