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Evaluating the draft class


Jaguars college scouting director Gene Smith surveyed the rookies at this weekend's mini-camp and was struck by one common ingredient.

"What the rookie class has brought is an infusion of team speed," Smith said following Sunday morning's practice, the third of five in this mini-camp.

The Jaguars' 11-man draft class has made a solid impression on Smith, the team's personnel department overall and on the coaching staff, too. Smith offered the following evaluations:

Reggie Nelson—"Reggie has shown the type of half-field range you desire in a cover safety," Smith said of the first-round pick. "He has an innate ability to know when the ball is coming off the rim," he added, using basketball terminology to describe Nelson's ability to anticipate.

Nelson ran a 4.38 40 on grass at his pro day and has flashed speed and coverage skills through two days at the Jaguars mini-camp. Nelson has already been compared to Rashean Mathis, who played safety in college but was moved to cornerback midway through his rookie season.

Justin Durant—"What's evident is outstanding speed," Smith said of the second-round pick from small-college Hampton.

Linebackers can't be accurately judged until after the pads go on, but Durant moves with ease and explodes to the ball. He's now in the process of learning the sophisticated coverages of pro football but, even at that, he told reporters on Saturday that it wasn't as difficult as he expected.

Durant has run a 4.53.

Mike Walker—"He's got natural route-running ability. He attacks the ball. He certainly has the speed and he's playing at the speed he was timed at," Smith said of the third-round wide receiver from Central Florida.

Walker, who ran a 4.35 at the scouting combine, nearly made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone in red-zone passing drills Sunday morning. He opened eyes with how high he jumped in attempting to catch the pass.

Adam Podlesh—"He's got good leg strength. He has shown the things we saw in college," Smith said.

Translation? The fourth-round punter from Maryland is "killing" the ball in practice. His punts have been thunderous. Podlesh got the attention of Jaguars veterans coming onto the field for the start of practice, who were awakened by the sound of Podlesh's right foot on ball.

Uche Nwaneri—"He can play either guard spot. He has power and athletic ability. Just watching his movement skills, you can see he has good athleticism," Smith said of the fifth-round pick from Purdue.

Nwaneri moves with the ease and quickness of another kind of guard; a point guard in basketball. He has a powerful punch and has the look of a young player who only needs a year in the weight room before he'll challenge for a starting job.

Josh Gattis—"His ball skills are good. He's shown good range," Smith said of the Jaguars' second fifth-round pick, a quick-read safety from Wake Forest.

Gattis could so deepen the Jaguars at the safety position that he might allow Nelson to get some consideration down the road for a move to cornerback. Gattis ran a 4.49 for the Jaguars.

Derek Landri—"Quick, instinctive and playing with a lot of energy. The one thing he can do at the snap is get on the edge of the block," Smith said of the undersized defensive tackle from Notre Dame. Landri is the Jaguars' third pick in the fifth round.

John Broussard—"His speed is evident. The other thing he has done is he's caught the ball well. Some fast guys' hands are a question mark. His hands are not a question mark," Smith said of the first of three seventh-round picks. Broussard ran a 4.34 and is thought to be the fastest player on the Jaguars' roster.

Broussard could turn out to be the playmaking wide receiver the Jaguars have been trying to find since selecting Reggie Williams with the ninth overall pick in 2004. A year later, the Jaguars used the 21st overall pick on Matt Jones, who was also characterized as a playmaker. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Jaguars found their home-run hitter in the last round?

Chad Nkang—"He's got safety close ability. He shows potential as a 'dime' linebacker," Smith said of the seventh-round pick from Elon.

At 5-11, 220, Nkang isn't likely to be an every-downs player, but he's given the Jaguars reason to believe he can excel in substitution coverage packages. Nkang's most immediate impact could come on special teams. He has the look of a kick-coverage gunner. He ran in the mid 4.4's for the Jaguars.

Two other members of the rookie class – fourth-round defensive end Brian Smith of Missouri and seventh-round offensive tackle Andrew Carnahan of Arizona State – are recovering from injuries and are not practicing.

"All these guys athletically and from a speed standpoint certainly fit in the NFL," Smith said of the Jaguars draft class. "They're all competitors who are passionate about football."

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