2012 NFL Mock Draft: Jacksonville Jaguar Pre-draft Strategy
The 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars failed to make the playoffs for the 4th consecutive season, finishing 5-11, 3rd in the AFC South. The defense was greatly improved (6th out of 32 teams) while the offense was among the worst in the entire sport (32nd out of 32 ). Running back Maurice Jones Drew was outstanding and led the league in rushing with little or no support from the Jacksonville passing game. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert struggled and the team must upgrade all areas of the air attack. Defensively, the team was solid but could use more pass rush and secondary help. Long time coach Jack Del Rio was relieved of his duties in late November and former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was hired on January 10th to take over the team.
The Jaguars have done an outstanding job in the first week of free agency filling needs with both signings of their own free agents as well as external candidates. The team franchised K Josh Scobee, who is vital to a defensive oriented team that will be in close games. Jacksonville also resigned S Dwight Lowery, who played at a Pro Bowl Level in 2011, leading sack man DE Jeremy Mincey, OT Guy Whimper and long time cornerback Rashean Mathis. Depth DT C.J. Mosley was also retained. The club added two key veterans in QB Chad Henne, who can compete for the starting QB job with Gabbert or serve as a strong backup alternative, and WR Laurent Robinson, who posted career numbers in Dallas in 2011, and fills a vital need in the passing game.
Positions of Need
While the Jags have done an outstanding under the radar job in early free agency, there is still much work to be done. The team has needs at wide receiver, cornerback and on both lines. Ideally, the team would find a pass rusher and receiver in the opening days of the draft then build up both lines while adding some cornerbacks who can play in nickel and dime packages. If the new coaching staff does not see a future with Gabbert, a QB selection is not out of the question. C is always listed as a need but Brad Meester, 35 and the longest tendered Jag, continues to play well. Keep in mind that the center class in this draft is weak and the team likes backup John Estes, an undrafted free agent out of Hawaii, long term.
1st Round Targets
I tend to believe when you pick in the top 10, you need to narrow your focus to four critical areas: quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher and shutdown cornerback. The Jaguars Pick 7th in this draft and most draft analysts (this one included) have 6 names in mind for the selections in front of Jacksonville. Quarterbacks Andrew Luck (Stanford) and Robert Griffin III (Baylor), Left Tackle Matt Kalil (USC), WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma ST), CB Morris Claiborne (LSU) and RB Trent Richardson (Alabama).
Richardson is the only name I believe that could fall out of this group due to the shrinking role of running backs in today’s pass happy NFL. Blackmon would be an ideal fit for the Jags but I do not see him dropping to 7. Jacksonville should focus on a pass rushing left defensive end and will get the first pick at a solid group of sack masters. The two top rated players at this spot are Quinton Coples (North Carolina) and Melvin Ingram (South Carolina).
Alternatives for the Jags would see them looking at Offensive line, Cornerback or possibly trading down. The two cornerbacks after Claiborne have red flags and have bust potential, so that move would be inadvisable. OT Riley Reiff (Iowa) could be a fit but the team has drafted LT Eugene Monroe (1st rd, 2009) and RT Eben Britton (2nd rd, 2009) high in recent years. While these two are not Tony Boselli, the team has other more pressing needs. No Wide receiver outside of Blackmon in this draft garners a top 10 grade, so I would take a defensive end or trade down.
Trade Partners, Vulture Possibilities
While I believe the Jaguars are in an excellent position to draft a position of need (Left Defensive end), you cannot approach this draft without considering all possibilities. The recent trade of the 2nd overall pick by the Tennessee Titans to the Washington Redskins (Switched #1’s in 2012- 2 for 6 plus #39 in 2012 and Washington’s #1’s in 2013 and 2014) shows the value of top 10 selections and what desperate teams will pay. Two players to look at that could make teams bite and call Jacksonville are Memphis DT Dontari Poe, who was a combine star, and Texas A&M Quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill is rated #3on almost every quarterback board and is coming off a January foot injury that continues to heal. A few solid workouts and he could move into the top 10 area and QB needed franchises could come calling. Teams like Seattle or Miami would fit this bill. The Peyton Manning sweepstakes must also factor into the organization’s thinking as well. Whichever teams lose out will be in the market for a Quarterback and if the Denver Broncos land him, Tim Tebow, A Jacksonville Native, would more than likely be without a team. Would the Jags dare venture into Tebow mania? Tennessee and San Francisco would also lose veterans Alex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck while bolstering the free agent Quarterback market. Jacksonville’s front office would be wise to monitor the situation and see what the #7 pick could bring fetch in return.
3 teams in the 2012 draft have 2 first round picks- the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots. These teams come to the battle with ammunition and should be labeled as “vulture” candidates and will be on the phone early and often come draft week. Vulture teams move ahead of other teams who they believe are targeting players they are mutually interested in. The Bengals are an intriguing franchise to look at; a roster that is very young and talented yet made the Playoffs in 2011. They have a potential franchise-passing combo in QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green but lack a strong power runner. If Richardson drops to 7 they would more than likely place a phone call to the 904 area code. New England is always an interesting team but they tend to trade down and not up. Cleveland is in a rebuilding mode and will get one of 3 major needs at the 4 spot—Wide Receiver, Offensive Line or running back.
1st Round Selection
I would take Ingram with the 7th pick for 3 major reasons- he offers position versatility (could play either as 3-4 outside linebacker or defensive end in the4-3 alignment), he was dominant in the premier conference in college football (SEC) and he fits a major need. Coples would be my plan B and his down senior campaign is a big reason why. He did not match his stronger junior season where he was playing with several UNC players who were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. We have also seen several ACC defensive ends develop into Busts at the Pro Level. I like him, do not love him and would not take him at the 7 slot. If Ingram were gone (and he should not be), I would trade the pick for multiple players and fill several needs.
Recent 1st Round Draft Picks
2007- 21st overall- Reggie Nelson, Safety (Florida)
2008- 8th Overall- Derrick Harvey, Defensive End (Florida)
2009- 8th Overall- Eugene Monroe, Offensive Tackle (Virginia)
2010- 10th Overall-Tyson Alualu, Defensive Tackle (California)
2011- 10th Overall- Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback (Missouri)
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