Center was one of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ biggest needs ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft and they took care of it when they used the 65th overall selection on Luke Fortner. While the former Kentucky Wildcat is currently behind veteran Tyler Shatley on the depth chart, he’s been named a rookie to keep an eye on coming out of this year’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report recently drew up a list of first-year NFL players to watch and Fortner was among those who made the cut. Ballentine thinks that drafting the Ohio native in the third round could end up paying dividends, noting that Fortner excelled in pass protection at the collegiate level. Moreover, he likes his flexibility to line up at different spots in the interior offensive line.
"Third-round selection Luke Fortner might wind up being a sneaky addition who could pay big dividends, too. The Jaguars spent only two of their seven draft picks on offensive players, the first of whom was Fortner. Fortner showed a nasty disposition in the trenches at Kentucky and was good in pass protection, giving up only two sacks on 848 snaps in his final season, per PFF."
Fortner made 13 starts at center last season but lined at right guard throughout most of his career at Kentucky. As Ballentine pointed out, his ability to play different positions will give the Jaguars plenty of flexibility upfront.
Luke Fortner might need to wait to make his debut for the Jaguars
It’s true that the Jaguars’ brass likes Fortner but Tyler Shatley is currently slated to start. An undrafted free agent in 2014, the former Ohio Buckeye has spent his whole career in Jacksonville. Over the last two years, he’s made 18 starts, most of them at center, but has also seen time at the guard position.
A backup throughout most of his tenure with the Jags, this is the first year Shatley will enter training camp as a starter. He develop chemistry with Trevor Lawrence last season, so in order to have some carryover, he will once again snap the ball to the young quarterback. This may in turn force Fortner to start the year on the sidelines, which won’t necessarily be a bad thing, as the coaching staff won’t have to rush Fortner, and will have more than enough time to show him the ropes.
Barring injury to Shatley or an outstanding performance in training camp, it’s hard to envision Fortner being the Jaguars’ starting center against the Washington Commanders in Week 1. However, this isn’t a matter of now or never and he will eventually get his chance. It’s hard to make any predictions but it might come at some point of the 2022 regular season.