The Jacksonville Jaguars provided the biggest shock of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft when they selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall selection. While some draft prognosticators thought Bortles could go to the Houston Texans at #1 overall, very few thought the Jaguars would take the UCF signal caller, mostly because general manager David Caldwell did an outstanding job of feigning disinterest for the top quarterback prospect.
Caldwell wasn’t done after Bortles, as he was aggressive in surrounding his franchise quarterback with young talent, selecting 3 more offensive players with his next 3 picks. The Jaguars ended up with 9 rookies from the 2014 draft, all of whom played at some point during the regular season. They received an unprecedented amount of production from their rookie class, so it should come as no surprise that analysts are heaping praise this offseason.
"GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley are committed to rebuilding the Jaguars by drafting and developing young players. The 2014 class certainly provided a solid foundation for the team’s future resurgence, with quarterback Blake Bortles and receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson showing flashes of greatness as first-year players. Of course, those contributions were expected, based on those players’ relatively lofty draft status. What made the class a rousing success were the efforts of linebacker Telvin Smith, offensive lineman Brandon Linder, cornerback Aaron Colvin and receiver Allen Hurns (an undrafted free-agent signee). Though Jacksonville won just three games in 2014, that crop of youngsters could be the starting point for a legitimate run at the playoffs, provided Bortles continues to progress as a franchise quarterback. Grade: B+"
While I’m hesitant to say all of the rookies will be contributors in the long-term, I do think the Jaguars found some legitimate players with Pro Bowl potential. Brandon Linder was one of the best rookie offensive lineman, and one of the best guards in the entire NFL. Telvin Smith improved in every game, and he was one of the most effective 4-3 outside linebackers in the league by the end of the year. Aaron Colvin came back after a devastating knee injury in the offseason and played at a higher level than anyone could have expected.
Still, the crux of this entire rookie class is the guy at the top. Blake Bortles started out fairly strong, but it’s accurate to say he failed to improve as the season went along. If he improves his mechanics this offseason and gets acclimated with his new offensive coaching staff, there’s little reason to believe he won’t significantly improve.
Either way, it’s easy to see that David Caldwell nailed his second draft as general manager.