Finding the Fits: Branch, not Blackmon, will make more immediate impact for Jags
Jacksonville Jaguars' GM Gene Smith entered the 2012 draft knowing his club had two critical needs -- finding another WR to help protect the investment made a year ago in young QB Blaine Gabbert and adding a pass rusher. Trading up to land two-time Biletnikof winner Justin Blackmon earned all of the headlines, but it could be 2nd round sack-master Andre Branch who makes the more immediate impact.
Over the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL draft through a series called "Finding the Fits." The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.
Considering the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars featured one of the most woeful offenses in the entire NFL a year ago, it came as no surprise when general manager Gene Smith looked for a head coach with a background on this side of the ball after firing Jack Del Rio. By hiring Mike Mularkey, who guided the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons to some of their most successful scoring seasons in their respective histories as either offensive coordinator (Pittsburgh, Atlanta) or head coach (Buffalo), the Jaguars made the first strong commitment towards building around 2011 first round pick, quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Jaguars have since made several more, investing in a talented young receiver in Laurent Robinson coming off a breakout season as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in which he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding playmaking veteran Lee Evans as a deep threat and, of course, aggressively trading up from No. 7 overall to steal Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon ahead of the St. Louis Rams, who were anticipating that he'd land in their lap at No. 6 overall.
The immediate success of A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals) and Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons) a year ago is sure to give the Jaguars and their fans high hopes that Blackmon will be able to quickly acclimate to the NFL. Historically speaking, however, wide receivers rarely make a significant impact in their first year in the league.
Talented pass rushers, however, are often able to help their team immediately, which is one of the reasons why the Jaguars' second pick of the 2012 draft -- defensive end Andre Branch from Clemson -- could wind up playing a more important role in Jacksonville in 2012 than his more highly touted rookie teammate.
While the Jaguars' lack of playmakers at wide receiver was an obvious blight on their roster, so too has been the team's weak pass rush. Consider that despite finishing sixth in the league a year ago in total defense, the Jaguars finished just tied for 25th in sacks. Jeremy Mincey, who the Jaguars re-signed, finished with more than twice as many sacks a year ago as any other defender -- and he "only" had eight.
At 6-4, 260 pounds Branch is slightly undersized. His lack of prototypical bulk and strength versus the run means that he'll fit best in a 4-3 scheme at right defensive end (against the left tackle), which will place him opposite Mincey. Branch flashes an explosive first step off the ball to challenge left tackles, as well as the lateral agility and long arms to elude pass blockers. Branch is very athletic. He is light on his feet and changes directions easily. As long as his motor is running consistently, he should be able to run down some quarterbacks on plays in which the Jaguars' coverage behind him forces the passer to look at his second and third options.
Because of these traits and the talent surrounding him, Branch should be able to challenge Mincey for the team lead in sacks within his first two seasons in the NFL.
The rest of the Jaguars' picks:
1st Round - No. 5 overall - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
2nd Round - No. 38 overall - Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
3rd Round - No. 70 overall - Bryan Anger, P, California
5th Round - No. 142 overall - Brandon Marshall, LB, Nevada
6th Round - No. 176 overall - Mike Harris, CB, Florida State
7th Round - No. 228 overall - Jeris Pendleton, DT, Ashland
Read more about all of the Jaguars' picks here.
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