I've analyzed Jaguars' drafts in Folio Weekly for the previous decade, and for the better part of that decade as a fan, so I have plenty of opinions. Along the way, I've learned an important lesson: Nothing is ever as it seems on draft day.
It all seems simple in late April. Some teams draft the best available player (BAP) more often than not, knowing that attrition and injury will require that potential to find its way onto the field. Other teams draft for need — a philosophy decried by some as too reactive, as if the so-called BAP is a sure thing or a known quantity. Still others emulate Bill Belichick and trade down, under the assumption that diversifying the portfolio and putting more bodies in camp is the smartest play — sort of like what Rumsfeld said about Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. … there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
There's something there that applies to more than Mesopotamia. We never truly know the outcome of a situation going in. Despite the ruminations of self-styled purists, all teams basically use a hybrid of those draft philosophies: sometimes need, sometimes best player, sometimes an aggregation of picks. The three philosophies were at work in General Manager David Caldwell's first draft, and the results are more promising than they've in years.
The first pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, graded out as the best tackle — indeed the best player — in many pre-draft projections, and if you saw him keep the heat off Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last season in the school's first year in the SEC, you'd agree. The obvious comparison to Joeckel is Tony Boselli — and though those are big shoes to fill, one hopes he'll be closer to that than the 2009 second-round bust pick Eben Britton, the discharged right tackle who talked a much bigger game than he played. Britton signed with the Bears last month.
With Joeckel and Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars hope they have bookend tackles who can give Blaine Gabbert the protection he needs to build on connections established with wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. No coincidence that the Jaguars' only period of sustained success was during the 1996-'99 Boselli/Leon Searcy era, when Mark Brunell had enough time and weapons to do what had to be done. Last week, lots of folks were clamoring for the Jaguars to pick an available quarterback, but those who actually watched games last year know the issues with Gabbert's game boiled down to poor blocking and a head coach constitutionally opposed to making halftime adjustments.
Past the first round, it's hard to quibble with the picks. Second-round safety Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International might have played for a small school, but he's the kind of big hitter we haven't seen around here since Donovin Darius' heyday. Cyprien has the "juice" that head coach Gus Bradley said he wanted out of this roster and this draft.
"I don't know if this is a good word or a bad word, but these guys all have juice and that is a big trait for me as a head coach," Bradley said April 27 after the draft. "I want to be able feel this team out there. I want to feel their personality."
Unlike a previous regime, the Jaguars actually avoided drafting a punter in the third round. Kudos! Later on, the team addressed its need for speed. Fourth-rounder Ace Sanders has a proven ability to run away from first-rate players, and he'll likely find a home in the slot and as a punt returner. Fifth-rounder Denard Robinson — the former Michigan quarterback — presents a lot of intriguing possibilities as a third-down back and wherever else they want him to go. Robinson is most definitely a project, one who may work out better than Matt Jones, who never matched expectations grafted onto him when he was drafted, in part because the coaching staff — much like the Jets with Tim Tebow — didn't seem to have a clue how to use him.
The draft fills the needs of a rebuilding team, and fills fans with hope. The 2013 draft accomplished both goals. It'll be interesting to see how these guys look on the field. o