Contrary to other rebuilding teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been very quiet on the open market.
Jacksonville made a few moves the Friday before last—acquiring defensive tackle Roy Miller and ex-Texans running back Justin Forsett and defensive back Alan Ball—but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have done to address their needs via 2013 NFL Free Agency.
Nevertheless, some teams prefer to build primarily through the draft. But Jaguars fans better hope that head coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell have a much better draft strategy in place than their predecessors—for a couple of reasons.
For the first reason, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at the Jaguars’ draft history, especially as it pertains to players they’ve drafted that line up at wide receiver and in the trenches (mostly on defense).
In 2008, the Jags jumped on DEs Derrick Harvey (first round) and Quinton Groves (second round). The Jaguars got DT Terrance Knighton in the third round in 2009. And in 2010, the team took DTs Tyson Alualu (first round) and D’Anthony Smith (third round) and DEs Larry Hart (fifth round) and Austen Lane (fifth round).
Meanwhile—prior to last year—the last time the team selected a receiver in the first three rounds was Mike Sims-Walker (No. 79 overall) in 2007. But even when the Jags have drafted wide outs in the early rounds, it hasn’t ended up a success.
In 2005, the team took wide receiver Matt Jones out of Arkansas with the No. 21 overall selection. The Jags got Reggie Williams with the No. 11 overall pick out of Washington in 2004. Both of them have been out of the league since 2008.
Justin Blackmon would be the exception to the rule at the moment after a rather impressive rookie season, as he racked up 64 receptions for 865 yards and five scores—despite starting off on the wrong foot with an arrest last summer.
The other reason why the Jaguars’ new head coach and general manager must have a much better draft strategy than their predecessors is because the team has so many needs to address in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft (in no particular order).
Jacksonville’s options with the second overall pick are practically limitless. Unless the Chiefs choose to trade down, Geno Smith will be available and Blaine Gabbert has not lived up to expectations as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
In his first two seasons, Gabbert, 23, has played in 24 games (23 starts) and completed 372 of 691 passes (53.8 percent) for 3,876 yards with 21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions with a 5-19 record as a starter.
Though those stats don’t look too shabby when compared to a few of the quarterbacks that have been selected in the early rounds of the past two drafts like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Mallett—each of whom also have potential—Gabbert’s numbers pale in comparison to the other guys such as Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton.
The Jaguars recently attended West Virginia’s Pro Day en masse, looking like the team was very interested in the top quarterback in this draft class and head coach Gus Bradley came away impressed with what we saw from Geno Smith.
Gabbert may be given another year to prove himself, but don’t be surprised if the Jags snag one of the top seven signal-callers available in April (Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Mike Glennon) to compete for the starting job during the offseason and become the potential future face of the franchise.
2. Offensive Line
Brad Meester was recently re-signed, but the Jaguars’ starting center is 36-years-old. Eben Britton was also benched at left guard this past season and his replacement—Mike Brewster—wasn’t much better. Furthermore, Cameron Bradfield was overmatched at right tackle. So it’s safe to say the Jaguars will need to add some talent and depth to the offensive line early and often in the draft.
3. Defensive Line
The Jaguars must bolster their front seven after finishing dead last in the league in sacks last season. Though there are plenty of options for this team in the second spot—like the top two QBs (Geno Smith and Matt Barkley), top two OTs (Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher—whichever one the Chiefs don’t draft), the top two DTs (Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei), the top CB (Dee Miller) or the top 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB (Dion Jordan).
Jacksonville could also opt to trade down, which would be worthy option with so many needs to address in April and considering this pick could be in high demand with teams potentially looking to move up to get any one of the prospects just mentioned.
But the team couldn’t really go wrong with any of the three defensive linemen—Floyd, Lotulelei or Jordan.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has signed with the Denver Broncos and Tyson Alualu hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Jeremy Mincey also comes off a disappointing 2012 campaign and Andre Branch did not impress in his first year. As mentioned in the introduction, the Jaguars did acquire Roy Miller off the open market, but additional upgrades are needed. Dion Jordan might be the best option.
4. Defensive Back
Aaron Ross has re-joined the Giants and Derek Cox signed with San Diego. The Jaguars are also moving on from Rashean Mathis and recently released strong safety Dawan Landry. Oh, and William Middleton—who has 12 starts over the last three seasons—has also hit the open market. While Alan Ball may be able to line up in one of those holes, a couple of replacements must be found this April.
5. Outside Linebacker
Geno Hayes was recently re-signed and Daryl Smith could be brought back pretty shortly as well. However, Russell Allen and Julian Stanford did not prove to be starting-caliber outside linebackers last year and if Smith isn’t re-signed, the team may need to take two OLBs next month. This year’s class of 4-3 outside linebackers isn’t impressive, but there should be some decent options in the middle rounds.
6. Wide Receiver
Not a single Jaguars receiver reached 65 receptions or the 1,000-yard mark last year, and Laurent Robinson was just released from the team after a concussion-filled 2012 season. He had 24 catches for 252 yards through seven games (four starts) after signing a five-year, $32.5 million free agent contract last year.
However, the team has to like its young talent at ht e position after last season. Justin Blackmon was the Jaguars’ leading receiver last year in his rookie season (stats mentioned in the introduction). Cecil Shorts also had a very solid second season, finishing second on the team with 55 receptions for 979 yards and seven TDs in 14 games (nine starts) in 2012.
Jordan Shipley, who was also just re-signed, also appeared in six contests (two starts) towards the end of the season and caught 23 passes for 244 yards and a score. And veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis finished third on the team with 52 receptions for 540 yards and four scores.
The team should look to add depth to the position on the third day of the draft.
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Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He’s also about to start reporting on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyze important issues in the liberty movement for a political website. Follow him @_MichaelGartman on Twitter. Be sure to ‘like’ Gridiron Grit on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GridironGrit to keep up with the latest coverage on college football, the NFL and more!