by Tom Weppel
The month of April is the time when all 32 NFL teams gear up for the Draft. It is a time when the franchises look to re-stock their rosters and bring in new talent they feel they can use to become better, faster, and stronger overall.
This year the NFL Draft will be held starting on Thursday night, April 22d, when the First Round will take place. After that, Rounds 2-7 will ensue, from Friday thru Sunday. That schedule is different than previous years, when the Draft was only held on Saturday and Sunday. The St. Louis Rams have the first pick in the Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars will pick tenth overall.
This year certainly will be different than other years, certainly in the way teams are approaching this Draft and the upcoming season. With such a strong degree of sentiment over labor relations with the NFLPA, and the lack of a salary cap to work with, many teams are simply playing a conservative role in determining what to do with their respective rosters. That has been proven during the free agency period, which showed only a select few ‘name’ players being signed by a couple of teams. Many teams simply weren’t aggressive in attaining free agents, while others did not re-sign any of their guys, many of which are still free agents.
All this means that teams can look upon the Draft with even that much more interest, possibly to look for players they can have more control over for the next few years, at a lower financial cost.
For the Jaguars, this season is certainly one in which winning will be even that much more of a concern. After starting off the 2009 season on a nice run, they finished out by going 7-9 overall. It made for trepidation and debate, not only within the stadium confines, but on the streets, with fans and the like, as to what exactly the team should be doing. It also did not help when the Jaguars experienced so many TV blackouts of their home games, due to a lack of ticket sales and attendance. Once again, talk of the possibility of the franchise moving came out. It has made for an unsettling time, to say the least. Luckily, a season ticket sales promotion has worked to stir a rejuvenated interest. Of course, there has also been the issue of determining if Jack Del Rio was still the most qualified individual to run the team. His record has not been the most prolific, with only three winning seasons and one playoff victory in his seven-season tenure. Nonetheless, Wayne Weaver chose to retain him, at least for another year.
And so it will be quite interesting what the Jaguars do for their own Draft strategy. While they do pick 10th, they also do not have a second round selection, having traded it away last year to pick up CB Derek Cox. That in itself has many wondering if the Jaguars will simply work a deal to give up their prime slot, in exchange for a few more selections a little lower down the line. GM Gene Smith certainly has a lot of options, and it seems he will use them to his advantage, as he did last year, considering the quality of last years Draft choices.
Overall, look for the Jags to continue strengthening their defense, possibly drafting a Safety to compliment or even replace Reggie Nelson, who had a rather subpar season in ’09. They might also look for a Linebacker that can serve as a pass rusher, to work with new veteran DE Aaron Kampman. On offense, Jacksonville could possibly look for another receiver or back that can help their output, or maybe draft a Quarterback to add to their current corps.
While many football fans will be following the Jaguars, the talk in recent months, without question, has been centered on Gator QB Tim Tebow. There have been so many questions placed upon Mr. Tebow, it has drawn considerable attention to the guy.
Is it fair to say Tim Tebow has been the most popular football player in Northeast Florida? He certainly has been the most successful, all things considered, having helped win not one but TWO National Championships with the Florida Gators, and also winning a Heisman trophy. He has easily become a very desired and recognizable personality and sports figure in this area. You compare that to any of the most recent players on the roster of the Jaguars. Perhaps the only player close to Tebow would be RB Maurice Jones-Drew, because of his ability, his tenacity, and his personable nature. Aside from that, no other players have been a draw, including QB David Garrard.
That said, NFL–types have wondered aloud as to how Tebow will play in the league. Many are suggesting his style of play in college at Florida is not condusive to that of the NFL teams. The Gators played a spread offense, with Tebow taking snaps almost entirely from the shotgun…something the NFL does not so much of. His throwing style has been a question, with some even suggesting he will end up playing at another position. In the last few months, Tim Tebow has done a lot of work to change his throwing style, working with noted QB coach Zeke Bratkowski and former head coach Jon Gruden. His throwing did seem to be improved during his workout in Gainesville at the Gator/NFL pro day. Yet his ranking on many NFL Draft boards has been no better than fourth, with many believing Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, and Colt McCoy can and will be better pro QB’s. That would mean Tebow might not get drafted until the late second or third round at best. But former Colts head coach Tony Dungy has stated he firmly believes Tebow should be a first rounder, and that whoever picks him will be rewarded. Also giving Tebow kudos…Seahawks new head coach Pete Carroll, who recruited him when he was the head coach at USC. Carroll thinks Tebow has the wherewithal and the tenacity to achieve in the NFL, thinking he should be a first round pick. That’s interesting, considering Seattle has been considered a prime contender for a QB. With such a vast diversity in opinion, from current and former players, coaches, and scouts, it seems the jury is still completely out as to what can and will happen for Tim Tebow, who will draft him, and at what point he will be drafted. It all makes for intriguing drama and debate.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars draft Tim Tebow, it will certainly create a buzz, not only in the local area, but around the league. It is very fair to say he would generate more ticket sales, no matter what he does in his first season, and no matter what position he ends up playing within. People will be talking, no matter the case. For the Jags, the question will be the risk that will be involved, and if they willing to take any, to any extent. We shall see.
PRO FOOTBALL DRAFT FORECAST
by Tom Weppel