It's the time of year when all the different websites and experts declare their "sleepers" for the upcoming NFL draft. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith doesn't believe in that line of thinking. Smith thinks his scouts are paid to uncover talent no matter where that may take them, so "sleeper" is not a term used in the Jaguars draft room.
"I would like to think that if there is a player that we don't know about that is drafted, that player is not a sleeper, but there is a scout sleeping too much," Smith said in April of 2010.
The draft starts in earnest in February nearly 330 draft-eligible players convene in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine. The city is overloaded with scouts, coaches, medical personnel and agents as they catch a glimpse of what the upcoming draft will offer. Players can see their stock rise or fall depending on their workouts.
But there is also another large group of players who don't get the invitation to the combine. Some might call these players "sleepers."
In Smith's first two years directing the Jaguars' draft, the club drafted 15 players, and five of those players were not invited to the Combine. The list includes cornerback Derek Cox and tight end Zach Miller from the 2009 draft. Three of the Jaguars' six draft picks in 2010 were not invited to the Combine in defensive end Larry Hart, running back/kick returner Deji Karim and return specialist Scotty McGee.
The Jaguars traded up with New England to have the opportunity to select Cox in the third round. He was relatively unknown outside of NFL circles but the Smith and his staff had done their homework. He has started 27 games in two seasons and led the Jaguars in interceptions in each of those seasons with four. His eight interceptions are the most by a Jaguars player in his first two seasons.
Miller finished his collegiate career at Nebraska-Omaha as a quarterback, rushing for a school-record 50 touchdowns and throwing for 26 scores. He played tight end for the first time at the Valero Cactus Bowl in Kingsville, Texas, a Division II all-star game, and then the Jaguars conducted a private workout with him. He was eventually selected in the sixth round and has made plenty of strides in his first 29 career games. He has recorded two of the three longest receptions in franchise history by a tight end including a 62-yard reception against Houston in 2009.
Karim, a sixth-round pick, produced a 25.0-yard average on 50 kickoff returns as a rookie, playing in 11 games. Hart saw extensive action in the defensive line rotation in 14 games and had one sack and 12 quarterback hits. After starring in the preseason, McGee was forced to sit out his rookie season with a shoulder injury he suffered in the final preseason game.
How many rookies in franchise history have started all 16 games for the Jaguars?
The first three rounds of the NFL draft are the flashy ones in which players are expected to come in and start or at least compete for a starting role. It's the final four rounds that can define a draft.
Gene Smith relies heavily on his college scouting staff as the expectation is these late-round players can step in immediately and assume different roles which could include special teams. Over time, they can work themselves into starters, as history has shown.
There are several veteran Jaguars who were drafted in rounds 4-7 who have developed into major contributors. The group is headlined by quarterback David Garrard (4thround, 2002), kicker Josh Scobee (5thround, 2004), punter Adam Podlesh (4thround, 2007) and guard Uche Nwaneri (5thround, 2007).
Several players in the last two drafts have also played key roles even though they weren't selected until the fourth round or later, including wide receiver Mike Thomas (2009, Round 4), tight end Zach Miller (2009, Round 6), running back Rashad Jennings (2009, Round 7), defensive end Austen Lane (2010, Round 5) and running back/kick returner Deji Karim (2010, Round 6).
Teammates selected in same draft
The Jaguars have selected a pair of teammates in the same draft six different times including twice in the last three years. The Jaguars have two pairs of teammates selected by the club in the same draft on the current roster in UCLA's Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew from the 2006 draft and Arizona's Eben Britton and Mike Thomas in the 2009 draft.
Other college teammates selected by the Jaguars in the same draft: Tony Boselli and Rob Johnson (1995, Southern California), Anthony Cesario and Jason Craft (1999, Colorado State), Eric Westmoreland and David Leaverton (2001, Tennessee) and Thomas Williams and Chauncey Washington (2008, Southern California).
Only eight rookies have started all 16 games for the Jaguars including three in the last two seasons.
Since juniors were formally allowed to enter the draft in 1990, the Jaguars have drafted 11 underclassmen. In addition, the Jaguars have selected an underclassman in five of the last seven years. More than one underclassman has been selected by the Jaguars in the draft only twice (2003, 2006) in 16 years.