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Embracing the Defense: Jaguars' Day 2 Draft Picks Bring Passion and Purpose to Jacksonville 

042724 Draft Day 2 Recap Thumbnail

JACKSONVILLE – This was a day about defense.

If that element defined Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft for the Jaguars, something else also stood out during Rounds 2 and 3 Friday.

These are players who wanted to be in Jacksonville. Very, very much.

“I’m so happy it was the Jaguars that called,” Jarrion Jones said. "It's been a dream of mine to play for the Jaguars. I'm going to give it everything I've got."

The Jaguars on Friday selected defensive two players – Louisiana State University defensive lineman Maason Smith with the No. 48 overall selection in Round 2 and Jones, a cornerback from Florida State University, with the No. 96 overall selection in Round 3.

"We feel really good about the players we got," Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said.

Baalke said the team explored trading up for a cornerback early in Round 2, a time when four consecutive cornerbacks were selected from Selection Nos. 40-43.

"If you look historically at the draft in the second round, there's a run on corners usually," Baalke said. "When they start coming, they come off quick. It wasn't something that was not expected. You look at things. You try to move. Sometimes you can move. Sometimes you can't.

"The board fell pretty true to what we felt it was going to fall. I never worry about the players we didn't get. You could spend hours and hours thinking through all the things you could have done. You worry about the ones you got because that's the most important thing.

"We're excited about the guys we've added up."

Smith and Jones are defensive players from power college programs, and they both very much wanted to join an organization in which they believe they're ideal fits.

“I don’t think it could have worked out any better,” Smith said, who is close with Round 1 wide receiver Brian Thomas – who also attended LSU – and also is close with multiple members of the Jaguars' coaching staff.

Smith (6-feet-6, 315 pounds), a two-year collegiate starter who entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore, fits in large part because he's a long, physically imposing defensive tackle who figures to be a scheme match for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen's four-front scheme.

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson called Smith "a space-eater."

"He's a big guy," Pederson said. "He's explosive and has lateral quickness. You just watch his tape and you see him chasing some ballcarriers down. He can hold the point of attack. He pushes the interior of the pocket."

Added Pederson, "Sometimes you don't have to get the quarterback as much as just disrupt and beat him off the spot and that's what he's capable of doing."

Baalke spoke early this offseason of the need to be stouter, more disruptive, deeper and more physical along both the offensive and defensive lines.

"You definitely have to control the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball – offensive and defense lines," Pederson said. "We feel that adding Mason to that room gets us to that point where we can control the line of scrimmage. You have to be physical. That's a physical position anyway. A guy as big, powerful and athletic as he is is just a great addition to an already good room."

Jones, who played a season at Mississippi State before playing for FSU the past four seasons, fills a need at cornerback – and also figures to fit a Nielsen scheme that calls for cornerbacks to play aggressive, physical press coverage.

"He can play outside and inside there," Baalke said, with Pederson calling him a "position-flex guy."

"I can see him playing inside Day One," Pederson said. "He's also a really good special teams player. He's going to give us value there as well."

Jones, like Smith, showed enthusiasm for his new team Friday. He said he grew up a Jaguars fan – in large part because former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was for a long time one of his favorite NFL players.

"I was a superfan of him," Jones said, adding that he also followed former Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey during his time with the Jaguars from 2016-2019.

"Now, me being able to continue that Florida State pipeline and come in and be able to make plays … it's a blessing," Jones added.

Jones also met with Jaguars coaches and personnel staff during a "local Pro Day" at the team's facility during the weeks leading to the draft.

"It means a lot," Baalke said. "You hope they have a great experience. Whether we meet them here, on one of the ["Top"] 30 visits, or at the [NFL Scouting] Combine, or wherever, you hope you represent the organization well and you hope they see the passion that we have for this organization and the jobs that we do. You hope they understand that, see that, feel that and they want to be a part of it."

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