Finding the Fits: Gratz a strong bet in Jacksonville
Rather than continue to spend high picks on pass rushers (with less than impressive results), the new regime in Jacksonville is hoping a young secondary can duplicate Gus Bradley's success in Seattle.
This article is one of a series called "Finding the Fits" in which NFLDraftScout.com will review some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL Draft. 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.
Jacksonville Jaguars' Best Fit: CB Dwayne Gratz , Connecticut, third round, No. 64 overall
Much of the pre-draft buzz for the Jacksonville Jaguars focused on improving a pass rush that ranked dead last in sacks (20) a season ago.
Rather than dedicate more high picks to the defensive line, however, the Jaguars are hoping that new defense-oriented coach Gus Bradley will be able to coax a greater pass rush from the talent already on the roster. Bradley was successful in doing so in his last stop as Seattle's defensive coordinator. His success in transforming journeyman Chris Clemons into a feared pass rusher as a "LEO" defensive end played a critical role in Seattle emerging as the league's stingiest defense last season (15.3 points allowed per game).
Bradley hasn't been given enough credit, however, for his role in the development of Seattle's long, press corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Their success bodes well for the future of third-round pick Dwayne Gratz, Bradley's first hand-picked cornerback in Jacksonville.
Bradley's scheme requires size, physicality and ball-skills from his cornerbacks -- traits that Gratz used to record 189 tackles and 10 interceptions during his time as an All-Big East performer at Connecticut.
While lacking the length that has helped turn Sherman (6-3, 195) and Browner (6-4, 221) into stars in Seattle, Gratz, 5-11, 201, offers great toughness. Some scouts ranked him behind only Alabama's Dee Milliner , whom the New York Jets selected No. 9 overall, as the best run-supporting cornerback in the 2013 draft. Considering that Jacksonville allowed an average of 141 yards on the ground last year (30th in the league), his physicality on the edge will be a welcome addition.
Gratz isn't just physical, however. He also possesses the fluidity and straight-line speed to handle coverage responsibilities.
With the Jaguars dropping four of their top six defensive backs from a season ago, Gratz, talented, tough and durable (started 39 of 50 games at UConn), is a strong bet to start as a rookie. He (and second-round safety Jonathan Cyprien) could play a significant role in a quick defensive turnaround in Jacksonville.
Jettisoning Gene's Philosophies in Jacksonville (Other thoughts on the Jaguars' 2013 draft class):
It is, of course, too soon to proclaim Bradley and general manager David Caldwell 's first draft class a success, but if their goal was to attack the process with a different strategy than former Jaguars' head scout Gene Smith, they certainly accomplished it.
Despite his team residing in the heart of SEC country, Smith infamously never selected a single player from the power conference during his four years running the Jaguars' front office.
Caldwell selected three players from the SEC in his first draft, including the No. 2 overall pick on Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel , the top-rated player on NFLDraftScout.com's board.
While each of Joeckel's 39 collegiate starts came at left tackle, he is expected to move over to the right side, where the Jaguars struggled mightily a season ago. The hope is that Joeckel, paired with incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe, will give Jacksonville the bookend tackles to spark improvement from thus-far disappointing quarterback Blaine Gabbert . By not selecting a traditional quarterback in their first draft together, Bradley and Caldwell gave the former Missouri product a vote of confidence. Should Gabbert not make significant improvement in his third NFL season, however, the Jaguars will almost surely devote a high pick to the position next year.
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is expected to primarily play running back for the Jaguars, but his dual-threat capabilities give the Jags an intriguing option should Gabbert continue to struggle.
Robinson, like fourth-round receiver Ace Sanders , is a dynamic athlete and a threat to score each time he gets the ball. While the former Michigan star lacks size at 5-11, 197-pounds, his instincts, vision and toughness made him a favorite among scouts. Few know better than Bradley that the toughest ball-carriers for long, lanky cornerbacks to handle are often short and ultra-quick. The Jags boast two talented receivers already in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III , but Robinson and Sanders (5-7, 178) could make an impact for a team desperate for more big plays on offense.
The Jags may not have invested a draft pick in a traditional passer, but undrafted free agents Matt Scott (Arizona) and Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt) have the combination of athleticism, accuracy and arm strength to surprise. With Gabbert and journeyman Chad Henne as the only other quarterbacks currently on the roster, the first-year players should be in line to get many more snaps than most undrafted quarterbacks. Scott is an exciting dual-threat talent but had only one full season as the starter in Arizona. Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers star Aaron Rodgers, slipped due to size concerns, but Bradley watched Seattle's Russell Wilson shatter misconceptions about short quarterbacks.
-- The Jaguars' 2013 draft class:
1st Round -- No. 2 overall -- OT Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
2nd Round -- No. 22 overall -- S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
3rd Round -- No. 64 overall -- CB Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut
4th Round -- No. 101 overall -- WR Ace Sanders, South Carolina
5th Round -- No. 135 overall -- RB/WR Denard Robinson, Michigan
6th Round -- No. 169 overall -- S Josh Evans , Florida
7th Round -- No. 208 overall -- CB Jeremy Harris , New Mexico State
7th Round -- No. 254 overall -- CB Demetrius McCray , Appalachian State
-- Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:
QB Matt Scott, Arizona
QB Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
DT Abry Jones , Georgia
TE Ryan Otten , San Jose State
Read more about all of the Jaguars' picks here.
Read all of the Finding the Fits series here.
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