Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith turned in an A performance in last year's draft, which yielded four starters. What grade awaits the Jaguars this year?
"We feel very good about where we're at. We're trying to get an A on the test," Smith said.
Is it realistic to expect another blockbuster draft? There was no indication of retreat as Smith, coach Jack Del Rio and Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough fielded questions at a draft preview luncheon with media on Thursday.
"In our mind, we'd like to come out with players we've targeted. We feel it's a good draft overall, especially on the defensive side," Smith said.
Especially on the defensive side is also an apt description of where the Jaguars' needs are. They need help on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Smith, however, is a steadfast best-available-player drafter and he makes no promise that he'll be able to address those needs.
"We're going into the draft with the mindset to get value," he said. "We take all of the grades on the players and you let the computer create a value line. The only massaging we do is within the same grade range. It makes too much sense to me to not take advantage of the system in place."
The Jaguars own the 10th pick of the draft, which begins next Thursday in a first-ever prime-time start. Here's a look at what appears to be the prime candidates for the Jaguars' first-round pick:
- Trade down—Everybody knows Smith wants to move back and add picks. As it stands, he has six picks. His hope is that a player another team covets will fall to the Jags and entice a team to come up for him. That was the hope last year with Mark Sanchez, but the Jets moved all the way up to pick five to get Sanchez. The Jags secretly hope Jimmy Clausen can do for them what Sanchez did for the Browns last year.
- Jason Pierre-Paul—The South Florida defensive end is a premier physical specimen who's loaded with upside, but he lacks experience and production and that makes him a somewhat risky selection. "He's a guy that has a lot of talent that can be developed," Smith said.
- C.J. Spiller—The Clemson running back could be at the top of the Jaguars' board when Smith picks, and that would make him the BAP pick. He's a lights-out kick-returner and would add firepower to David Garrard's arsenal.
- Joe Haden—The Florida cornerback is quality. He may not have elite speed, but there's almost no risk with Haden; he's that skilled in coverage.
- Rolando McClain—The Alabama middle linebacker is the thumper in the middle the Jaguars need.
- Dan Williams—The Tennessee defensive tackle is another Terrance Knighton, and what's not to like about that?
- Derrick Morgan—The Georgia Tech defensive end has an all-around game and is one of what Smith referred to as a "number of" pass-rushers in this draft.
- Brian Bulaga—The Iowa offensive tackle would represent real value and he has the ability to play inside.
- Clausen—Hey, you never know.
There are almost certainly other candidates, but Smith will keep those names to himself. If you wanna talk trade, however, feel free to call.
In GM Gene's world, the draft is all about value and value is all about picks. The more he has, the better his draft will be.
"I do think we can improve the team in the draft. In the draft and pro free agency, we will improve our ability to affect the throw," Smith said.
Translation? The Jaguars are desperate to improve their pass-rush and they are likely to draft a pass-rusher, maybe even with their first pick. By the way, Michigan's Brandon Graham is a pass-rusher, too, though he's largely considered to be more of a 3-4 linebacker than 4-3 defensive end.
Fans want Smith to draft a quarterback. Actually, they want him to pick a certain quarterback, hometown product Tim Tebow.
Will Smith treat Tebow as just another prospect or as a favorite son?
"I'm going to treat him as I treat every other player. Every team approaches it that way," Smith said.
The 2011 draft class could turn out to be the deepest quarterback class in NFL history and it's likely Smith has that in mind heading into this year's draft, which is thought to be weak at the quarterback position.
"We do try to look at what the positional strengths could be in the 2011 draft," Smith said.
The Jaguars likely need to hit a home run in this year's draft for the team to be a playoff contender next fall.
"If the stars were aligned, I'd like to say it could happen. I'd like to think if we stay healthy we'll have a chance to compete for the playoffs," Smith added.
He might need another A .