After previous draft failures, Jaguars pin future to top picks Bortles, Lee, Robinson
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars thought they had found their quarterback of the future three years ago and were convinced they landed a primary receiving threat two years ago.
This weekend shows how quickly things can change in the NFL.
The selection of UCF quarterback Blake Bortles in the first round and wide receivers Marqise Lee from USC and Allen Robinson from Penn State in the second round highlighted a draft in which the Jaguars took six players on offense and only three on defense. They wrapped things up Saturday with five picks that included two players from Florida schools — linebacker Telvin Smith from Florida State in the fifth round and running back Storm Johnson from UCF in the seventh.
"We feel like we’ve upgraded team speed," general manager Dave Caldwell said. "But we’ve upgraded with nine guys that fit what we’re looking for from a cultural standpoint."
Smith’s sideline-to-sideline speed and fiery enthusiasm impressed the Jaguars to where it became less of an issue that he could have trouble becoming a starter or that he lasted until the fifth round in part because of failing a drug test at the NFL scouting combine.
"It bothered us," Caldwell admitted. "I don’t want to get into specifics. But we had some very candid conversations with him and let him know that we drafted five really high character guys before him, and we expect him to follow the lead of those guys."
"I’m going to be that guy you saw on film," Smith said. "If anything, I’m going to be more excited to get to this next level and embrace it being a Jaguar."
Caldwell said he consulted with Bortles before selecting Johnson, who ran for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. Asked if he thought Bortles would be more comfortable having Johnson around, Caldwell replied, "I think it’ll make Storm more comfortable having Blake (around)."
The Jaguars began the day by using their fourth-round pick on Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, who isn’t expected to start the season on their active roster. Colvin tore his right ACL in January at the Senior Bowl but had created a positive impression on coach Gus Bradley before then to where that he told Colvin he’d be chosen by the Jaguars if still available in later rounds.
Colvin, Telvin Smith and defensive end Chris Smith, a fifth-round pick from Arkansas, were all part of the team at the Senior Bowl coached by Bradley and his staff.
"ACLs nowadays are a situation that when they’re fixed and fixed right, knock on wood, we should be good to go there," Caldwell said. "We feel like we got a really quality player and somebody who can be the pillar of our secondary for the future."
Chris Smith was the only defensive lineman drafted by the Jaguars, who addressed that area in free agency by adding Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood while also re-signing their leader in sacks last season, Jason Babin. Smith had 9 1/2 sacks at Arkansas as a junior and 8 1/2 as a senior.
In the sixth round, the Jaguars took center Luke Bowanko, a 300-pounder who will compete against Mike Brewster and Patrick Lewis for the starting job left vacant by the retirement of Brad Meester. Brewster is coming off a fractured ankle last December, while Lewis was signed from the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.
Bradley was happy with the players chosen after the Jaguars took Bortles, Lee, Robinson and Miami guard Brandon Linder during the first two days of the draft.
"You look for certain traits and certain roles that they have for your team," he said. "We feel good about this group."
PLAYER WHO SHOULD BE A STAR
If Bradley and Caldwell want to remain employed by the Jaguars well down the road, it had better be Bortles. His energy and enthusiasm won over the coaching staff from the day they met him, and his popularity in Orlando from starting at UCF the past two years and leading the Knights to a 12-1 record as a junior ought to help expand the Jaguars’ instate fan base.
While not the most elusive scrambler, he has deceptive mobility outside the pocket and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder to pick up a first down — hence the comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger. Bortles has a stronger arm than Chad Henne but will be the first to admit he needs to make sure the recent changes to his footwork become permanent and cut down his number of off-balance throws.
Other than Matt Ryan and Steve McNair, the past 20 years haven’t been kind to quarterbacks taken third overall (Vince Young, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Heath Shuler). And no one who has followed the Jaguars lately needs to be reminded what happened after Blaine Gabbert was a first-round pick three years ago.
The Jaguars looked to be done Friday night before pulling off a trade with the New England Patriots to get a pick toward the end of the third round in order to draft Brandon Linder. The versatile guard from Miami was the first Hurricane drafted and will be reunited with Jedd Fisch, the Jaguars offensive coordinator who had previous been an assistant coach with the Hurricanes.
Zane Beadles, who signed a five-year contract worth $30 million in leaving the Denver Broncos, will start at left guard. Linder is in the mix at right guard with veterans Will Rackley, Jacques McClendon, Austin Pasztor and Drew Nowak.
As anyone who was around Florida State’s national championship team can attest, Telvin Smith has no shortage of energy. What he doesn’t appear to have is a particular NFL position. Is he a strong side linebacker, a weak side linebacker, a nickel coverage guy, or just a crowd-pleasing addition to the Jaguars’ much-improved special teams?
That perception of Smith as a tweener makes him more of a reach as a fifth-round selection than any repercussions resulting from needing to be in the league’s drug-testing program after failing a test in February.