The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2018 NFL draft with the luxury of having position flexibility in who they took. Employing a best player available mindset, the team now has the most talent and depth than they’ve had in years.
With a lot of their salary cap wrapped up in expensive defensive lineman, the Jags decided to invest their first round pick in defensive tackle Taven Bryan. While Bryan has the prototypical short area burst, moves, athleticism, and flexibility to play in the trenches, his skillset is raw. Additionally, Bryan may need to add some more muscle mass if the Jags intend on using him as a three down defensive tackle.
However, playing on a line that has two extremely talented players ahead of him, and features two Pro Bowlers overall, Bryan won’t be forced to start immediately. Instead, he’ll have an opportunity to make an impact and get his feet wet as a rotational player before likely taking over one of the nose tackle spots in 2019. Ultimately, this was an extremely smart pick for the Jaguars, planning for the future while adding a guy who can be an immediate contributor.
In the second round, the team took wide receiver D.J. Chark out of LSU. Like Bryan, Chark has the traits and potential to become a impact player – showing off his speed by running a 4.34 at the combine – but he’ll likely need some development.
This pick came as somewhat of a surprise as the team has four young, talented, wideouts already on the roster, as I wrote about in a past article. Especially considering that several players who were still on the draft board could’ve filled immediate needs.
Cornerback Carlton Davis out of Auburn could’ve immediately filled the vacancy at nickelback, safety Justin Reid out of Stanford is a durable athlete who was arguably the best player available, and although somewhat of a reach, tight end Mark Andrews out of Oklahoma would’ve been another nice pass catching option.
Likewise, the Jaguars may have been better off signing a affordable, proven, veteran wideout rather than drafting a rookie, which leaves a big unknown.
However, with Chark Jacksonville now has yet another intriguing, young receiver at their disposal. If he proves himself worthy, Chark will have the opportunity to either start right away or get considerable playing time. Also, with Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and now Chark, the Jaguars now have potentially three talented wide receivers on relatively inexpensive rookie contracts.
This is huge when considering how much of their salary cap is tied up in defensive players. This is a front office that is trying to be efficient in their financial budget relative to positional value and production, and by picking Chark they continued that trend. Ultimately this pick has some boom-or-bust potential.
In the third round, the Jaguars got a steal in Ronnie Harrison. Harrison was a guy many teams liked, and was projected to go as high as the first round in some mock drafts. He’s a prototypical safety in today’s NFL – having the durability to play at either spot – and is a great fit for the Jags defense as I discussed in a earlier post. Having to cut corners going forward, this is a guy the team can slowly finesse into the lineup while seeing which spot fits him best.
With the 129th pick, the team took tackle Will Richardson. Richardson certainly seems like more of a project than the first three guys, but could develop into a impact player.
While he’s quicker than the average tackle, Richardson’s technique isn’t fully developed. He’s also been inconsistent, and has had some off-field issues. Something that’s nice about Richardson is he can compete for immediate playing time at right guard where A.J. Cann had a Jekyll and Hyde 2017. Like Bryan and Harrison, it seems like the team wants to tailor and coach Richardson to take over a full time role at right tackle in two seasons.
To the surprise of many, the Jags waited till the sixth round to take a quarterback, selecting Tanner Lee out of Nebraska. With incumbent Blake Bortles still not a proven franchise quarterback, many people thought they’d take one who could push him much sooner or in the event that he struggled. While Lee has a big arm and average accuracy, he’s struggled mightily in his decision making – something that resulted in many interceptions and a low completion percentage in college.
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Lee certainly adds another arm to the quarterback room, but I wonder about how high his ceiling is given his glaring weaknesses. The fact the Jags spent draft capital on a developmental quarterback – who is equally good as most undrafted rookies – while they have a guy of a similar quality in Cody Kessler was also questionable. However, if Lee turns out to be the next Tom Brady they will likely be no remorse.
With their two seventh round picks, the Jaguars selected outside linebacker Leon Jacobs out of Wisconsin, and punter Logan Cooke out of Mississippi State.
The fact that Paul Posluszny’s replacement, Blair Brown, stepped in so well late last season also doesn’t help Jacobs’ case. He will definitely be able to earn reps with good play (defensive coordinators always find ways to good linebackers on the field), but it seems like Brown currently has a leg up in the competition.
Something working in Jacobs’s favor is the fact that he plays special teams. The Jags ranked 24th last season in S.T. DVOA with a -3.2 percent margin. Considering they shot themselves in the foot on special teams last season, this could be a deciding factor in his roster status.
The Jaguars’ special teams didn’t stop on missed assignments, either. Punter Brad Norman ranked in the bottom quarter of the league with an average punt of 38.9 yards. Therefore, it made sense to look for a suitable upgrade – or minimally add some competition – by drafting Cooke.
In the talented SEC, Cooke averaged 41.7 yards per punt, good for seventh in Bulldogs history. He also is durable and can take over kickoff duties, should the team go that direction. The added element of his game will certainly help his case for a roster spot. This was certainly a solid and respectable late round selection for a team that struggled so much on the special teams.
While there was a lot of question as to why the team didn’t draft a tight end, or take a linebacker higher, the team as a whole had a good draft. By drafting several talented players that they have the opportunity to further develop, the Jaguars are showing they are serious for years to come.