The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the offseason with several needs. One that doesn't nearly get as much attention is the pass rush. Although they have a devastating tandem in Josh Allen and Travon Walker, they need to round out their rotation. When you add Allen's contract situation to the equation, it makes sense for the Jags to bolster their rotation. This is precisely what they do in NFL Media's latest mock draft.
Ed Edholm, the writer behind this mock, has Jacksonville taking UCLA edge defender Laiatu Latu at No. 17. He argues that Latu might not be the prototypical Trent Baalke pick due to his not-ideal arm length but he would be a solid replacement in case Allen leaves in free agency.
"This pick might not work for the Jaguars if they keep Josh Allen from bolting in free agency, and Latu's arm length isn't exactly what GM Trent Baalke typically seeks in an edge, but finding a pass-rushing partner for Travon Walker will be pretty essential if Allen does ultimately depart Duval. Latu was a highly productive college player with a deep bag of pass-rush tricks."
Based on what he wrote, Edholm projected Latu to the Jaguars as insurance in case Allen walks but the truth is that even if he stays, the team's brass shouldn't shy away from investing an early draft pick to fortify their pass rush.
Latu would most definitely be a good selection. At 6'5" and 261 pounds, the UCLA stud has the ideal size to play standup linebacker but Matt Holder of the Bleacher Report scouting department believes he could also thrive if he lines up in a three-point stance.
"Schematically, the UCLA product has primarily played as a standup outside 'backer in odd fronts and has the athleticism to drop into coverage. That might be his best scheme fit. But he should have no problem playing as a hand-in-the-ground defensive end for an even-front team if need be."
Holder points out that he must be more disciplined, often leaving assignments to try to make a play. On the other hand, he's got the speed and power to thrive at the next level. Moreover, he's already developed a handful of pass-rush moves. That said, the Jaguars and other teams could be wary of a neck injury he sustained at Washington. He was medically retired and missed two seasons.
Although Latu didn't suffer a setback last year, the Jags will surely want to make sure the neck injury doesn't have long-term implications. Then again, general manager Trent Balkee has never been afraid to bet on players with medical flags.
A four-star prospect coming out of high school, Latu posted 13 sacks, 21.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles last year. That kind of production, along with medical clearance, could incentivize Jacksonville to consider taking Latu at No. 17. And that's the thing, despite the injury flags, Holder and Edholm project him to be a first-round pick.
Laiatu Latu would give the Jacksonville Jaguars pass rush a boost if healthy
Josh Allen is coming off a banner season and Trevon Walker made strides in his sophomore campaign. The two combined for 27.5 sacks last year but the rest of the rotation left much to be desired. K'Lavon Chaisson, No. 3 on the depth chart, contributed with just two sacks while Yasir Abdullah may need a bit more time before he can contribute on a consistent basis.
With Chaisson slated to hit the open market, this might be the best time for Jacksonville to upgrade their rotation. DaVon Hamilton and Roy Robertson-Harris may be much better under newly hired defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, and in turn, provide more pass rush. But that shouldn't stop Trent Baalke from fortifying the trenches in the draft.
Keep in mind that center, wide receiver, and cornerback could also be needs on draft day. However, the Jaguars should jump at the opportunity to bolster the pass rush even if they strike a long-term deal with Josh Allen.
All things considered, Laiatu Latu wouldn't be a back pick in the first round if he gets medical clearance. Having said that, he won't be the only option available when the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock.