Months of watching tape and evaluating prospects don’t guarantee success on Draft Night. NFL teams can put in months worth of work and still fail to acquire difference-makers. That was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ case under general manager Dave Caldwell. But at least for 2017, the Jags retroactively got a solid grade.
Maurice Moton recently looked back at every team’s 2017 draft class and assigned each one of them grades based on how they’ve fared over the last five years. Jacksonville got a B-. This is similar to the mark Sports Illustrated gave them then and significantly higher than the one they earned from CBS Sports. Moton notes that the Jags got mileage out of running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Dede Westbrook. He also points out that edge rusher Dawuane Smoot and left tackle Cam Robison are key contributors nowadays.
"Leonard Fournette’s run with the Jaguars started well but ended abruptly after three terms. Fournette racked up 1,342-plus yards from scrimmage in two of his three campaigns in Jacksonville. However, the team waived the bruising tailback late in the 2020 offseason after a failed attempt to trade him, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. As a first-round pick, Fournette made an early impact but didn’t stick around long enough to be viewed as a strong plus in this class. On the flip side, the Jaguars deserve some praise for Robinson and Smoot."
The Jaguars see Cam Robinson as a building block, giving him a three-year deal worth $54 million earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dawuane Smoot has logged 17.5 sacks over the last three years and will be an important part of the pass-rush rotation in 2022.
The Jaguars need to draft better and keep homegrown players from leaving
While it’s easy to give grades right after the draft, it normally takes three to five years to evaluate a class. After all, prospects that earn the ‘cant’ miss’ label don’t always make the adjustment to the pros. Similarly, some of the players that slide because of injuries, character concerns, or less-than-ideal measurables end up thriving in the NFL.
Looking back, the Jaguars had a solid draft haul in 2017 when you compare it to the one in 2018 or the 2012 class. You could argue that the one from the year before was better but they don’t have anything to show for it. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. Linebacker Myles Jack signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency and Yannick Ngakoue was also sent packing in 2020. What’s the point of acquiring playmakers in the draft if you aren’t able to retain them?
That’s why giving Cam Robinson a multi-year deal a few months ago was noteworthy. He’s one of the few players that has signed a second contract with the Jags in recent years. Coincidentally, Smoot is one of the few others but his contract wasn’t as big as the one the left tackle signed.
It’s always useful to take a look at past drafts. It gives teams the chance to learn from their mistakes but also the opportunity to see how much they’ve improved (or not) since then. In the Jaguars’ case, 2017 wasn’t a bad year, especially when you take into account their trip to the AFC South Championship.