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Senior NFL Columnist

Monday Musings: Break up the Jags

Rookie WR Ace Sanders, a fourth-round pick, is one of many young Jaguars making big strides. (USATSI)
Rookie WR Ace Sanders, a fourth-round pick, is one of many young Jaguars making big strides. (USATSI)

A few weeks ago, I had a chat with Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell after his team won for the first time.

"Don't win too many, you will blow your draft pick," I said to him.

Caldwell laughed and said that he wanted his team to win as many games as possible.

A month ago, I didn't think that was wise thinking.

Now I do.

The biggest reason for that change is I don't think there is a true slam-dunk, can't-miss passer in next year's draft. Now that the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games, including beating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, it's almost becoming a moot point. They would pick third right now.

I also think Caldwell is good enough at evaluating talent that he will find good players, including a good quarterback, no matter where he is drafting.

Since I live in Jacksonville, I've been asked a lot why this team is getting better. I think it's because the younger players are improving week by week and because these young players are buying into what coach Gus Bradley is preaching. It appears his ways are working, and the Jaguars have the right guy.

This team was essentially blown up and is being rebuilt from scratch. If you look at Caldwell's first draft from last April, it could be a really good one. First-round pick Luke Joeckel was starting at left tackle and showed well as a starter at right tackle before making the move to the left side and then going down for the season.

Second-round pick Jonathan Cyprien is developing into a quality safety and had his first interception against the Browns. Corner Dwayne Gratz (third round) and safety Josh Evans (seventh round) also start in the secondary. Gratz had a pick Sunday as well. Receiver Ace Sanders (fourth) had his best game with eight catches against the Browns. Fellow fourth-round pick Denard Robinson is a backup running back and seventh-round corner Demetrius McCray is a contributor on special teams.

That's production. If Caldwell can have another draft close to that successful next spring, and also plug in some holes in free agency, the Jaguars will be much improved. Don't forget they have a ton of cap room. When they get a franchise passer, which they don't have now, they could compete for a playoff berth.

The next steps after finding a quarterback are finding a quality pass rusher and speed at linebacker, as well as improving the middle of the offensive line. This team is moving in the right direction and doesn't look anything like the team that was on its way to 0-16 after the 0-8 start.

Is their draft slot being hurt? You bet. But this might be a draft where it really doesn't matter.

Winning isn't losing in this case. If Andrew Luck were in this draft, it would be, but with six months until the draft it sure doesn't look as if there is a quarterback of that caliber at the top.

Credit the Jaguars' coaches for keeping this thing moving forward when it could have been all-time-low bad. And credit Caldwell for being patient and doing it the right way: Through the draft. Two years from now, this team could be a good one.

Bears coach Marc Trestman made a horrible decision in his team's loss to the Vikings. With the scored tied at 20 in overtime, the Bears had a second-and-7 at the Minnesota 29 with 4:12 left in overtime. Instead of trying to get a few more yards and then kicking, he chose to kick on second down. Memo to Trestman: A 47-yard field goal isn't a chip shot. When Robbie Gould missed, it gave the Vikings another chance to win it, which they did. That was a terrible coaching decision by Trestman, one he will learn from for the future.

Some will say I can't admit when I am wrong. That's not true and here goes: I was way wrong about Alshon Jeffery. I wasn't sure he had the ability to separate to be a top receiver. But he is showing this season that he is that and more. Jeffery had 12 catches for 249 yards and two scores against the Vikings.

The 49ers had to fix their passing game. In the past two weeks, they have. Colin Kaepernick looks much more comfortable now throwing the football. It helps that he has Michael Crabtree back, but it's more than that. His mechanics are better. He's scanning the field better. Kaepernick was 19 of 28 for 275 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the 49ers' victory over the Rams. That will be key come the postseason, which looks more and more likely.

Maybe Matt Cassel should have been the Vikings' quarterback all along. He played that way against the Bears. He threw for 280 yards and two scores. He looked much better than Christian Ponder.

How's that Trent Richardson trade working out, Colts? Thought so.

So Justin Tuck has a pulse. He had 2½ sacks before the Giants' game against the Redskins on Sunday night, but then had four in the game. He moved around, up and down the line and did get one without getting blocked. But at least he showed up.

The Philadelphia Eagles scored 17 points in the first half against the Cardinals and after scoring on their first possession of the second half didn't do anything on offense the rest of the day. So are teams doing a good job at halftime of figuring out what the Eagles and coach Chip Kelly are doing and then making the adjustments? It's one thing to prepare for Kelly's spread, and then it's tough to adjust to it when you see it the first time. But after halftime, the Cardinals did a nice job of slowing the Eagles down. The Eagles have scored 300 points this season, 150 in each half. But the lowest-scoring quarter is the fourth. Keep an eye on this in the next month. And the Cowboys, who beat the Eagles, play Philadelphia again in the final week of the season. So they might have some wrinkles to slow down the Eagles.

Nick Foles has 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions for the Eagles. It's his job for the rest of the season. But is it his job for 2014? It's starting to look that way.

The Browns have to be thrilled they didn't trade receiver Josh Gordon, as some said they might. Gordon is a beast. He had 10 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' loss to the Jaguars. He had 273 yards receiving last week. Imagine if he had a real quarterback? Receivers like Gordon are way too valuable to trade -- even if he has had off-field problems.

The Chiefs have to consider sitting down corner Marcus Cooper. He just isn't getting it done. After a fast start, teams are targeting him more and more on a weekly basis.

Cam Newton: So much more dangerous running off a dropback than on a designed run. His 56-yard run against the Bucs this week was proof of that.

That was an impressive road victory for the Bengals. They got after it on defense against the Chargers.

It's funny how many media members buried Peyton Manning last week after he struggled some against the Patriots. Now what after he threw for 403 yards and five touchdown passes in the Broncos' victory over the Chiefs?

The Colts need to quit talking about running it and turn everything over to Andrew Luck. They are division champs, but they sure don't look like it.

Is it David Garrard time with the Jets? It makes sense. Geno Smith isn't getting it done.

Could Alex Tanney, the trick-shot artist, be the starter at quarterback next week for the Browns? Brandon Weeden had concussion problems against the Jaguars and Jason Campbell did last week. So now what?

Adrian Peterson is a special back. He had 211 rushing yards against the Bears. But is giving him 35 carries a wise thing to do?

Robert Mathis is doing amazing things at his age. He has 15 sacks. His strip-sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick was vintage Mathis.

 
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