In a season where the Jacksonville Jaguars were minutes away from the Super Bowl, it’s hard not to give them credit for a productive draft class.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had options last year in the 2017 NFL draft when the clock started running on the 4th overall pick of the first round. They decided to go against the grain of the modern NFL and draft Leonard Fournette, a running back, with their selection.
Given the diminishing value of running backs and the bust history of top 10 rushers over the last 15 or so years, it seemed like quite a gamble, especially since most thought the Jaguars would ultimately be held back by their quarterback play.
It’s working out, at least for a year, as Leonard Fournette rushed for over 1,000 yards and spearheaded a surprisingly effective Jacksonville offense.
The Jaguars added more contributors throughout the draft, including a potential franchise left tackle.
In his annual draft grade retrospective, Mel Kiper Jr. went back and bumped up the original grade he gave the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Post-draft grade: C+I quibbled with the Jaguars taking Leonard Fournette at No. 4 overall — if I were a GM, I’ve long said I’d never take a running back anywhere close to the top 10 — but there’s no denying his immediate impact. He had 1,040 yards (only 3.9 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, plus another 36 catches for 302 yards. That catch total is almost identical to his total in three seasons at LSU, so it’s an example of a college system sometimes working against a player’s strengths — Fournette has decent hands. He also added four rushing touchdowns in the playoffs as the Jags were a few plays away from making the Super Bowl. It’s a defensible top pick for Tom Coughlin’s first draft back in charge.The Jacksonville offense wants to be run-first with Blake Bortles at the helm, and second-round pick Cam Robinson, who was forced to play left tackle immediately after Branden Albert retired, had a strong rookie season. He started 18 of the Jags’ 19 games, though his 10 total penalties was among the most in the league. The Jaguars also added deep threats for Bortles in Dede Westbrook, who had 27 catches for 339 yards and a touchdown in just seven games, and undrafted free agent Keelan Cole, who averaged 17.8 yards per catch and had 748 receiving yards. They’ll have to step up with Allen Robinson gone, but those are stellar starts. Two more undrafted free agents — linebacker Donald Payne (12 special-teams tackles) and defensive tackle Eli Ankou (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks) — pitched in.Jacksonville is clearly trending up, and it will have a handful of 2018 starters from this class. That’s impressive. Now it gets to pick outside the top 10 for the first time since 2007. Yes, seriously.New grade: B+"
Over the last 4 seasons, general manager David Caldwell has put together some impressive draft classes and 2017 is no different. Fournette looks like a solid back at the very least, and he has the potential to develop into a historically great power/speed back. He’s surprisingly good at catching the ball out of the backfield as well, so it’s fair to say we haven’t seen the best of Fournette.
Cam Robinson had an up and down season, but he’s already been miles better than former left tackle Luke Joeckel. If he can be more consistent, the Jaguars should not have to worry about that spot moving forward.
Dawaune Smoot isn’t mentioned here, but he’s going to be key moving forward as he emerges. If he can develop some pass rush moves, he could be the heir apparent to Calais Campbell.
The biggest question marks moving forward are Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole. They flashed some serious potential last season but they need to step up as sophomores and fill some big shoes left by the departures of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
One year isn’t enough to properly judge a draft class, but so far so good with the 2017 kids.