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Catching our breath


It is, at last, time to catch our breath.

That said, it's not quite time to put the 2011 NFL Draft away – far from it.

We'll spend the next few weeks on analyzing the draft, talking with coaches and personnel officials, and trying to see just how the Jaguars will approach the coming season – and yes, there will be a season -- now that the over-analyzed-yet-vitally-important process of procuring players from colleges is over for another year.

First things first:

Breaking down the reader mock:

Remember the reader mock? Of course, you do.

We spent the last six weeks – yet, it was only six weeks – having readers analyze and predict selections 1-32 of the first round. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith will tell you there is perhaps too much attention paid on the first round, but the senior writer will tell you that's all he is capable of processing, and that's true of many draft followers, too.

So, how'd we do? Not bad. Not bad at all.

One way to judge a first-round mock is how many first-rounders from the mock went in the actual first-round. On that front, we didn't do poorly, with 27 of the 32 players from the mock going in the real draft.

Players in the real draft not in our mock:

*Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State. Went to Minnesota No. 12.

*Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor. Went to Philadelphia No. 23.

*James Carpenter, OT, Alabama. Went to Seattle No. 25.

*Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh. Went to Kansas City No. 26.

*Muhammed Wilkerson, DT, Temple. Went to the New York Jets No. 30.

Players in the mock who didn't go in the first round were Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith, Georgia linebacker Justin Houston and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

The only huge misses, then, were not having Ponder in the first round and having Bowers in, but pretty much everybody missed on Bowers, a case in which an injury had far more to do with draft status than on-field ability.

The other way of judging a draft is number of exact "hits" . . .

Well, there's a reason we discussed this second. The reader mock "hit" on only four first-round selections. They were offensive tackle Tyron Smith to Dallas at No. 9 overall, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo to Indianapolis at No. 22, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi to Chicago at No. 29 and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod to Green Bay at No. 32.

Say this for the readers:

They know them some offensive tackles, and while the early part of the draft featured a lot of misses, a lot of that can be attributed to timing. The reader mock started in mid-March, and that's an eternity in draft time. A lot of the juggling that happened the weeks leading to the draft we couldn't account for. We already had moved on.

That's the senior writer's story, at least, and he's sticking to it.

We'll close this reader mock draft/Jaguars draft wrap-up with a couple of items: a look at the AFC South, followed by catch-your-breath look at the Jaguars, selection-by-selection.

First, the AFC South:

*Indianapolis. The Colts' draft, in retrospect, followed a pretty logical pattern. After years of building the offensive line with late-round draft selections, they addressed it early in a big way, selecting Castonzo from Boston College. It was a vintage Bill Polian selection. He believes in selecting first-rounders from big conferences, reason being they are a bit more ready to play immediately. The Colts also went offensive line in the second round, and addressed defensive tackle in the third. This was a bit more needs-based than a lot of Polian's drafts with the Colts, but the moves made sense, and if Castonzo can contribute early, the line could be one of Indianapolis' strongest since 2006.

*Tennessee. As is the case with the Jaguars, the Titans' draft ultimately will be judged by the success/failure of a first-round quarterback: Jake Locker. With Vince Young almost certainly moving on, the Titans had to take a quarterback and they used the No. 8 selection on Locker, a player with talent but also one with questions. The development of he and Gabbert likely will define the division during the coming half decade.

*Houston. No one can say the Texans didn't address needs. They hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, and whenever you hear anything from anyone around the organization, the emphasis this off-season is building defense. They went defense with the first five selections, including first-round DE J.J. Watt. They also took pass-rusher Brooks Reed, a player many considered a first-round talent, in the second round. Their second selection of the second round, cornerback Brandon Harris of Miami, also was considered a first-round possibility. Phillips often is criticized as a head coach, but he has a proven track record as a coordinator, and knows how to utilize players. If the first three players contribute, the Texans are immediately improved.

And so, finally, we move on to the Jaguars' draft.

While there has been an overriding feeling of optimism over the selection of quarterback Blaine Gabbert at No. 10, there, too, has been consternation.

Did the Jaguars give up too much to get Gabbert?

What about the defense?

How does this draft help next season?

Folks, here's the reality:

If you want a franchise, change-the-future quarterback, there sometimes is a price to be paid. One way to get one is to lose a lot of games and have a disastrous season. Another way is to get lucky and have a second-round-or-later guy developed. There are probably other ways, but they're fluky and low-percentage ways. The way the Jaguars did it was fairly prudent: trading a second-round selection to move up to get a guy they really believe in.

Yes, the second-round selection was a price, and yes, if Gabbert doesn't work out, it will be portrayed as a bad move, but you can't think that way and still get the guy you want.

"We just felt this one here made too much sense not to get a player that we feel can be a very good player for us in the future," Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said shortly after selecting Gabbert.

There was the same consternation over the Jaguars' next selection: Will Rackley, offensive guard/center from Lehigh.

The Jaguars traded up to get Rackley, sending a sixth-round selection to the 49ers to move up from No. 80 to No. 76 in the third round.

A few readers disliked this, said Rackley would have been had without moving up.

Smith addressed that this weekend, too,  saying basically that while many believed Rackley would have been there four spots later he did not.

"To go up this early in the draft I feel we're getting an eventual starter," Smith said. "I've got to trust our grades. The pick in front of us was (John) Moffitt, the guard out of Wisconsin. They were running out of guys people thought could be early starters in their career. We knew that's where the strength point in that particular round, there was a strength in the guard/center position. Every round has areas of strength, so people are trying to trade up into them if they need a particular player and there's a guy of value there. It just varies round to round. Certain positions are stronger in certain rounds."

We include that quote here because it explains an aspect of the draft that's easy to overlook. Within each draft there are pockets of talent, and areas where certain positions are strong. In this draft, the third round was where solid potential starters along the offensive line were going. Smith and the Jaguars went into this draft wanting to get at least two players who would be solid, long-term starters and their belief was waiting longer to get an offense lineman in the third round would have significantly lowered their chance of doing so.

The rest of the Jaguars' draft broke down as follows:

*Cecil Shorts III, WR, Mount Union.

*Chris Prosinski, S, Wyoming.

*Rod Issac, CB, Middle Tennessee State.

Those players made up the Saturday portion of the draft, with Shorts and Prosinski going in Round 4 and Issac going in Round 5.

The concern many seemed to have with the final three picks as well as the overall draft was two-fold: One, that the Jaguars didn't address needs, and that they only drafted five players.

Anyone who has followed the team at all in recent years knows the "needs" thing wasn't a big factor for Smith, and his approach on the relatively small draft class was pretty simple. The idea entering this draft, he said during draft weekend, was to get players who could contribute and who wouldn't underachieve once they joined the team.

There is a danger in the NFL of wanting to look good on draft weekend at the expense of really improving your team. Teams fall into the trap all the time, and if there's one thing that seems to mark the Jaguars under Smith it's that they do whatever possible to avoid that.

The Jaguars could have made a lot of observers happy this past weekend by trading down and gaining picks and exiting the draft with more players from bigger schools, guys with bigger name recognition.

They didn't do that, nor should they have done so. Smith began building the roster in 2009 and 2010 in a methodical long-term way, and his goal is to continue to add talented players who can really contribute.

Time will tell if that was accomplished this past weekend, but that was the goal. Smith and the personnel staff stuck to a plan they have followed since taking over three years ago. You can't ask much more than that.

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