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AFC South Draft Needs: Jaguars

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NFL DRAFT NEEDS: AFC SOUTH

OVERVIEW

In 2009, Jacksonville compiled a 7-9 record with one of the youngest squads in the NFL. In a sense, the franchise faces a lot of uncertainty. After blacking out nine of 10 homes games due to low ticket sales, the Jags can’t shake the rumors of relocation. Furthermore, there was speculation that head coach Jack Del Rio would be fired at season’s end. Owner Wayne Weaver chose to keep Del Rio around for another season, but his seat will only be hotter in 2010.

Despite the uncertainty, second-year general manager Gene Smith will keep the franchise on the road to rebuilding. In his first go-round with the draft, Smith did a fantastic job. The class contained four starters and at least three quality backups. He is hoping to have similar success this April, but will have just six draft picks to work with. The team will make selections in every round with exception to the second and seventh. They currently hold picks No. 10, 74, 108, 143, 180 and 203.

Coming off a season in which Jacksonville tallied a league-low 14 sacks, eight fewer than the second-to-last Kansas City Chiefs, the top offseason priority is upgrading at defensive end. They signed free agent Aaron Kampman to a four-year, $26 million deal, but he is coming off a torn ACL. The team selected Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in the first- and second-rounds of the 2008 draft to give the defense a pair of dynamic pass rushers, but the two have combined for just eight sacks in their careers and are close to solidifying their bust labels. The Jaguars desperately need a young defensive end that can provide pressure off the edge, and may look to add one of the elite prospects with the 10th overall pick.

The linebacking corps also needs an upgrade. Weakside linebacker Daryl Smith is the only solid starter. The verdict is still out on middle linebacker Justin Durant, but he hasn’t been the consistent force that Mike Peterson was for six seasons. On the strongside, Clint Ingram struggled before going down with injury. Undrafted rookie Russell Allen filled in, and could take over for Ingram next season.

The secondary had its fair share of struggles as Jacksonville ranked 27th against the pass allowing 235.9 aerial yards per game in 2009. They should have a solid cornerback tandem in Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, but the safeties are a mess. Free safety Reggie Nelson has been a bust and was benched late in the year. The strong safety spot is expected to be filled by Gerald Alexander, Sean Considine, Anthony Smith or Courtney Greene, none of whom are outstanding. The Jags have reportedly worked out Earl Thomas of Texas, another possibility at 10.

Switching to offense, questions still surround starting quarterback David Garrard. He’s coming off a season in which he threw 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and may not be the long-term solution. Jack Del Rio called him a “middle-tier” quarterback and it’s beginning to look more and more like the Jags will select a young signal caller in the draft. The team has hosted several candidates on visits including Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, Jonathan Crompton of Tennessee and Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State, although Edwards will likely switch to receiver at the next level. There has also been speculation the Jaguars will draft Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in an effort to raise fan support and sell tickets, but Gene Smith likely won’t let that factor into his decision.

Jacksonville looks more than solid at the skill positions, but could use some depth on the offensive line. They drafted two bookend tackles in consecutive rounds last April in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. Those two should be the foundation of the line for years to come. However, questions remain along the interior. Vince Manuwai returned from an ACL tear and struggled at times, although he should be better this season. Brad Meester has been the starting center for some time but he’s 33-years old and running out of gas. Starting guard Uche Nwaneri may move to center to fill the need. In any case, the Jaguars could stand to grab some young depth along the interior.

Other prospects known to have visited the Jaguars include Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson, Rutgers offensive tackle Kevin Haslam, New Hampshire tight end Scott Sicko, Florida A&M return specialist LeRoy Vann and Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster.

OFFSEASON REPORT

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Reggie Hayward (re-signed), G Kynan Forney (re-signed), TE Ernest Wilford (re-signed for one-year at $630,000)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DT Atiyyah Ellison (not tendered, re-signed), LB Clint Ingram (received original-round tender at $1.226M), DE Greg Peterson (not tendered), DT Montavious Stanley (not tendered, re-signed), WR Troy Williamson (not tendered, re-signed for one-year)

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB William Middleton (tendered and signed), S Courtney Greene (tendered and signed), CB Kennard Cox (not tendered)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney, TE Ernest Wilford, DT Atiyyah Ellison, DT Montavious Stanley, WR Troy Williamson, CB Williams Middleton, S Courtney Greene

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Aaron Kampman (signed for four-years at $26M), WR Kassim Osgood (signed for three-years at $6.675M)

PLAYERS LOST: Rob Meier, Torry Holt, Tra Thomas, DE Greg Peterson (signed with Washington), CB Kennard Cox (signed with Seattle)

DRAFT NEEDS

DEFENSIVE END -- Aaron Kampman was signed to provide an immediate upgrade, but he’s coming off a serious knee injury. Jacksonville whiffed on Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves two years ago. The defense is desperate for a young defensive end that can get to the quarterback.

QUARTERBACK -- It's beginning to look like the 2007 season was a career year that won’t soon be matched for David Garrard. Two years ago, the quarterback threw 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions and had a 102.2 quarterback rating. Since that season, Garrard has thrown 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions while posting back-to-back quarterback ratings of 81.7 and 83.5. It’s time the Jaguars start grooming a young player to take the reins from Garrard.

SAFETY -- Reggie Nelson has played inconsistent to say the least since being drafted with the 21st pick in 2007. His poor performance led to him being benched towards the end of the 2009 season. Jacksonville should look for an upgrade in a deep class of safeties.

LINEBACKER -- The only sure-thing is Daryl Smith. Clint Ingram was having a disappointing season before finishing the year on injured reserve. Russell Allen filled in as a rookie and should compete for playing time next season. Justin Durant has been so-so in the middle and could be upgraded. The team should look for some young players to push the two incumbent starters beside Smith.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE -- Starting center Brad Meester is 33 and nearing the end. Vince Manuwai wasn’t the same player after returning from an ACL tear. Meester’s spot may be filled by in-house moves and Manuwai should be better a year removed from the injury, but drafting some young interior players would be a smart addition.

Tagged: Falcons, Packers, Jaguars, Kynan Forney, Reggie Hayward, Tra Thomas, Brad Meester, David Garrard, Vince Manuwai, Daryl Smith, Ernest Wilford, Atiyyah Ellison, Troy Williamson, Clint Ingram, Anthony Smith, Montavious Stanley, Greg Peterson, Justin Durant, Reggie Nelson, Quentin Groves, Derrick Harvey, Kennard Cox, Courtney Greene, Derek Cox, William Middleton, Russell Allen

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