Jaguars focus on secondary in draft’s second day

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The reputation of new Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley for building a defense around larger cornerbacks and safeties was out in full force Friday night.

The Jaguars opened the second round of the NFL Draft by taking safety Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International. Then they selected Connecticut cornerback Dwayne Gratz in the third round, bypassing quarterbacks Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and Matt Barkley of USC to fill a more pressing need.

The 6-foot, 217-pound Cyprien is a converted wide receiver who had four interceptions and was a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection as a senior. The Jaguars picked off only 12 passes last season and had no strong safeties on their roster after releasing Dawan Landry last month.

“I don’t think anything’s going to be given to me,” said Cyprien, the fourth safety drafted overall. “And I want to compete. That’s all I can do. If I come into a starting position, I’ll be very happy about that and embrace that.”

Gratz, like both Cyprien and first-round pick Luke Joeckel, was a three-year starter with a track record of durability. Although he’s somewhat undersized at 5-11, he fits the tough, reliable and smart mold that the new coaching staff has in mind.

“You’d say, ‘Gus, that’s not the traditional 6-2 guy or 6-3 guy you’re accustomed to,’ ” said Bradley, who had been the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator the past four years. “It’s not always the height. That’s great to have. But it’s also the arm length and the strength at the line of scrimmage. And he can run.”

General manager Dave Caldwell described Cyprien as “a little bit of a late bloomer” whose stock went up with a solid week of practice before the Senior Bowl and an impressive performance in the game. The Jaguars had offers from three teams to trade down in the round but didn’t find it hard to resist them.

“We were a little bit surprised, to be honest with you, (Thursday) night when he was still here,” he said. “We had him rated pretty high and thought there would be a chance would go in the first round.”

There was widespread speculation going into the second round that the Jaguars would use the pick on a cornerback. Four of them were taken among the first 25 picks Thursday night, and five more went before the Jaguars chose Gratz.

Except for FIU, whose program has been in existence for barely more than a decade, the only other school to give Cyprien a scholarship offer coming out of high school in North Miami Beach was Western Michigan. He joins wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, now of the Indianapolis Colts, as Golden Panthers who have been taken in the third round or higher the last two years.

Compared to quarterback Geno Smith of West Virginia and several other high-profile players who went undrafted in the first round, Cyprien can be categorized as a sleeper. Caldwell said there was no temptation to use the 33rd overall pick on Smith, who wound up going to the New York Jets.
 
“Like we said on Monday, we’re not going to be able to fill every single need through this draft,” he said. “But we felt comfortable that this was a guy that can come in and hopefully plug in and play right away.”

As for why the Jaguars took Gratz instead of either Nassib or Barkley, Caldwell replied, “We had greater needs at other positions.”

Not since 1998, with safety Donovin Darius and cornerback Cordell Taylor, had they used two picks in the first three rounds on defensive backs.

Earlier in the day, Joeckel was introduced at a press conference and also got to meet some of his new teammates. Among the players to greet him was Eugene Monroe, the tackle whose presence will likely force Joeckel to move to the right side of the line to begin his career after three years as a left tackle at Texas A&M.

“I realize the second pick is a huge deal, but it doesn’t matter from here on out,” Joeckel said. “I’ve got to go out and prove myself. I’ve got to go out and play hard, and it’s great to start playing football again.”

Joeckel arrived from New York on the private jet of Jaguars owner Shad Khan with his entire family. His twin brother, Matt, will be a redshirt junior quarterback at Texas A&M this fall and their father, Dave, was a three-year starter on the offensive line at Texas Tech who was in the Denver Broncos’ training camp for John Elway’s rookie season in 1983.

“New York is a great big city and all that,” he said. “But that’s not me. I’m a College Station, Arlington guy. I fit in well with Jacksonville. I’m just ready to start playing football. That’s what I’m here for.”

Boselli and Monroe were the only offensive linemen in Jaguars history previously taken in the first round.

What’s next?

The Jaguars have all of their remaining picks in the last four rounds but have yet to acquire picks from other teams. While it’s conceivable they could take more offensive linemen and defensive backs, it’s the defensive line which might be targeted first off. And another quarterback will be added, either via the draft or free agency.

You can email Ken Hornack at khornack32176@gmail.com.