After picking in the top ten from 2007-2017, fans and draft analysts alike could’ve made the argument that each recent Jags draft was the most important of the decade.
With teams reworking 20 percent of their roster annually, there is more turnover in the NFL than any other major sport. While there are some bonafide powerhouses such as the New England Patriots, typically there are different teams in the playoffs from year-to-year. For example, from two years ago to last season, seven out of the twelve teams in the playoffs in 2016-17 (over 50 percent) failed to make it back.
All of this goes without saying replicating success is no easy task. Especially for the Jags who are in a division where all three teams undoubtedly got better. The Texans added Tyrann Mathieu and former Jags nickelback Aaron Colvin. They’ll also get Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt back from knee injuries. The Titans added fresh new faces to the coaching staff and several pieces on defense (most notably Malcolm Butler), while the Colts are set to get a extremely talented Andrew Luck back.
With the improved strength of the division, Jacksonville will have their hands full. Especially in light of an franchise and fan base that finally seems to have finally awoken. At their annual state of the franchise conference, the Jags rolled out fresh new jerseys and announced the addition of a trendy new dog park. They also decided to finally take the tarp off the upper deck of Everbank Field, showing that there’s enough people who care about the team. While attendance improved slightly last year (they had an average attendance of just over 64,000 in 2017, after ranking towards the bottom of the league with low 60,000’s and high 50,000’s for over a decade), they need to keep winning for butts to stay in seats.
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After endless years of rebuilding that included a revolving door of players, coaches, and front office personnel, the Jags finally have the tools on the roster to do so. At the same time, they need a good draft that yields more impactful players as they can’t afford to pay everyone on the current roster.
This especially rains true as player salaries are skyrocketing, while rookie deals are frozen under the old CBA agreement. Remember, this is a Jags team that is lavishly spending over 25 percent of their current salary cap on four defensive players – Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Malik Jackson, and midseason acquisition Marcell Dareus. This isn’t to say that any of these guys aren’t solid players, but eventually the team is going to need to cutback – especially with so many budding young guys. They simply can’t afford to give skill position players massive paydays forever.
The best way to cut corners is to get impactful, young players at a fraction of the price. Teams in the past have been able to change the trajectory of their franchise with several good picks. The New Orleans Saints made the playoffs after drafting a class that featured Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, and Marcus Williams. While most successful draft classes don’t need to produce four starters, it goes to show how selections can elevate or detonate a franchise.
With no glaring holes on the roster, the Jags can take a strictly best player available approach. And those within the organization seem more relaxed than ever. Appearing on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” yesterday, Coach Doug Marrone was extremely up front with the Jags draft plans and the roster’s current standing:
“I think where we right now as a team, we can go out there and play right now as a football team – which I think is important. I think that there’s no real we need this or we need to maybe reach for a player to fulfill a need or anything of that nature. We’re going to see whose available at 29, who’s that best player, and bring that player onto our team hoping that they can contribute and help.”
This open minded mentality allows the team to try and get the guy they feel can make the biggest impact, regardless of position. This also reduces the likelihood that they get cute and try and force a pick like they have in the past (Justin Blackmon anyone?)
Ultimately this year’s draft so important for the Jags because it’ll determine how many talented players the team has for years to come – and ultimately how the team fares for years to come. This year’s draft will be the ultimate litmus test for GM Dave Caldwell and VP of Player Personnel Tom Coughlin, who seem set on turning over a new leaf in Duval county. For the Jags, It’s all about proving last year’s squad wasn’t a one hit wonder, which is all too familiar territory for a franchise that’s endured years of misery.