After cleaning house of the staff from the 2012 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars under the guidance of David Caldwell as their general manager and Gus Bradley as the head coach came into the 2013 NFL Draft with the task of building a roster basically from scratch. Outside of a few assets like Maurice Jones-Drew, Eugene Monroe and Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars needed just about everything and needed to work to establish an identity. The attitude they ultimately took was adding as much talent as possible, regardless of the position but still adding players they felt fit what Bradley wanted to have for his team. Though their first choice was somewhat controversial and there is one position that went unaddressed that surprised most everyone, the Jaguars organization hopes they have the foundation to start building a winning franchise and did so by drafting a particular type of player with a specific attitude, sending a message to the players on the roster on what this team expects.
Although the exact identity of the first pick of the draft was not known until the day of the draft, it became evident that the Kansas City Chiefs were going to select a tackle with the top overall pick. They traded for Alex Smith, released Eric Winston, and openly discussed the possibility of trading Branden Albert. The Jaguars certainly prepared for all possibilities but they could reasonably assume the Chiefs were going to take a tackle. The Jaguars could discuss the possibilities for the #2 pick including getting a premier defensive player for Gus Bradley’s defense or picking a franchise signal caller. When it came down to it, most people had the Jaguars picking either Dion Jordan, the defensive end and outside linebacker out of Oregon or Geno Smith, the quarterback from West Virginia. Late in the process, there was some consideration for taking whichever top tackle the Chiefs did not take but that was still met with skepticism, perhaps trying to induce a trade from one of the tackle desperate teams picking later in the top twelve picks. When it came down to it, the Chiefs took Eric Fisher, the Central Michigan offensive tackle with the top pick in the draft and the Jaguars did not hesitate and took Luke Joeckel, tackle out of Texas A&M.
The pick is definitely a controversial one because they essentially used the second pick in the entire draft on a right tackle as opposed to adding a foundational player to their defense or going with a quarterback. It also raises questions about the guy they already have there. Eugene Monroe has been a good left tackle for the Jaguars since he was drafted in the top 10. He only has one year left on his contract. The Jaguars could let him go or try to trade him next year or they could just keep both guys and have a great set of bookends for years to come. At least for this year, it stands to reason that Joeckel will play on the right side. Whoever lines up under center whether it be Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, or a surprise player like Matt Scott, they should have fantastic protection this year. Joeckel was a terrific prospect in large part because he has played extremely well in his career and did it against some of the best players in the country. He is not going to be nervous or unprepared to take on NFL competition because he has been forged against the best in college and excelled. He is also a solid run blocker and while he might not be a mauler like D.J. Fluker but he is going to be a good run blocker who gets in position and does his job and opens holes for Maurice Jones-Drew. It might not be the most ideal way to use the second pick in the draft, but the team and its fans should be happy to have Joeckel now and five years from now.
After the first round of the draft ended, the Jaguars went to sleep with the top pick of the second round and the time to consider any and all options for them with the players that were taken in the first round but more so with the players that were not taken; most notably Geno Smith, who was still there on the board. Many jumped to the conclusion that of course they will now go ahead and get their quarterback and they are so smart because they took Joeckel in the first round and still got Smith to be their quarterback. As the time approached for the draft to start, rumblings came out that the Jaguars were going to pass on the Mountaineer quarterback but reports were mixed on who they would take. When they finally were put on the clock, they again opted to attack value, talent, and a fit for their team when they selected Johnathan Cyprien, safety from Florida International. The Jaguars opted to go local and grabbed a talented hybrid safety that could line up at either free or strong safety in their defense.
Cyprien was largely an unknown when he was invited to the Senior Bowl and there were plenty of people who were openly wondering what Phil Savage, the Senior Bowl Director, was thinking when they invited the Golden Panther defensive back; until he got on the practice field. Cyprien impressed everyone not only with his athletic ability and talent but because of his passion for the game and his attitude of playing every snap like it could be his last. It was easy to like what he was doing on the field and quickly he made everyone who questioned Savage out loud not only owe him an apology but make room for the top of their board for Cyprien. Outside of maybe Eric Fisher, no one showed just how valuable the week in Mobile could be more than Cyprien who went from an unknown to a fringe first round pick and ultimately the top pick of the second round.
In terms of the fit, Cyprien steps in and likely starts but how he is going to be categorized remains to be seen. Judging on how the Jaguars drafted their safeties this year, they may not bother labeling them beyond differentiating them to line them up. He might be labeled a strong or free safety but he is going to be performing the role of both. He has the ability to come up and support the run, he can play in coverage, and he has shown the ability to protect teams over the top. He still needs a little bit of refinement to be a more consistent player but with his talent and work ethic, he is the type of guy that gets a coach excited to work with him and his ceiling could be extremely high in Jacksonville. The Cyprien pick appears to be a good one for the Jaguars, but it gets even better when put in perspective with a player they took the following day.
In round three, the Jaguars confirmed the fact that Gus Bradley would indeed be bringing in the same system for his corners as he ran in Seattle under Pete Carroll when they picked Dwayne Gratz out of Connecticut. This was somewhat surprising as he was the first Husky off the board which was not expected going into the draft. In fact, some targeted his teammate Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a potential fit for the Jaguars. Gratz is not quite as tall as the corners the Seahawks are using on the outside but he has the same level of toughness and strength at the line of scrimmage they do. He is going to come in and likely end up as the starter on the outside and beat up the opposing wide receivers. There are a lot of receivers who do not like corners coming up and playing physical on the line of scrimmage and struggle to get off the line against a good press corner like they hope Gratz can be. Seattle had a great deal of success using that style and it is no surprise at all that Bradley would try to take that system with him to Jacksonville. This pick was an announcement to the rest of the AFC South that their receivers are basically in for a fist fight at the line of scrimmage if they want to get open and make plays. Some might quibble with the value and the pick a little bit here as many expected him to be a day three pick but this player is crucial in the defense, so they had to get it right and had to be confident in the move. It remains to be seen if they should have been.
In the fourth round, the Jaguars opted to take a specialist in Ace Sanders out of South Carolina. Aside from Tavon Austin that went in the top 10, Sanders might have been the best pure slot receiver in this year’s draft. His straight line speed is not all that impressive but in terms of quickness and having the skills necessary to get open inside, he does a great job. This pick does a couple of things for the Jaguars. They get a guy they know they can put in the slot and he should excel there, but obviously he will need to go out and prove it. It also says they are confident enough in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III as their receivers on the outside at least for the time being. Now, Blackmon has been suspended for the first four games of the season and he needs to get his life together, but he clearly showed he could be a productive player last year during the last half of the year. Shorts has been one of the better picks of Gene Smith’s era as general manager and has really done well for them after being a fourth round pick in 2011. With Blackmon after his suspension, Shorts, and Sanders, the Jaguars have a trio of receivers that are in their second, third, and rookie seasons respectively to grow with a quarterback, should they find one. Sanders is small; 5’7” 173lbs small. It remains to be seen if he can hold up in the NFL but he was impressive during his college career and is one of those small, water bug type players that defenses hate to defend. He can also potentially contribute as a returner on special teams but may be competing directly with their fifth round pick for that role.
The Jaguars opted to take one of the most high profile players in the NFL Draft when they selected Denard Robinson out of Michigan in the fifth round. Finally, the Jaguars took a quarterback… sort of. Robinson technically played quarterback at Michigan in that he took the snaps, but he cannot throw for his life. The Jaguars drafted Robinson to be a running back and more of a weapon than anything else in addition to bringing in another guy with a great attitude fot football. He played through some injuries and carried the Wolverine offense the past few years and left it all out tehre on the field. Robinson might get some snaps in situations if they want to have some run option type looks in their offense but he is a guy who comes in as a threat out of the backfield and perhaps another option in the slot. Robinson is a dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands and always a threat to take it all the way, but transitioning to wide receiver is not nearly as easy as some make it out to be. Robinson had some struggles in making the transition at the Senior Bowl and looked a little bit better at the Scouting Combine but he looked a lot more like Josh Cribbs than he did Antwan Randle-El in terms of being a wide receiver. As a running back, they can just hand him the ball or give him a quick pitch and just let him run and bring that potential game breaking running ability to the offense. Robinson is small and his touches as a running back will need to be limited but he should add some weight to help make the transition as long as he does not lose that quickness. And like with Sanders, Robinson is another guy who can potentially return kicks for the Jaguars and help them with their field position. He is also going to have to contribute on special teams in coverage and learn how to tackle someone. Between Robinson and Sanders, they have two potentially dynamic threats as weapons but they need to develop one and the other needs to prove he can survive the NFL.
In the sixth round, the Jaguars took a developmental safety prospect in Josh Evans from Florida. Not only did they take another safety from their home state, they also took the safety most like Cyprien in the draft. Evans is a talented but still unpolished hybrid safety prospect that can play at either spot but he is an incredible effort player. Many of the plays Evans made atFlorida were due to him simply never giving up on plays, hustling all the way through and being rewarded for them. He had a couple of interceptions on tips and recovered a fumble purely he kept going and benefited from good fortune. Evans showed why hustle pays off in football. He is a missile who is willing to come up and play the run but needs to get more consistent with tackling and breaking down to make tackles. Too often, he is lunging at ball carriers and missing and if he broke down, he could make a nice, form play. He has the athletic ability and range to play in coverage but he is still raw in reading and reacting to what is going on around him. Too often he is late diagnosing plays and will show up late. Evans needs to get in on more plays to tip passes and potentially cause turnovers. He will be a great contributor on special teams and a valuable asset in the locker room and if he can develop in that defense, the combination of Evans and Cyprien on the back end of that defense will set league records for effort, hustle, and heart. And if they can make that happen, they have two hybrid safeties that can do everything and really mix things up both in their range to cover and how they are able to support the run. This might be a long shot to happen, but one definitely worth rooting to have happen.
In the seventh round, the Jaguars wrapped up their draft with a pair of small school corners; the first of which was Jeremy Harris from New Mexico State. This pick was not a difficult pick to figure out from the Jaguars perspective. All anyone has to look at is his measurables. Harris is 6’2” 181lbs, which is thin, but fits right in with those long corners the Jaguars are looking for to play in their press system. For a player like Harris with a roster in flux, he will have the opportunity to come in and impress enough to stay on the roster or make the practice squad. Harris will have the opportunity in camp to show what he can and if they like him, they will put him in development starting with the weight room and try to bulk him up as they teach him their system. It is worth noting that Seattle was able to land their starting corners on the cheap; Richard Sherman in the fourth round and Brandon Browner after a stint inCanada. While there is an element of luck, the types of corners the Jaguars and Seahawks are looking for do not attract everyone and since the Seahawks are absolutely loaded at corner, they did not have competition. That certainly does guarantee anything with Harris or their other seventh round corner, but it does mean they should not be simply forgotten based on where they were drafted.
The other corner they drafted and the last pick of their draft was Demetrius McCray from Appalachian State. McCray was an intriguing prospect based on his impressive physical ability but he also has the measurables that make sense for what the Jaguars wanted in a corner at just under 6’1” 187lbs. With the triangle numbers, it is all about if McCray can look like he belongs to be in the NFL. It remains to be seen just how open the Jaguars roster is at the cornerback position or if it is basically an open contest outside of Gratz and free agent signing Alan Ball. Beyond that, it is unclear if McCray and Harris are basically competing with each other or if everyone is competing just to make the roster and there could be a roster shake up at that position as well as most everywhere else. Because of the regime change and system change, McCray and Harris might have a better shot making this roster than any other in the NFL, but if either falls short, should find a home on the practice squad and continue developing.
My Thoughts: The long term ramifications of the Luke Jockel pick are going to be key to this draft. Even if he is a good right tackle for the next decade, if Dion Jordan or Barkevious Mingo become impact defensive players for the Dolphins and Browns respectively, it is extremely difficult to justify the pick of Joeckel. And if for whatever he is a bust, however unlikely that might be, it immediately goes down as one of the biggest busts of all time because of the position of right tackle not being a premium one and then missing on that would be just a disaster of epic proportion. The front office of the Jaguars is basically forced to root for the players picked after them to fail miserably.
It is the same deal with Geno Smith because the Jaguars passed on him twice. If he succeeds and becomes a great quarterback, it could be a tough pill to swallow. Cyprien was a good pick at a great value and because of his attitude and work ethic a good tone setter for the franchise along with Joeckel. Those picks appear to have set the standard for what that staff expects from its players in addition to the talent they bring to the team. If they are successful in Jacksonville, that could be a key reason for the turn around.
I do not love the picks of Sanders and Robinson but I understand them and where they took them. When Scott Pioli took over the general manager job for the Chiefs, he opted to use two second round picks on role players, which did not work out at all. The Jaguars took role players with their first two picks of the third day of the draft, so for the value, it makes sense, but if they fail, critics and fans are going to point to building block players that succeed from a team that can use as many as it can find in its current state. If they work out, they have two dynamic weapons that could make big plays and perhaps change games. I am a big fan of the Josh Evans pick when everything is taken into account. The value, the player, the attitude, and having him matched with Cyprien is fantastic all around. I would love to see those picks work out and be a nice tandem in the league for a while but if one or both do not work out, I still like what they tried to do here with their safety position. And then the corners they took in the seventh round make a lot of sense for what they are trying to do.
When looking at the Jaguars draft, it stands out they did not take a quarterback with Gabbert and Henne on the roster. A late round flyer might have had a decent change of being the starter for them. However, they did agree to a deal with Matt Scott as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona. No one would have said anything if Scott went anywhere on day three of the draft, so being able to attack different areas of the draft and still get a quarterback like Scott looks fantastic. Matt Scott needs time and development and seeing what he can offer in camp will be a good idea. Assuming he is the player he seemed to be on tape, he would benefit from a year or few as a backup, but at the very least should be able to sit the year behind either Gabbert or Henne.
They also did not address the defensive line and for a team that only had twenty sacks last year, that is a little concerning. They have some young players to develop such as Andre Branch and Jeremy Mincey, but it would be a surprise if that is not a major need in next year’s draft. Perhaps the Jaguars are saving a spot for a defensive end currently playing in the SEC. The first draft of the Jaguars under Caldwell and Bradley will be interesting to watch as they played it extremely safely in some spots and took some gambles in others, but this draft appeared to be about as much about attitude, work ethic, and setting a tone as much as anything else. From that standpoint, the draft appears to be a success but they will need to prove it on the field and that the approach was the right one for them to change a culture and build a team.
Topics: Ace Sanders, Appalachian State, Connecticut Huskies Football, Demetrius McCray, Denard Robinson, Dwayne Gratz, Florida Gators Football, Florida International Golden Panthers Football, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jeremy Harris, Johnathan Cyprien, Josh Evans, Luke Joeckel, Michigan Wolverines Football, New Mexico State, NFL Draft 2013, South Carolina Gamecocks Football, Texas A&M Aggies Football