Projecting the draft: Jacksonville Jaguars
Despite boasting the league's leading rusher last season, the Jaguars finished last in the NFL in passing offense, which was a big reason they finished 5-11 and will be selecting in the top-10 yet again this April
Rookie Blaine Gabbert received little help from his offensive line or receivers, but his first pro season was forgettable, finishing with a 50.8% completion percentage in 2011. As the Jaguars hope for better from their quarterback in year two, it’s a good bet General Manager Gene Smith and his staff will target offensive help in the draft, whether that’s offensive linemen or an impact wide receiver. There is a good chance the top receivers in this class will still be on the board for the seventh pick and the Jaguars will have their pick of the litter, but with the depth of this year’s receiver group, don’t be surprised if Jacksonville passes on Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd.
And despite their needs on offense, Jacksonville is reportedly leaning towards defense in the early stages of draft weekend, especially with their seventh overall choice in the first round. The Jaguars top targets early will be cornerback or pass rusher.
Over the past few years, the Jaguars have been the wildcard of the first round and that won’t change this year. Jacksonville also looks like the most likely suitor for a team seeking a trade into the top-10 picks, possibly for a team seeking QB Ryan Tannehill.
Below are five prospects the Jaguars should consider:
CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 19)
Pro Bowl veteran Rashean Mathis is coming off a torn ACL (and will turn 32 years old prior to the season) and the other returning starter, Derek Cox, hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The Jaguars added Aaron Ross in free agency, but the cornerback position is still a spot of need. Stephon Gilmore has been one of the draft’s biggest risers in recent months and has elevated his stock into the top-10 range, making him a legitimate choice for Jacksonville at seven. He started every game at South Carolina the past three years (40 starts) and was one of the team’s most valuable performers, also lining up at safety and offense at times. Gilmore arrives to the play with bad intentions and has the feisty attitude to be a reliable tackler in run support. He relies more on his natural ability over mechanics, but is instinctive, aggressive and athletic with the feet to start right away at the next level.
DE Andre Branch, Clemson (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 29)
The Jaguars brought back their top sack producer (Jeremy Mincey) and hope to get production out of the oft-injured Aaron Kampman, but Jacksonville will need to address their pass rush need at some point on draft weekend. Andre Branch would be an intriuging DE/OLB option in the second round for the Jaguars, coming off a strong season at Clemson. He took over for Da’Quan Bowers as the Tigers top pass rusher last year and didn’t disappoint with a team-best 17.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Branch has tight hips and lacks the fluid range of motion to consistently hold up in space, but offers natural flexibility and speed with the relentless to collapse the pocket, making a lot of hustle and effort plays. While still unpolished in several areas, Branch has the football character and tools to develop into a starting hybrid end in the Jaguars’ defensive front.
WR Marvin Jones, California (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 121)
The Jaguars have been searching for a consistent No. 1 receiver since Jimmy Smith retired and despite throwing a lot of money at Laurent Robinson in free agency, wideout still ranks fairly high on the Jaguars roster needs. Marvin Jones led California in receiving in 2009 and 2010, but was overshadowed by Keenan Allen in 2011, however, he is still a very talented prospect worthy of third round consideration. He is a consistent competitor when the ball is in the air and while he isn’t overly dynamic or flashy, Jones doesn’t have any substantial weaknesses to his game. He is an underrated talent who lacks a large ceiling, but should contribute as a reliable “X” receiver early in his pro career.
OT Brandon Mosley, Auburn (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 123)
If Eben Britton moves inside to guard, right tackle becomes one of the Jaguars top needs on draft weekend. Brandon Mosley played mostly tight end over his career, but moved to the offensive line prior to the 2010 season and is still very much a work-in-progress. He has inconsistent technique and needs to use better leverage, but also has a lot of correctable flaws that will improve with time and coaching. Mosley is still very unpolished, but is a hard worker who gets the most out of his ability with a wide base, prototypical frame and hard-working pedigree. He will be a redshirt player as a rookie in the NFL while he develops, but offers good value as a developmental project in the third or fourth round
DT Jaye Howard, Florida (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 139)
Starting defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is one of the better young players at his position in the AFC, but after suffering an eye injury this off-season, his future is in doubt. With that knowledge, the Jaguars would be wise to add some defensive tackle depth in the draft and Jaye Howard offers good value in the fifth round. He was a linebacker in high school and has done a nice job adding 60+ pounds since enrolling in Gainesville as a 230-pounder. Howard is a fluid and flexible athlete for the position with natural explosion to shoot gaps and gain a step on blockers, but he doesn’t always play at full intensity. He lacks the ideal frame or base strength to be an every-down starter, but his athleticism and quickness will earn him a roster spot and he would be best suited as a rotational player.
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