OL Luke Fortner named Jaguars surprise rookie gem

Luke Fortner #OL16 of the Kentucky Wildcats at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Luke Fortner #OL16 of the Kentucky Wildcats at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

First-round picks Trevon Walker and Devin Lloyd are expected to contribute from Day 1 but they’re not the only members of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2022 draft class that could end up having a featured role right off the bat. Offensive lineman Luke Forter will be competing for the starting center job and could end up becoming a pleasant surprise.

Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report put together a list of potential rookie gems and Fortner was the choice for the Jags. Wharton points out that center Brandon Linder’s retirement left a void in Jacksonville’s offensive line this offseason and believes Fortner has the potential to take his place.

"The versatile interior blocker from Kentucky was a shrewd pickup. Experienced at both guard and center during three seasons, Fortner has a skill set that will allow him to succeed early. His playing style is similar to Linder’s despite being slightly smaller. Expect to see the 6’6″, 300-pound Fortner rely on his strength as a rookie. He’s a solid run-blocker who finishes plays through the whistle. Jacksonville added a lot of nastiness to its offensive line this offseason between Fortner and Guard Brandon Scherff."

Fortner was a three-year starter for the Kentucky Wildcats. He lined up at right guard throughout most of his collegiate career but switched to center last year. In Jacksonville, he’s slated to play center but he will need to earn the starting job.

The Jaguars won’t hand out the starting job to Luke Fortner

Brandon Linder was a mainstay of the Jaguars’ offensive line and one of the most respected veteran voices in their locker room. There’s no doubt he will be missed but his decision to hang up the cleats wasn’t particularly surprising. After all, he missed 15 games with different games over the last two years, and only started a full season once since being drafted in 2014.

Knowing Linder didn’t figure into their future, the Jags gave veteran Tyler Shatley a two-year deal to remain in Jacksonville. He has been a valuable contributor in recent years, making start 18 games over the last two. However, he will probably be a stopgap at center, as Jacksonville used a third-round selection on Fortner, and will probably expect him to start at some point, maybe as early as 2021.

Most rookies experience a learning curve while adjusting to the pros, so it’s uncertain if Fortner is suited to claim the starting job. Either way, he will compete with Shatley in training camp for the chance to be the Jaguars’ center in Week 1. Shatley could have the edge due to his experience playing the position but Fortner might have more upside and a bigger ceiling. If the latter shows he isn’t ready and loses the battle, he can sit and develop behind Shatley this upcoming season.

The Jaguars didn’t draft Fortner to stay on the sidelines and even if he doesn’t start from Day 1, he should join the offensive line at some point of the 2022 season. If he lives up to expectations once he steps on the football field, Jacksonville might not need to worry about the center position for a long time.

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