The Jacksonville Jaguars took a step back in 2023, failing to qualify for the postseason one year after getting in and winning the AFC South the year prior. One big reason was their struggles on offense. Their receiver corps dealt with injuries and the offensive line couldn't give Trevor Lawrence enough time to throw. Dane Brugler of The Athletic poses the solution to both problems in his latest 2023 NFL Mock Draft.
Brugler has the Jags picking wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. at No. 17 and offensive guard Cooper Beebe in the second. Regarding the Thomas pick, Brugler argues that he could give Jacksonville long-term stability at receiver due to his outstanding size, speed, and huge upside. On the other hand, he thinks Beebe could help them at several positions across the offensive line. The article is behind a paywall, so you'll need a subscription if you want to give it a look.
A four-star prospect coming out of high school, Thomas made 26 starts in college and was named 2023 Second-Team All-SEC. At 6'4", he's got the speed to get deep and the size to make contested catches. The Jaguars have been lacking a big target in the red zone. Thomas could be it. That said, Derrick Klassen of the Bleacher Report scouting department notes that the former LSU Tiger is not particularly physical and doesn't always fight for the football in traffic.
Nevertheless, Klassen thinks Thomas has big-play potential in the NFL and gives him a second-round grade, pointing out that he's not a complete receiver but has good tools to work with. When it comes to Beebe, Brandon Thorn of B/R says that his below-average athletic ability and length decrease his margin for error when striking opponents.
However, Thorn believes his strength, power, and processing skills make the former Kentucky Wildcat a prospect with a high floor and projects him to be a solid starting guard in the NFL.
The Jacksonville Jaguars could use both Brian Thomas Jr. and Cooper Beebe
Even if the Jags re-sign Calvin Ridley (they should), they could still have questions at wide receiver. Zay Jones is coming off an injury-marred season and could be a cap casualty in the last year of the contract he inked in 2022. As Klassen noted, Thomas needs refinement but he has the skill set to thrive in the NFL. Although he's a different type of receiver, he could be Jones' potential replacement.
On the other hand, Beebe could bring stability at left guard, where he mostly lined up in Kentucky. However, he also played right guard and left tackle, which is another positive. That kind of versatility would be welcomed in Jacksonville's offensive line. If the team's brass brings back Ezra Cleveland, who's scheduled to become a free agent, they could then move Beebe to either center or right guard to replace veteran Brandon Scherff, another potential cap casualty.
Having said that, if the Jaguars have a second-round pick — like they do in Burgler's mock — that means they will have let Calvin Ridley hit the open market. As part of the deal they made to trade for him, they will give the Atlanta Falcons a second-round pick if they extend Ridley but it will only be a third if they let him walk in free agency. While Thomas has huge upside, Ridley is a proven commodity, and by letting him walk, the chances of Zay Jones sticking around would increase.
In the end, there's more than one route the Jags can take to address their needs in the offseason. Some of them include Calvin Ridley, others don't. Whether they move on from him, Brian Thomas Jr. would be an intriguing addition to their receiving room.