Dave Caldwell wrapped up his first draft as GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, and boy did it not disappoint. I am particularly excited about this draft for several different reasons.
First off, this draft represents the first fingerprint of the Caldwell/Bradley era. For too long this team has had the wrong kind of identity. Slow, small school and talent deficient are just a few words to describe how this team has been recognized. Now the team is being made anew and I’m not just talking about the new logo and uniforms. The types of players drafted last week are unlike anything we’ve seen on this team in a long time. Do you really think Gene Smith would have drafted Denard “Shoelace” Robinson? No way.
Secondly, I applaud how Caldwell and Bradley are true to their word. I was certain that in the 4th round the Jags would draft a QB. Nope. Did not happen. Why not? Because the brass believed they could find better value in WR Ace Sanders. No need to reach for need. So many GMs say one thing and do another (see, New York Jets). They sign a QB to an extension and then trade up in the 4th to snag Matt Barkley (see, Philadelphia Eagles). They’ll set off a barrage of smoke screens tying them to one quarterback only to trade back in the 1st and draft another (see, Buffalo Bills). But not the Jaguars. They said they will have a quarterback competition. Drafting a quarterback with the second overall pick does not set the stage for competition. Instead, they stayed true to their board while addressing needs and signed two quarterbacks in collegiate free agency in Matt Scott of Arizona and Jordan Rodgers of Vanderbilt (yes, Aaron Rodgers’ brother) to compete with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. No need to be indecisive. I like the fact that Caldwell stuck to his guns on this one and didn’t cave like some GMs do and fall in love with a high profile QB prospect just because.
Finally and most importantly I like the players they drafted. Chad Henne was sacked 28 times in 6 games. Blaine Gabbert was sacked 22 times. Eben Britton, Cameron Bradfield and Guy Whimper are just a few names to walk through the right tackle revolving door in 2012. So what happens when Eric Fisher of Central Michigan goes 1st overall? Stay true and draft the highest rated player on your board who has just slid to you, of course. Luke Joeckel will play right tackle and I don’t care if he does. You have to look at how much better off our offense will be as a whole with Monroe at left tackle and Joeckel at right tackle. Whoever wins the quarterback competition should be well protected!
Dawan Landry, Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Aaron Ross and William Middleton were either released or not offered a contract. When these guys were with the team they combined for only 12 intereceptions. 3 of those picks belonged to Paul Posluszny. So in reality our defensive backs only combined for 9 interceptions last year. Whoever wins the turnover battle, usually wins the game. It’s not only just about interceptions though right? Well our entire pass defense suffered last year, finishing close to dead last in the league. Well maybe we need a better pass rush right? Yes, we do need a better pass rush, but maybe just maybe after watching tape and evaluating the roster it was determined that we needed a better secondary more so than a defensive line. Maybe the secondary was just as problematic as our lack of pass rush. So what do these guys do? They draft Jonathan Cyprien with the 33rd pick who just might be the most complete safety in this draft. Were they done? No way. They added four more defensive backs in CB Dwayne Gratz of UCONN, FS Josh Evans of Florida, CB Jeremy Harris of New Mexico State and CB Demetrius McCray of Appalachian State. I’ve been high on Gratz for awhile now. Gratz has the speed and athleticism to come in and start day one, or at least be in the discussion. I’m particularly fond of Evans. He holds up well in coverage and is aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He should easily beat Prosinski and provide something that has been lacking: quality depth. Harris and McCray have the length and physicality and should make an instant impact on coverage units while developing into their respective roles. In today’s NFL you can never have too many corners and with only 2012 5th round pick Mike Harris, 2013 free agent acquisiton Alan Ball and 2011 UDFA Kevin Rutland on the roster, this team was in dire need of quality cornerbacks who fit Bradley’s scheme. Needs-based drafting indeed.
Did you know that the Jaguars had zero return touchdowns last year? Did you know that our leading returner was Rashad Jennings? 10 returns for 241 yards with a 24.1 yard average and Jalen Parmele had the longest return of 38 yards. Enter WR Ace Sanders from South Carolina. I love these types of players. Shifty, explosive and dynamic. Sanders offers the type of playmaking ability from the slot and in the return game that could make a difference in games. Three phases: offense, defense, and special teams. The Jaguars have been especially destitute in the return game. Hopefully Sanders can provide the type of spark that changes games while developing into the evolving slot receiver position.
Speaking of changing games (game changers), Denard Robinson will apparently play running back. It doesn’t matter where you play him. Let’s just get this kid on the field and as soon as possible. As much potential as Justin Blackmon has and as great as Cecil Shorts was in 2012, the Jags don’t have any “space players” on the roster. I believe both Sanders and Robinson can be those space players and add a different dimension to this team’s passing, rushing, and return game.
All in all it’s difficult to say that a draft class is exciting when they haven’t even set foot on the field. I just know that I haven’t felt like this after any draft the Jaguars have had the last five years and that in itself is exciting!
-David R. Johns