BOOK IT: 5 Things I Think about the Jaguars, Combine Edition
- 1.) The 2011 Quarterback class had a tremendous showing at the Combine and are rapidly climbing draft boards. If you don’t have “the Man”, you better be looking for “the Man”. Every year, it seems that the better prospects steadily creep up into the first round as the draft draws nearer and the long-touted 2011 crop of signal-callers is shaping up to be no exception. Cam Newton (Auburn) and Blaine Gabbart (Missouri) have been consensus first-rounders all along, but many questions were raised about Ryan Mallet of Arkansas, Jake Locker of Washington, and Christian Ponder of FSU, who despite all been seen as first-round prospects at some point, were trending towards the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds. Mallet put on one of the most dominating throwing performances at the Combine many had seen in recent years, with an effortless showcasing of his powerful arm. He may have been less than impressive during his media time, but his talent is undeniable, his mechanical problems are coachable, and his character flaws are likely overblown. Jake Locker put on the athletic showcase that many thought he would and allayed concerns about his accuracy and mechanics with a superb showing in the quarterback drills, suggesting that some of his struggles last year were likely due to a weak supporting cast. Ponder was perhaps the biggest surprise of the combine, showing great athleticism and a healthy arm, and was reported by some to have “the best combination of arm strength and accuracy”. Colin Kaepernick of Nevada is considered very raw but has become a very interesting developmental prospect – at the Combine, he had the 2nd fastest 40 time of all quarterbacks (behind only Tyrod Taylor), threw the fastest ball of all quarterbacks (as measured with a radar gun), and was impressive in positional drills. TCU’s Andy Dalton and Iowa’s Rick Stanzi, guys who had been labeled as “GM Gene-types” reportedly looked very average.
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- 2.) This isn’t the year to try to outsmart everyone. Frankly, the Jaguars need a franchise quarterback to begin grooming behind David Garrard, who turned 33 this February. All of the legitimate prospects have had impressive pre-draft showings and are moving up the boards rapidly. There are approximately nine teams that don’t have their long-term solution at quarterback, either due to age or mediocrity: Carolina (#1 pick), Buffalo (#3), Cincinnati (#4), Arizona (#5), San Francisco (#7), Tennessee (#8), Washington (#10), Minnesota (#12), and Seattle (#25). Jacksonville has the #16 and #48 overall picks, which means all of these teams but Seattle and Carolina (who traded their 2nd round pick to New England for the Armanti Edward pick last year – OUCH!) will have picked twice before Jacksonville’s 2nd round pick, barring trades of course. If Gene wants his guy, he’s going to have to get him early.
- 3.) I’d like to introduce a new Gene Smith draft theory – BAPON. Proclaimed by himself and the media as a “die hard BAP drafter”, Gene Smith’s draft strategy has more closely resembled “Best Available Player Of Need”. Going into the 2009 offseason, offensive tackle and wide receiver were the two major positions of need and five of the Jaguars’ nine draft picks that year were from these two positions – Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard, and Tiquan Underwood. The other four picks – Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Zach Miller, and Rashad Jennings – were all at positions of need as well. None of the players from the 2008 roster (just two years ago, folks) at DT, CB, TE and RB is still on the roster except for Pro-Bowler Marcedes Lewis, Pro-Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew, and former Pro-Bowler Rashean Mathis. Obviously, the defensive line and the pass rush were the big areas of need last offseason and Gene’s first four picks in the 2010 draft were all defensive linemen and following the Kassim Osgood signing in free agency, continued the stockpiling of Special Teams talent by picking two return specialists with his final two draft picks. So what does it mean? Right now, nothing, because the sample size is only two drafts. But the Jaguars’ language in the media has said that they feel relatively set on offense (except for needing a QB to develop) and they will focus on improving the defense this offseason, with a focus on the secondary and continuing to improve the pass rush. Given GM Gene’s tendency to draft heavily on the biggest positions of need, I’m thinking we draft a handful of both pass rushers and defensive backs.
- 4. In fact, I’m suspecting GM Gene to draft three or four Cornerbacks…and ZERO Safeties. I don’t consider Strong Safety to be a position of need and I don’t think the coaches or player personnel staff do either – Courtney Greene has the ability to do all that is required of an SS in Del Rio’s defense and do it well – defending the run, bringing an element of physicality, and providing adequate coverage over the top. Free Safety is obviously another story – Gene may pursue an economical solution in free agency, but either way, I do not expect him to draft a FS. For one, the crop of Safeties is extremely weak this year and secondly, Cornerbacks are harder to find and can more easily move to FS than vice-versa. The Jaguars are committed to building a heavy pass rush and “affecting the passer”; one way to do that is to tighten up your coverage and give the rush more time to get to the opposing Quarterback. I think up to four CB’s is not out of the question – with four “shots”, Gene is likely to get at least one starter, good depth, and a guy with the right skill set could move back to safety if corner doesn’t work out. Rashean Mathis won’t be around and/or effective much longer and Derek Cox is not a shutdown corner yet and has trouble mirroring good receivers – if another legit CB takes his place, he has ideal size and skills for Free Safety – 6’1″, 200 lbs, 4.4 speed, strong tackler, good instincts/intelligence, and good ball skills.
- 5.) Follow the rules and you’ve unlocked the Jaguars’ draft. Get “the Man”. Big guys early. BAPON. Premium positions first. Focus on defense. Keep building the pass rush. Fix the secondary. The Jags have one pick in each of the first three rounds – one will be QB, one will be a DE, and the last will be either a CB or another DE. Linebacker with one of the 4th round picks. And the additional six picks? Take your pick from CB’s, DE’s, and LB’s – and probably throw in a WR for good measure. Zoltan and Jason have the crystal balls here at Black and Teal – stay tuned for their predictions on who exactly GM Gene has his eye on…