JACKSONVILLE – This is a class meant to have an impact. Immediately.
We're talking about the Jaguars' 2017 draft class, and the "immediate-impact" storyline came clearly into view shortly after the draft began.
That's what happens when you go running back in the Top 5.
The Jaguars did just that, and expectations for Leonard Fournette have been high since the moment the Louisiana State running back was selected No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But there are more reasons this class has a chance to make an impact quickly than Fournette, the earliest-drafted running back in franchise history. The Jaguars' focus throughout the offseason clearly has been to win immediately, and the rookie class – particularly on offense – has a chance to help the team do that.
There are others aside from this list – defensive players – who could make a quick impact. The team likes what it saw from defensive end Dawuane Smoot in the offseason program, and cornerback Jalen Myrick's speed should make him a key special teams player – and critical depth at what appears a thin position beyond Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and Aaron Colvin.
Still, circumstances point to offense being the most likely place for rookies to make an impact. Here's a look at three players from that class that must do so:
3)Dede Westbrook, wide receiver.Westbrook may be the Jaguars' most intriguing rookie. He slipped to Round 4 largely because of off-field concerns, but he was the Biletnikoff Award winner last season in his final season at Oklahoma. Westbrook's quickness and speed makes him capable of big plays and scoring from anywhere on the field – something the Jaguars' offense has lacked in the last several years. Fournette and veteran wide receiver Marqise Lee figure to be such players, but Westbrook could give the Jaguars a third game-breaking offensive threat. Westbrook missed much of OTAs and minicamp with an injury, but the original plan was to have him working on the outside early – and there are those who believe outside eventually will be his role. Will he stay there? Will he find a role in the slot? If he stays outside, will he find a role in a receiving group that already includes Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns? Those will be training camp storylines, but a focus in preseason and early in the season will be finding a way to work his explosiveness into the offense.
2)Cam Robinson, lineman.Robinson is termed "lineman" here for a reason: it remains to be seen where on the Jaguars' offensive line he will play early. Robinson, the Jaguars' second-round selection in the '17 draft, played exclusively left tackle at Alabama – and that's where he worked during OTAs and minicamp. He is expected to compete with 10-year veteran Branden Albert there in training camp, and Robinson could win that job. If not, it remains a real possibility that Robinson could play one of the Jaguars' guard positions for the short-term before eventually moving to tackle. Observers also have wondered if Robinson could play right tackle, but there was no indication in the offseason that the team would move away from Jermey Parnell at that spot. The bottom line: the Jaguars have said the idea with the offensive line will be to play the best five players; it seems likely Robinson will be among those players. Will that mean him playing guard or tackle? Stay tuned, but look for him to be a key part of the line somewhere in '17. His physical strength and potential figures to be too much to keep off the field.
1)Leonard Fournette, running back.His draft status makes this the no-brainer selection of this group, but make no mistake: Fournette needs to make an impact as a rookie, and it needs to be a big one. While many positions require time to adapt to the NFL, this period of adjustment is not as necessary at running back – and the Jaguars need Fournette to not only be an impact player, but one around which they can build the offense. He likely will share carries to a degree with veteran Chris Ivory, and T.J. Yeldon figures to play a key role as a third-down back. But Fournette combines big-play potential with the ability to wear down a defense, and few backs offer that combination. The Jaguars have said throughout the offseason they want to be more physical and control tempo. That will start offensively with the ability to run. Fournette has the ability to be a face of this franchise quickly. How quickly that happens will go a long way toward determining the team's success or failure in 2017.