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Building the Jaguars: Inside the Strategic Moves of the 2024 NFL Draft


JACKSONVILLE – They went for top-level skill early.

They went for size – a lot of it – later.

They also focused on desired, specific traits – and because the Jaguars did this, there were smiles around the Miller Electric Center in the wake of the 2024 NFL Draft as Saturday afternoon turned into Saturday evening.

"It's always exciting time of year," Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said. "You get a chance to get new guys into the system. You're excited for them. When you talk to them on the phone and hear their excitement and the family's excitement in the background …

"They're coming here. They're going to give you everything they have and that's all we can ask. Then we figure it out from there."

The Jaguars over three days selected three offensive players, five defensive players and a kicker – with a heavy emphasis on depth and special teams as the draft continued.

"A football team is made up of many parts," Head Coach Doug Pederson said, "and I think this is a great example of the guys we got. There are different positions here. There are different body types, skill sets, all of that.

"They're all guys who can come in and compete and that's what I'm excited about."

Baalke, in fourth third season as the Jaguars' general manager, spoke along with Pederson early Saturday evening. This was just after a Day 3 that featured three defensive players, two offensive players and a kicker.

"There are really good players, starting from the top all the way down," Pederson said. "There's talent here, guys that we had focused on – and the way things fell, it worked out really good."

The Jaguars, after entering the draft with eight selections, selected nine players overall:

  • Round 1, No. 23 overall: Brian Thomas Jr., wide receiver, Louisiana State.
  • Round 2, No. 48 overall: Maason Smith, defensive tackle, Louisiana State.
  • Round 3, No. 96 overall: Jarrian Jones, cornerback, Florida State.
  • Round 4, No. 114 overall: Javon Foster, offensive lineman, Missouri.
  • Round 4, No. 116 overall: Jordan Jefferson, defensive tackle, Louisiana State.
  • Round 5, No. 153 overall: De'Antre Prince, cornerback, Mississippi.
  • Round 5, No. 167 overall: Keilan Robinson, running back, Texas.
  • Round 6, No. 212 overall: Cam Little, kicker, Arkansas.
  • Round 7, No. 236 overall: Myles Cole, edge, Texas Tech.

"We're very happy with the picks we've been able to make," Jaguars assistant General Manager Ethan Waugh said. "The overall thing we were trying to accomplish in this draft was to get bigger, to get faster, to get stronger.

"So that's something we asked about every person that we were going to draft: 'Hey, how is this guy going to affect our roster? Does he make us faster? Does he make us bigger? Does he make us smarter as a football team?'

"We think all of those things combined will make us stronger down the stretch."

Added Waugh, "When we left free agency, we felt we felt good about where we were, that we didn't see any gaping holes. We were able to go forward and pick the best player available and to pick the guys that maybe help us – maybe not even this year – but down the line.

"We added a lot of depth and we've made the team stronger, but I think that that free agency plan really helped."

Seven of the nine selections were from Southeastern Conference programs: Three from LSU, one from Arkansas, one from Missouri, one from Texas and one from Mississippi. Baalke said it was coincidental and the way the draft board fell.

"There's nothing more to than that," he said. "Obviously the SEC has a lot of good football players, so the odds are greater that they're going to be up on the board, but there's no intent there at all. We just were looking for good football players to fit our culture."

Multiple other factors affected the Jaguars' draft. One was the addition of new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, whose scheme is expected to emphasize four down linemen and aggressive press coverage in the secondary.

"It's not just defensive coaches, it's all the coaches," Baalke said. "As coaches, as personnel people, we try to get the best people in this building as can fit the system. Ryan played a big role, as did the other defensive coaches. Not one person makes these decisions. It's all of us. It's a combined effort.

"They had a lot of say in the guys that we not only pick, but the type of guys that we pick in terms of strengths, weaknesses and all the stuff that goes with it."

Also mattering in recent days: The NFL's recently-approved kickoff rules, which are expected to increase the number of kickoff returns. Whereas touchbacks had been the norm in recent seasons, directional and area kicking are expected to matter moving forward – with return ability also more important than in recent seasons.

That made selections such as Little and Robinson important late Saturday.

"It's going to change the type of guys you get up front and we're still tinkering with that," Baalke said. "The special teams coaches really don't know how this is all going to shake out. You're looking forward to getting on the grass and working with these guys, but it definitely brings the two kickoff returners into play. That was the reason we went out and got Keilan. That's going to be a main responsibility."

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