After another horrible season in 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars need to get their rebuild back on track with a strong showing during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Everything seemed to be trending upward for the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into the 2016 campaign. Unfortunately, nothing went as planned as the franchise flopped to the tune of a 3-13 finish while landing at the bottom of the AFC South barrel.
Now that a new head coach is in place, how do the Jaguars turn it around? Free agency will be a good start, but the 2017 NFL Draft could be the perfect opportunity for this team to add some serious building blocks. They’ve done well in recent years, and having the No. 4 overall pick could finally get them over the hump.
At this moment, the Jaguars own all seven of their original picks. While that could change in the near future, it’ll be imperative for them to make the most of those seven picks. Missing on another early-round selection could be the difference between finally making a playoff push and earning another top-five pick in 2018.
For now, let’s look at how the Jaguars’ seven picks could pan out. Keep in mind that, at this moment, this is more a comment on the team’s needs and the stock of the included players.
Currently my No. 2 ranked player heading into the Combine, Malik Hooker is the perfect fit for the Jaguars at fourth overall. Put simply, the Ohio State product has the potential to be the next elite NFL safety.
There doesn’t appear to be anything Hooker can’t do at this point. Not only is he a tremendous run defender, but he’s also a smart, instinctive player on the back end with a knack for getting his hands on the football. Look no further than the seven interceptions (including three pick-sixes) he had this past season.
However, Hooker isn’t a complete prospect at this moment. He could use a little more discipline with his tackling, but has all of the physical tools to be a star very early in his NFL career. Honestly, him falling to Jacksonville at No. 4 would be a steal based on his overall potential. Who cares if the value of safeties isn’t THAT high?
With Jonathan Cyprien likely to test the open market, the Jaguars are going to need a starting-caliber safety to complement Tashaun Gipson. There are other possible replacements further down the depth chart, but Hooker is far more talented than any other safety currently on this roster.
If it wasn’t for the lack of elite offensive line talent, the Jaguars’ top pick probably would have been spent on the front five. That wasn’t the case, though, which is why I have them going with an offensive tackle here.
The only way Blake Bortles is going to bring back his sophomore-season magic is if he has the necessary support. There are several weapons in his arsenal with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee out wide, but his pass protection could use some work. The ground game would also benefit from some added beef up front.
Garett Bolles is a high-upside option who could be available at the top of the second round. While there’s a decent chance he comes off the board near the end of Day 1, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still available at No. 35.
The former Ute has the potential to take over for Kelvin Beachum, who was recently released. His lack of starting experience at the FBS level will concern some teams, but it’s also believed he has a relatively low floor. If he can take advantage of his outstanding athleticism, though, Bolles could quickly develop into a quality starting left tackle.
After upgrading the offensive tackle position, the Jaguars now turn their attention to the interior. With Luke Joeckel headed for free agency, some more options at guard are needed.
In the case of Pat Elflein, the former Buckeye also brings versatility with his ability to play any of the three inside positions. Right now, Jacksonville would need help at guard, with Brandon Linder excelling as the starting center. Even if Joeckel returns, though, he needs a push for the starting left guard job.
Elflein makes perfect sense at this point in the draft. The Ohio State product shows excellent intelligence and strength along the interior, having started on one of college football’s best offensive lines for the last three years. Based on what he put on film, Elflein is more than capable of starting in the NFL in the near future.
As previously mentioned, Bortles needs better protection if he’s going to bounce back in 2017. Investing two of their top three picks in the offensive line may seem like overkill, but it’ll be well worth it if it means the Jaguars actually win some games this season.
In recent years, the Jaguars have been very fond of small-school prospects. That could very well be the case again in 2017, especially as scouts start to take a longer look at under-the-radar talent.
One guy that has to be on Jacksonville’s short list is Tanoh Kpassagnon. The Villanova defensive end turned a lot of heads at the Senior Bowl, and appears primed to make a significant move up draft boards after scouts got a good look at him.
By that, I mean Kpassagnon has the look of an NFL stud. At 6-7, 290 pounds, the former Wildcat is built like a truck with a thick, muscular frame and plenty of athleticism to go along with it. We’ve seen similar talents turn into star edge rushers, but we’ve also seen the opposite. It’s still a little early to tell how things will play out for Kpassagnon.
Either way, the raw upside has to be enticing. The Jaguars need to improve their ability to get after the passer, especially with Dante Fowler struggling and Jared Odrick getting the ax. Even with Yannick Ngakoue showing promise, adding a talent like Kpassagnon would give the Jacksonville defense something to look forward to in 2017.
At this moment, the Jaguars possess plenty of serviceable talent at linebacker. Unfortunately, the group is a bit lacking when it comes to standout skills. The Jacksonville defense needs an injection of upside at the second level.
Look no further than Alex Anzalone, a potential-laden talent who’s stock is all over the board right now. It took a strong showing at the Senior Bowl for most folks to even take notice, but the Florida product has now found himself earning some serious praise from scouts around the league.
What really helps Anzalone stand out is his ridiculous athleticism. When you put on the film, you see exceptional speed, size and playmaking abilities. It’s clear he can play all three downs, and realistically can play inside or outside. All of the tools are there for him to develop into a quality starter not too far down the road.
The biggest concern with the former Gator is his ability to stay healthy. Over the last two years, Anzalone played in only 10 games while battling various injuries. That’s the main reason his stock isn’t higher, but that could change during the Scouting Combine. For now, though, he works perfectly for the Jaguars at the top of the fifth round.
It was a shocker when Jerod Evans decided to declare for the draft. Despite only one year as a starter, he opted to test his luck and will likely have to wait quite a while before he hears his name called.
That could end up working in the Jaguars’ favor, though. With Bortles an unknown and Chad Henne running out of mileage, Jacksonville could afford to find itself a project under center. That’s exactly what Evans is, and he possesses the potential to reward the team that gambles on him.
Just looking at the stats, it would seem Evans is ready to take his game to the next level. As the Hokies’ starter in 2016, he did little outside of shred opposing defenses. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes while accounting for 41 total touchdowns and only eight interceptions. The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story.
Evans is still a work in progress. He didn’t show nearly as much polish as some of the class’ other top arms, and his mechanics need considerable tinkering. However, if he can land with a strong coach and earn some practice snaps, Evans has enough natural ability to turn in a solid NFL career.
I’m a firm believer that every team should look to draft at least one cornerback every year. It’s an important position that needs a constant flow of new talent, which is why I have the Jaguars nabbing one in the final round.
With Treston DeCoud, Jacksonville would be getting an intriguing young cornerback. The Oregon State product offers the size and length that NFL teams love, but has flown under the radar for much of his college career. The upside, however, is there for him to develop into a quality contributor.
DeCoud broke out in 2016 as a legitimate starter with the ability to shutdown opponents. While I wouldn’t go as far as calling him anything close to a “shutdown” cornerback, he routinely kept receivers in check this past year. I also like that he isn’t afraid to get physical, as evidenced by his 58 tackles in 2016.
The Jaguars don’t necessarily need to add contributors at cornerback right now. However, they can afford to spend a seventh-round pick on a developmental talent with serious upside. DeCoud fits the bill, and should pay significant dividends with a couple years of NFL coaching.