2017 saw a reversal in fortune for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Years of strong drafting and investing heavily in the free agent market produced one of the best pass defenses the league has ever seen, backed up by a clock-control offense with a punishing run game.
With young All-Pro talent at cornerback and defensive end, a quarterback locked up for the immediate future, and solid left tackle the Jaguars have no need to fill at a premium position. They threw money at All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency just a week ago, and have two supremely talented linebackers and stout, productive defensive tackles.
In short, the Jacksonville Jaguars are sitting pretty without a desperate need anywhere. Which begs the question of what they should do with their first round pick. Defeat in the AFC championship game handed them the #29 selection, a pick that would normally be an immediate starter for a team. So what should the Jags do when they don’t really need a new starter?
Best player available
The BPA method of drafting is simple. Take the highest available player on your board regardless of his position or your roster needs. It has the advantage of ensuring you add the best talent possible to your roster. But it carries the risk of ending up with a log-jam at a position and not being able to get your best players on the field consistently.
If the best player left on the Jaguars board at #29 ends up being DT Maurice Hurst or C James Daniels then there is little they can do to actually get them on the field barring injury.
Adding depth is always nice, and having insurance policies is never a bad idea, but stacking a first round pick behind Yannick Ngakoue or Cam Robinson is not an optimum way of deploying your assets.
While the Jaguars have the bulk of their roster sorted, there are still a few gaps. Paul Posluszny’s retirement leaves them without an out-and-out run playing middle linebacker. While nickel personnel has been the base defense in the NFL for a while now, teams do still need run playing linebackers on first down and for short-yardage situations.
The problem with taking a run-stopper at #29 is that that kind of linebacker is widely, and cheaply, available. The likes of Brian Cushing, Derrick Johnson, and Jerrell Freeman are all still unsigned and can fill that role for the Jaguars without having to invest their first round pick to cover for Posluszny’s absence.
Speaking of nickel defenses. The one spot where the Jaguars were negatively affected in free agency was with their nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin going over to the Houston Texans on a four-year, $34 million deal.
Finding a corner that can play inside is a tricky thing. It is not so easy to just take a corner that has been playing outside all his career and ask him to kick inside to the slot. Even if the Jaguars to find Jaire Alexander waiting for them at #29 there is no guarantee whatsoever that his outside coverage skills would translate to the slot.
This is the Jaguars biggest point of need, and it is where I think they will end up focusing their first round efforts. They did not contest Allen Robinson finding a new home in Chicago, and just recently they opted to cut Allen Hurns and tight end Marcedes Lewis.
The decision to move on at wide receiver is understandable. The offense is obviously going to be run far more through Leonard Fournette and a powerful offensive line than it is Blake Bortles airing the ball out all over the field. As a result the success of cheap young receivers like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook last season made Robinson and Hurns somewhat superfluous.
It is the release of Lewis that really piqued my interest though. The Jaguars signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul to fill out the depth chart, but neither contract need go beyond the 2018 season and neither are receiving threats that can unlock a defense or demand coverage attention.
This is where they should go with their #29 pick. The likes of Dallas Goedert and Mike Gesicki have every chance of being on the board when the Jaguars are on the clock, and they would both give them a tight end that can help in the running game but also take advantage of safeties overplaying the run or staying too deep to counter the outside threats of Westbrook and Donte Moncrief.
They can be outlets for Bortles on play action and if they pan out then either could be the “Rob Gronkowski lite” that teams have been searching for.
Such a piece would go a long way to completing the Jaguars puzzle. They have a smothering defense, but they lack variety on offense. Adding an actual receiving threat at tight end would add another string to their bow and position them to be an offense that can claw its way back from a ten point deficit as well as one that can see out the last ten minutes with a lead.
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