Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith believes the Jaguars may only be a defense away from the postseason, and Smith likes what he sees in the way of talent on the defensive line and at cornerback in this year's draft crop.
"We're on track, clearly, to be a playoff contender next year. The emphasis will be an aggressive one, in terms of trying to improve the talent on the defensive side of the football," Smith told jaguars.com.
The Jaguars finished 15th or above in 10 of 18 offensive categories in the 2010 season, including a number three ranking in rush-offense and a number 15 ranking in overall offense. Jaguars special teams, of course, were the toast of the league.
It was on defense, however, that the Jaguars sagged. They were 28th overall; 22nd against the run and 28th against the pass.
When asked to identify the Jaguars' area of greatest need, Smith said: "defense."
"It's a good defensive line group again; back to back years in defensive linemen," Smith said of the 2011 draft class, which offered previews recently in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. "With the underclassmen that declared, there should be some corners in this group that'll be able to contribute as rookies. The safety position is not deep.
"That would enable us to take a big step toward where we want to go," Smith said of adding players on the defensive side of the ball. "I think we have some people here that need to take another step. It's not just about whom we add, it's about some of our own players improving as we head into next year."
Smith considers the offensive line crop to be the strength of this year's draft class.
"The offensive line group at the Senior Bowl was as good as any year since I've been attending. It's more of a tackle group, but there are some guards that can swing and play center," he said.
Fans are most interested in the quarterback crop, of course, as the 2011 draft's passers are thought to represent one of the deepest crops in recent history. At what point do the Jaguars spring for a quarterback?
"If you think of a player as an eventual starter, he's usually a player on your board in the first three rounds," Smith said.
Starting quarterback David Garrard is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Garrard set a Jaguars all-time, single-season touchdown passes record in 2011 and he finished the season as the league's 13th-ranked passer with a 90.8 passer rating.
"I think he showed this year that we can win with him and he was very efficient in the fourth quarter of games this season," Smith said of Garrard.
Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew recently underwent knee surgery.
"Structurally his knee is sound," Smith said.