80 underclassmen have declared for the draft so far. It seems like everyday more and more juniors declare, and there should only be more seeing that the deadline isn’t until next week, January 15th.
So what does this mean? Are some of these players jumping the gun in their decisions to forgo their final college seasons and try their hand at the big show?
I believe a quarterback deciding to return to school, such as UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota already have, is a great idea. It gives them more time to refine their game and just overall mature as people. I feel differently about running backs because a running back’s shelf life is considerably shorter in comparison to other positions.
Just because someone is declaring doesn’t mean they are ready for the next level. However, if they are ready then they’ll have a much better opportunity at sustaining a longer career. It boils down to the player, his ability, and his commitment to the game.
With that being said, it’s obvious and it’s been noted over and over again that David Caldwell and Gus Bradley want fast, physical, young players. With so many juniors entering the NFL, this is a chance for the Jaguars to find great young talent in a deep pool of college prospects.
All week I’ve been attempting to prioritize the Jaguars’ draft needs, but then again, Caldwell seems the type of GM who will go with the best available player, regardless of position. It worked out in 2013 seeing as how he found five players (Joeckel, Cyprien, Gratz, Sanders, and Evans) who contributed immediately and will only get better with the more they play.
The number of juniors trying their hand at a NFL career will certainly affect this year’s draft as a whole, so let’s take a quick look at some of the more heralded players who could find their names being called on May 8th.
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Manziel declared yesterday. Brace yourselves. The Manziel media circus is coming. Of course he’ll be showcased for his off the field antics, but Manziel was one of the most exciting players, if not the most exciting player, in college football over the last two years. In 2012, Manziel accounted for 5,116 yards of total offense. 1,410 of those yards came rushing. He became the first freshman ever to win a Heisman trophy. In 2013 he threw for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns. He’s been knocked for his size (6’1, 200 lbs.), but there is no denying his playmaking ability. He made numerous miraculous plays during his time at College Station. He has the potential to spark a Jaguars offense that ranked 31st (293.8 per game) in total yards per game in 2013. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has gone on record and said he likes it when quarterbacks scramble and pick up yards with their legs. If the Jaguars do take Manziel at No. 3, it sounds as if Fisch would let “Johnny Football” be himself and not force him to be something he’s not. On a team that has suffered from bad quarterback play the last few years, could Manziel be the franchise signal caller the Jaguars have waited on for so long?
- Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Rams GM Les Snead doesn’t sound as if he’s completely committed to the second overall pick. There is definitely a possibility the Rams could trade back. The two biggest needs for Jacksonville are pass rusher and quarterback. Is there a chance Clowney could be ranked higher than Manziel on Caldwell’s board? If so, trading up to get him could happen. In doing so, the Jaguars would acquire the best pass rusher in this year’s class. In 2012, Clowney accumulated 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Last season, Clowney began looking out for his health, but still notched 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Regardless of his 2013 numbers, Clowney is an absolute beast, and would automatically bolster a defensive line that only recorded 31 sacks.
- Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Mason declared for the draft today. He was a Heisman finalist this year, and had an otherworldly season that saw him gain 304 yards and four scores against Mizzouri in the SEC championship. Against FSU in the national title game, he had 200 total yards and 2 TDs. He finished the year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. Right now he’s projected to go in the second round. The Jaguars rushing attack will be in need of a boost. Maurice Jones-Drew will almost certainly walk in free agency, and after a season that saw the rushing attack struggle, Mason could inject sizzle on the ground which Jacksonville so lacked at times in 2013.
- Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame: Tuitt finished 2013 with 49 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a pick 6. He’s 6’7, 322 lbs., and not only has the size for the position, but he is athletic as well. He is a rare pass rushing defensive tackle with a variety of moves. He’s extremely versatile and has the ability at the next level to collapse the pocket. At this time he’s projected to go somewhere from the mid first round to the top of the second round.
- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: Ok. ok. I know. We drafted Luke Joeckel last year, and while there’s absolutely no way we draft Robinson at 3, there’s no denying he’s a top 15 pick. He’s one of the top rated offensive tackles in this year’s draft. He’s a beast in the run game, and is equally effective protecting the quarterback. Whoever drafts Robinson will have their left tackle of the future.
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama & Cyrus Kouandijo, OT, Alabama: These two declared today, and both were absolute beasts on one of college football’s most dominate defensive units. Both are projected to go in the first round. Clinton-Dix is the top rated safety in this year’s draft class so far, and there’s no denying Kouandijo’s ability at tackle, despite the disappointing end to Alabama’s season.
- Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State: Jerningan has been described as the most pro ready defensive tackle in this year’s draft class. Standing at 6’2 and 296 lbs., Jernigan ended this year with 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He has great lateral movement, is quick, strong and possesses fantastic footwork.
- Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida: Bortles is a player who has been mocked to Jacksonville in the first round and finished the year with 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns. He’s been compared to Ben Roethlisberger and has reportedly received a first round draft grade. However, I remain a bit reserved with Bortles. He did lead Central Florida to a 12-1 record and an impressive victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, but for me there’s just too small of a sample size to take him with the 3rd pick.
Jacksonville should be in the market for the two highest impact positions on the field: pass rusher and quarterback. In my very humble opinion, of these underclassmen we’ve looked at, I’d only consider Manziel and Clowney at 3.
That still doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a very high number of juniors entering this year’s draft who could be taken in the first round and have an immediate impact.
-David R. Johns