With the NFL draft approaching in April, its time to take stock, both on the needs of the Jaguars and the talent from the college ranks that will be available to them. Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell has done a fair job over the last two drafts, bringing in several key young players. Jonathon Cyprian at safety, Telvin SmithTelvin Smith at linebacker and Demetrius McCray at corner to name a few on defense, and Blake Bortles at quarterback, Allen Robinson at wide receiver and Brandon Linder at guard are a few of the standouts from those classes, but none of these players can be viewed as sure fire future all-pros at this juncture so in many respects the jury is still out on Caldwell. Working against him is the fact that the team has struggled mightily in the win column during his brief tenure (7-25)and the pressure to produce is mounting. Fortunately for Caldwell and the franchise the futility on the field has produced one favorable situation and it’s the third overall selection in round one. A slot that gives the Jags a rare win-win due to an alignment of factors that even an average NFL fan or wannabe GM couldn’t screw up, much less a supposed wunderkind like Caldwell .
The first factor, Blake Bortles, last year’s number three selection who as it turned out could actually hang in the pocket and throw a spiral unlike many of his predecessors. Bortles was far from perfect but he showed enough for me to pencil him in as the starting QB for this team for years to come. With Bortles on board, the league wide debate between FSU’s maligned yet dynamic QB Jamies Winston or Oregon’s comparative choir boy QB with mobility to spare Marcus Mariota a moot point. The two young signal-callers both Heisman winners have occupied the headlines with many draft experts mocking them as the first two picks. The second factor, the emergence of USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, a 6’5 300 pound juggernaut, who many compare to current NFL defensive player of the year JJ Watt. A product of Daytona Beach, Williams played his high school ball at Mainland H.S., before going out to Pasadena where he earned numerous accolades while amassing huge numbers along their defensive front. Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans, the teams selecting 1 and 2 respectively have a need for a quarterback, especially Tampa. Tennessee’s pick is harder to predict. They can take one of the two and be done with it. They could trade back to a team seeking a QB or Williams but no matter what transpires the Jags are sitting pretty. Draft Williams or trade back with what would be the most valuable trade piece the team has had since Rob Johnson. Numerous teams that draft behind the Jags are desperate for a quarterback and the availability of either Winston or Mariota, will have teams chomping at the bit in hopes of moving up and snagging whichever of the two remain.
Now of course if Williams is gone by 3 there is no certainty that Caldwell will trade back, but with a deep class defensive lineman one that features 4 or 5 guys with similar grades it is hard to imagine that he settles for 1 when offers from teams like the New York Jets who select 6th and the St. Louis Rams at 10 are said to have heavy interest in both QB prospects and a trade back with either partner would still allow the Jags to address their need for a pass rusher or a safety or offensive tackle with premier ability while also adding valuable picks for years to come. Another potential partner, the Philadelphia Eagles who draft 20th are said to covet Mariota. Having been recruited current Eagles head coach Chip Kelly when he held the same title at Oregon two years ago. Obviously if it’s the Eagles who make the strongest play for him than the bevy of picks received in return for the third pick should be beyond what the Redskins gave the Rams in 2012 (three 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick) and more than what the Falcons gave up to the browns for Julio Jones in 2011, two 1st round picks, one 2nd round pick and two 4th round picks).
However, if there is one thing I know about Caldwell is to expect the unexpected and we are left scratching our heads much like we were last year with the Bortles selection, but with the stars lining up the way they are we may finally be the darlings of the first round a position we have not found ourselves in since the selection of another USC colossus by the name of Tony Boselli, 20 years ago.