The NFL Draft is almost here. After a free agency period in which the Jacksonville Jaguars prioritized value, versatility and filling holes on the roster, it will now have the luxury of being able to select the best player available with each of its ten draft picks.
With that said, there are still position groups that need an injection of talent more than others- here’s our rankings of what Jacksonville’s biggest draft priorities should be on the offensive side of the ball.
Gardner Minshew wasn’t the problem in Jacksonville for the past two years, but he definitely didn’t prove that he could be the solution either. It’d be difficult for any quarterback to perform well in the circumstances that Minshew was thrown into, but the lack of adequate talent and coaching around him showed how low his ceiling really is more than anything else.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, it’ll have the opportunity to draft a quarterback who can win football games as opposed to just not losing them. Trevor Lawrence will look to be the first Jaguars quarterback in a decade to have a top-10 quarterback season (in terms of ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, or just about any other quarterback metric).
This is Jacksonville’s biggest box to check of the entire offseason, but it will also be the easiest as Lawrence has reportedly already been given the team’s offensive playbook and is a lock to be the first overall draft pick of 2021.
2. Tight end
The Jaguars’ largest remaining roster holes on either side of the ball are quarterback, then tight end. Jacksonville hasn’t had a tight end reach 500 receiving yards in a single season since Marcedes Lewis in 2012- for reference, 18 different tight ends accomplished that feat just last season.
The ‘Y’ position has already been filled after Chris Manhertz signed a two-year, $6.7 million contract, but the team still desperately needs an ‘F’ tight end even after re-signing James O’Shaughnessy to a one-year, $1.6 million deal.
Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth would be an all-too-obvious fix considering his connection with new tight ends coach Tyler Bowen (who coached for the Nittany Lions since 2018), his widespread recognition as the second-best tight end in the draft after only projected top-10 pick Kyle Pitts, and his fit as a versatile and reliable receiver at the ‘F’ spot.
Freiermuth has easily been the most-mocked second round player for Jacksonville according to Grinding the Mocks, but if the Jaguars pass on his high floor early, a later high-ceiling prospect to look out for is Kenny Yeboah out of Ole Miss. He needs to add strength in order to be a respectable blocker, but if head coach Urban Meyer is comfortable with Manhertz being the primary blocking tight end and just wants to add a weapon in the passing-game, Yeboah could fill that void on the third day of the draft.
3. Offensive Line
While the team’s front five is just one of three position groups that didn’t make changes to its projected starters in free agency (the others being linebacker and running back), and any offensive linemen drafted is likely to begin the season as a backup, the unit is still one of the most important for the Jaguars to address.
Tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor are being given another chance after combining for the most pressures allowed in the league last season (per PFF). To be fair, offensive line coach George Warhop’s preference for vertical pass-blocking sets makes the job of his offensive tackles difficult and Minshew’s scrambling mentality didn’t do any favors either, so another season under Warhop and a quarterback upgrade should yield better results. But considering the underwhelming play so far, and with Robinson and swing tackle Will Richardson Jr. set to be free agents next offseason and Taylor a year later, adding depth to the tackle position should be addressed at some point in the draft and possibly in the first 50 picks. Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins would be a great pick at 25th overall, but there are plenty of Day 2 starting caliber options, like Alex Leatherwood or Brady Christensen, as well as tool-sy late round prospects, like Spencer Brown or D’Ante Smith.
Jacksonville’s interior of Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann and backup Tyler Shatley was a pleasantly surprising group last season as one of the few bright spots of the 2020. Norwell and Cann will enter free agency in 2022, and Linder’s contract will end the following offseason but the 29-year-old has also missed seven games in two of the past three seasons. Adding a young prospect in the later rounds to pair alongside rising sophomore Ben Bartch would make sense to ensure that the unit remains a strength in the future- Ohio State’s Josh Meyers could fill that role.
4. Running Back
Jacksonville’s draft plans at running back should be something along the lines of “can’t leave without one” but also “wait until Day 3.” Due to state of the position both in Jacksonville (James Robinson is good) and league-wide (running backs don’t m*tter), the Jaguars would be wise to hold back from adding to the running back room until the third round at the earliest after it’s already used each of its four top-50 draft picks.
The emergence of Robinson last year as a workhorse back, who played well especially considering his brutal surrounding environment, means that the Jaguars won’t have to feel forced to spend an early selection on a position that has one of the shortest career spans and least added value in the league. Adding a strength to a strength isn’t necessarily unwise, but it makes much more sense to do so at a position that isn’t as easy to replace.
However, while Robinson has already proved himself worthy to be a starting NFL running back and Carlos Hyde was signed to help ease his workload, the Jaguars are still in the market for a backfield mate who can swing heavily for the fences while Robinson continues to get on base at a high percentage.
There’s a strong list of candidates who can provide what the Jaguars are looking for - explosiveness and passing-game contributions - and will still be available in the later rounds of the draft. Michigan’s Chris Evans is a dynamic athlete with a natural feel as a receiver and would be an ideal RB2 fit as opposed to reaching on an RB1b. Superman and Robin would also be an awesome nickname for a backfield duo of Evans and Robinson, even if it doesn’t make total sense, but nickname potential is always something to keep in mind when evaluating draft prospects.
5. Wide Receiver
Following the addition of former Detroit Lion Marvin Jones Jr., which was one of the best value signings of free agency not just for Jacksonville but in the entire league, the Jaguars’ wide receiver room is now one of its strongest position groups. D.J. Chark Jr. headlines the unit as a strong X wideout, Laviska Shenault Jr. provides dangerous versatility, Jones is as reliable of a veteran receiver as there is, and Collin Johnson Jr. will fight for more snaps after an encouraging 2020 rookie campaign.
The Jaguars also signed former first round pick Phillip Dorsett, but his role could be compromised later this month as Meyer has insisted on a “need for speed” in the receiver room and appears likely to target the position in the draft. The problem with that, though, would be a limited amount of snaps for each player- Chark, Shenault and Jones are all talented enough to start and play a significant portion of offensive snaps, and it’d be nice to see Johnson get playing time as well. Jacksonville’s roster also still has plenty of positions that should probably be upgraded first.
Elijah Moore is a name to watch as a potential second-round selection if the Jaguars do opt to address the position early- Moore is arguably the best ‘true receiver’ of the electric athletes available in that range and has plenty of experience getting schemed open after he led the country in receptions and receiving yards per game last year at Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin. If Meyer lets Shenault dominate in the slot instead, though, Iowa speedster Ihmir Smith-Marsette would be an intriguing Day 3 option. Smith-Marsette has received plenty of hype this offseason, but for good reason, as he will be an immediate vertical threat with potential to become a more well-rounded receiver as well.