Draft Review: Jacksonville Jaguars

OK, I’m going to break a rule of mine with this post, and I’m going to write about my home team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. (This probably won’t be the last time I break it.) With that said, this draft really excited me. I feel a number of teams found some incredible value last weekend, and I’ll take a look at several of them coming up. But I have to start off with my team.

I don’t know how many people truly know about the turmoil of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, but the last two decision makers for them have been Shack Harris and the infamous Gene Smith. Not to get too long-winded, but here are the team’s first-round selections under these two decision-makers: Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey, Eugene Monroe, Tyson Alualu, Blaine Gabbert, and Justin Blackmon. Also deserving of special mention are the not one, but two punters they’ve drafted: Adam Podlesh in the 4th round of 2007 and Bryan Anger in the 3rd round of 2012. Now, they did hit on a few picks– Lewis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Greg Jones, and Justin Durant are among the top players Jacksonville has selected. (ed. note: those last two are a fullback and a part-time starter at outside linebacker who’s no longer with the team. Poor Jaguars fans.) The past ten years have not been a great time for Jaguar drafts, and outside of the 2007 win at Pittsburgh in the playoffs, it’s been an extremely disappointing decade.

But hope springs eternal: Let’s move on from my past bitterness to my current excitement. Let me start this off by saying I don’t for a second believe they are a contender, and the team is still very talent-starved. Their defensive line has little to nothing in the way of NFL talent, outside of a hope that Andre Branch explodes. The LB corps is OK, with Daryl Smith (ed.: currently a free agent) and Paul Posluszny, but it’s really lacking a “Sam” linebacker. And I don’t believe I need to explain the QB situation to you. So with that said, let’s take a look at the draft picks.

1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

There seems to be some concern among certain talking heads about “drafting a RT with the #2 overall pick.” As a whole, many appreciate the Joeckel, pick but it is true that the Jaguars have a budding player in Monroe at LT. Monroe is a free agent after this season, but keeping both on the roster would be ideal. It wasn’t too long ago that the Colts were lining up Freeney and Mathis, and we saw last year Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil together. The Dolphins just selected Dion Jordan to play opposite of Cameron Wake, and the Giants have had a solid rotation of pass rushing edge players. Right Tackle’s value in the NFL is much different than what it was a few years ago. Joeckel will be a happy sight for Jaguar fans and if (I hate to say “if”, but…well, let’s just allow me to look at the ceiling) Will Rackley is healthy and Uche Nwaneri continues to improve, the Jaguars have 4 of the 5 positions along the OL set for what could be a long time, depending on how they handle Monroe’s contract.

2. Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International

It’s time for me to do my dirty work. I’ve looked at a number of plays from “Cyp” and he is truly a ballhawk center fielder. The way he flows in the secondary is reminiscent of a young Carlos Beltran playing for the Royals: Cyprien is smooth, and his speed just kind of goes unnoticed, as he covers ground in almost an instant. Fortunately for us, FIU played against who I considered to be the second best passer of 2012, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.

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Cyp covers a lot of ground and undercuts this route on a nicely thrown ball from Bridgewater. It doesn’t seem like Teddy anticipated Cyp’s speed or his ability to read the QB (statistical note: Bridgewater only threw 8 int’s in 419 passes in 2012, and his only multi-interception game of the season was against FIU). Now Cyp does have some negative plays, and looks shaky in coverage at times against Louisville. But maybe what he does best is bring another run stopper into the box. Cyprien is as sure of a tackler as I’ve seen out of the defensive back class of 2013. He is truly a downhill safety and lays some hits on WR’s and RB’s alike throughout the season. I love what he can potentially add to a softer defense in Jacksonville. His centerfield abilities will be a nice addition, but that nastiness that the team had in 2005 could be returned with a player like Cyprien on the field.

3. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut

Another secondary player for the Jagaurs. The secondary last season was about as bad as the NFL had to offer. With that said, their top 4 DBs also left the team (Cox, Mathis, Landry, and …well, if I have to pick one, let’s say Aaron Ross). They retained Dwight Lowery. So the Jaguars absolutely had to find defensive backs in this draft, and I believe they did so while staying true to their Value Board.

With that said, Gratz is my least favorite pick of their draft. I personally thought Blidi Wreh-Wilson was the better of the two UConn corners, and I hate that a division rival (Titans) were the one to draft him. With that said, Gratz has some good plays on film. Unfortunately, as with Cyprien, only having TV-camera angles to look at makes it very tough to grade DB’s. Again we are going to look at the Louisville tape, as I think Bridgewater is the best passer that UConn faced all season.

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Gratz makes a nice play to knock the ball out and you see him reacting to it in the air. It looks like an advanced coverage where Gratz was going to deep half and the safety would go to the flat (this is called a Cover-2 invert). Gratz reacts well and attacks the ball perfectly to knock it out of a player who has a nice size advantage (the TE had 5 inches and 50 pounds on Gratz).  But Gratz has some negatives that seem glaring to me.

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On each of these plays, he is beaten by a number of steps by the WR on very simple fade routes. He doesn’t play the trail technique that Milliner played at Alabama, so you can’t even say that he is purposely a step behind the WR and planning to play the ball from there. Gratz concerns me as a shutdown corner. With that said, Richard Sherman and Bradley’s defense in Seattle played almost exclusively Cover-3 zone. Gratz won’t truly be asked to cover underneath routes and can be mostly concerned with the deep third of the field he will be assigned. That could be the big reason that the Jaguars selected him over Wreh-Wilson, who may be better suited to fit in a man-to-man scheme.

4. and 5. Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina, and Denard Robinson, RB, Michigan

Sanders is an incredibly intriguing player. I’m unsure of his skillset as a WR. I see the reasons for taking him, though. He had a limited route tree in college but seemed to do well with it. He caught 45 passes for 531 yards for 11.8 yards per reception, nothing eye-popping. Most of his routes were outs, seams, fades, or bubbles; he never goes over the middle or to the deep middle of the field. (That also may be in part due to having Connor Shaw at QB.) But there is something special that Sanders brings.

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(note: That looks like #49. Did Mingo go down as a gunner for LSU last year? Wow,)

That punt return is really an incredible one. He adds so much in the return game. For a team that really needs a boost for the offense, a shorter field can help a lot. If Sanders is able to add some of his skillset to the offense, then this pick will be a fantastic one, assuming he can return in the NFL like he did in college. I’ve asked around about him, and the one comment that seems common is: “Needs a lot of work as a WR, but is NFL-ready as a returner.” The top of the 4th is a little early in the draft to take a return-only player, but I believe that the Jaguars feel he will add more than that with his offense. He also seems to fit with the Jaguars’ shorter WR corps of 6’0″, 6’0″, 6’0″ 6’2″, 6’2″ (That’s Shorts, Blackmon, Shipley, Robinson, and Massaquoi).

That leads to Denard. The way I’m reading the Denard pick is that I would not expect him to be a WR for the Jaguars. I’ve watched his Combine and Senior Bowl practices a few times. He likely could develop into a good route runner. He also seems to be one of the smarter football IQ guys. I’d be curious to hear if he had a whiteboard interview and how he did on it. With that said, I actually see Denard as the next back behind Maurice Jones-Drew. His size is nice (5’11” 200). This past season was his best yards-per-carry average of his career. His story is one that I’m sure many people will follow with interest, and I’m very curious to see how Jedd Fisch uses Denard.

6. and 7. Josh Evans, S, Florida, Jeremy Harris, CB, New Mexico St, and Demetrius McCray, CB, Appalachian State

I’m going to admit, I don’t know much about Harris or McCray. The way I look at picks like them, in the seventh round of the draft, is that they are special teams players who can hopefully find a role as a nickel or dime back their first year or two in the league, and maybe the team can develop them into starters. I liked something that I read that said “These two picks can be seen as lottery picks.” It’s likely that they never come to fruition, but they have that potential. They fit Bradley’s preference for size at CB (6’2″ and 6’0″ respectively, both at 185 pounds). Maybe with time in the NFL strength program, they can develop into press corners, and until then, just act as the special teamers that Caldwell wanted to draft.

Now I want to talk some more about the 6th round selection of Josh Evans. Day Three selections tend to be guys with flaws but who show something special that might make them shine at the next level. So when I turned on the Josh Evans tape, I was pretty shocked at what I saw. There are flaws, but technique wise, he seems extremely solid. Here is a perfect form tackle.

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He breaks down, lowers his shoulder, puts his helmet into the ball, and drives his legs. It almost looks as if his knee is on the ground, but that is just him driving his legs. That’s not what I expected out of a safety in the 6th round.

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Here he is filling a gap and making the tackle at the line of scrimmage.

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And he has shown good ball skills.

He is most definitely a presence in the box. He makes hard hits, attacks the line well, and shows solid technique on tackles. Now, I don’t see him too much in pass defense. The few plays I did see, he does go after the ball and makes a couple of plays. He never seems to get beaten badly. I don’t know if the concern or knowledge is that Elam just made him better– that the defense was so stacked that Evans was allowed to run around free and make plays. Those things make sense to me. And that, combined with never really showing anything that just makes you go “wow”, is why he drops to the 6th. But honestly, from what I’ve seen, I don’t really think there is anything “bad” about his game. Yes, he gets caught up in the box a little much, and yes, he gets blocked very easily when he is forced to engage a blocker. Those aren’t good things. But for a 6th round pick, I love the pick. It very well might be the favorite pick of the draft.

Ok… I got a little too excited there. He’s stll just a sixth-round selection, and a sixth-rounder is not guaranteed a roster spot. Regardless of that, I believe this draft is a step in the right direction for the team. I’m very happy with how Caldwell and Bradley went about this draft. The most positive thing to come out of this draft is that the only QBs to be added were undrafted free agents. I don’t believe in Gabbert, but if his struggles really were due to pocket presence and a lack of talent around him, well, he at the very least will get a fair shot to win the position. And if he does well, great. But if he flops like he is expected to, well… the 2014 QB class projects to be an incredibly strong one.

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