Gene Smith: Jacksonville’s McRib
By Lionel Joel
Seemingly every year the McDonald’s McRib regains popularity. Commercials about how its back and that it was ever eatable flood the television. It disappears for nine months and comes roaring back. This is how I see Gene Smith. This is how hope and time can mask the inevitable disappointment. I imagine people talk about Gene Smith’s drafts and the rereleases of the McRib about the same:
Guy 1: “Dude, it’s that time again! It’s gonna be great, I just know it!”
Guy 2: “Are you sure? I’m pretty sure it’s disappointed you every time in the past.”
Guy 1: “Whatever, man, I know it’s gonna work out this time!!”
Guy 2: “Okay, buddy, but when you are left frustrated and defending your choice to every single person you talk to, just remember that you go through this every year.”
Like the McRib, GM Gene Smith leaves everyone who sides with him constantly on the defensive. While it is usually 1st round picks like Alualu and (to a lesser extent) Gabbert that Gene surprises people with, this year he decided to make his 3rd round draft choice a national talking point. Bryan Anger, through no fault of his own, has made the Jaguars a laughing stock throughout the sports world. Even if he becomes a perennial pro bowler, he is still a punter drafted in the third round, where solid defensive and offensive contributors can be found. Just based on Jaguars’ recent draft history, do you think Derek Cox, Terrance Knighton, and Will Rackley are as equally valuable as a punter? They were all 3rd round picks. They are all starters. I don’t care what the Jaguars say, a punter is never considered a starter. There are about 900 plays a year on each offense and defense, and about 100 plays of special teams. If you are looking for a “starter” on one of the three, which one seems more valuable?
Unfortunately, after hours of research, I have discovered that “Back to the Future” is based in fiction and time travel is currently not possible. But I don’t care. I looked at the draft results and compiled a list of prospects the Jaguars could have drafted instead of Brian Anger that could contribute to our team and still meet the value of a 3rd round pick.
Brandon Taylor, S, LSU – The 3rd ranked strong safety in the draft, Taylor started 33 consecutive games for one of the top defenses in country. A strong and quick defender with considerable experience in big games against top-level talent in the SEC. Lacks great one-on-one coverage ability and operating in space but has a high football IQ. (Drafted: #73, Chargers)
Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State – Projected to get drafted in the second round but was still available when the Jags drafted in the third round with the #70 overall pick. Agreat pass rush can win a lot of games and the Jags had a great opportunity to get an excellent value pick in Crawford to pair with Andre Branch. He is a quick, athletic player and at 6’4”, 275lbs, he has excellent size. Still kind of raw but succeeded at the JuCo and Division I levels so there is definitely growth potential if he can learn from coaches and veteran players. (Drafted: #81, Cowboys)
Sean Spence, OLB, Miami(FL) – A little undersized at 5’11”, 230lbs, he has shown that he can overcome his lack of ideal size by being a film room junkie. He has excellent read-and -react ability, strong coverage skills, and is a fierce natural leader on the field. He is also quite fast for a linebacker. (Drafted: #86, Steelers)
Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington – I wrote about this beast in the middle a few weeks ago, and I still believe he could help our interior. He is 6’3”, 350lbs, but reportedly has surprising quickness and has the wide frame to plug up the middle and take on multiple blockers to free up other defenders. Ta’amu has short arms and isn’t great pursuing downfield. I don’t care if he can’t catch Chris Johnson from behind if he can keep Johnson from getting there. (Drafted: #109, Steelers)
T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU – Hilton was a topic of conversation on ESPN, CBS, and the NFL Network in the days leading up to the draft as being a dark horse draft pick after round one. Playing for FIU will never garner very much attention, but he has shown excellent potential. Hilton ran a 4.37 40 at the combine and runs strong, clean routes. Has the size and speed to be a DeSean Jackson, minus the mind-numbing baggage. (Drafted: #92, Colts)
Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia – Boykin’s stock dropped when he broke his fibula in the Senior Bowl and couldn’t work out at the combine or UGA’s pro day. On film it is clear that he has elite speed (reportedly clocked at sub-4.4 sec in the 40 multiple times) and is good in tight coverage situations. He is aggressive in run support and works hard to overcome his smaller build. He was also an excellent return specialist. Could be valuable if his versatility is utilized as a nickel corner and punt returner. (Drafted: #123, Eagles)
Chris Rainey, RB, Florida – Rainey may not be the prototypical “Gene guy” given his text messaging history, but head coach Mike Mularkey was the only NFL H.C. at the Gators’ pro day and specifically cited Rainey as a player of interest. He could have been the Jags’ guy in the fourth, but that pick was wisely traded for Justin Blackmon. Not having a fourth, however, could have led the Jaguars to reach for a playmaker like Rainey, who arguably could be valued higher on a pure talent basis. He was also available when the Jaguars drafted in the fifth round. He was extremely versatile in college, with successful stints at running back, wide receiver, punt/kick returner, and punt/field goal blocker. He is quite possibly the fastest player in the 2012 draft and has great hands, field vision, and cutting ability. Rainey isn’t a good run blocker or pass protector. At 5’8”, 180lbs, and a history of shoulder issues, his durability as an NFL player is in question. He also has some character issues. But the Saints (with Reggie Bush and then Darren Sproles) have shown that an undersized player with speed and soft hands can be very valuable as both a playmaker and a decoy and can immediately boost your team’s short yardage offense. (Drafted: #159, Steelers)
The Jaguars had the potential to have one of the best drafts of 2012 and one of the best in team history. We got our potential star in Blackmon, a highly coveted pass rusher in Branch, and addressed weaknesses in special teams and defense. However, drafting Brian Anger in the 3rd round was a total whiff by the Jaguars. In his senior season, Anger averaged 44.2 yards per punt. This would rank him tied for 22nd in the NFL in 2011 (according to pro-football-reference.com). It is only 1.5 yards more than Nick Harris, who was the Jags punter for the last 11 weeks of 2011. A 3rd round pick to put a team on the 36 yard line instead of the 38 yard line and plays in 10.3% of the game? What about a player that can score touchdowns, stop the run, or buy Blaine an extra second in the pocket? Is that not worth an average NFL punter? The Jaguars and their fans already have to deal with chatter about low ticket sales, underachieving players, and tarps in the stands.
Why did Gene have to pile on more internal and external criticism?