We're starting to close on draft day – three weeks from this Saturday – and the first in-focus picture of the Jaguars' first-round prospects is beginning to present itself.
From where this reporter sits, eight names are prominent. They represent the first "short" list of Jaguars prospects. Here they are:
Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa—He's not supposed to be available when the Jaguars pick at 28. The worst scenario is that he would go off the board right before the Jaguars are to pick. The fact that there's thought that he might even get close to the Jags makes Greenway a mentionable. He would be the perfect pick for this team. He would represent a meeting of need and the best available player. Ernie Sims will already be gone, but Greenway might be a better fit anyhow. He's an every-downs linebacker; Sims is probably going to come off the field in "nickel." Greenway can run, hit and cover. If he starts to fall toward the Jags, the team will have to begin thinking about trading up to get him. That's how perfect he would be for the Jags.
DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama—Ryans is an ultra-productive player, but he doesn't have Greenway's size. That's the difference. If Greenway goes early, eyes will turn toward Ryans.
Leonard Pope, TE, Georgia—This is a big guy; 6-7. Pope would present another tall target for Byron Leftwich and the Jaguars need to develop a young tight end. Pope is a former basketball player who's learning to play football, and that gives him a lot of upside. But what about that height? Does that also make him a big target for defenders?
Mercedes Lewis, TE, UCLA—Here's another tall guy; 6-6. Lewis, however, is nothing like Pope. Lewis is a Shannon Sharpe clone, which is to say a wide receiver who will line up at tight end. Lewis is not a blocker. Is that what Jack Del Rio wants in his quest of a power-running game?
Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, Boston College—When last season began, Kiwanuka was considered a top five pick. In BC's bowl game the previous year, Kiwanuka looked like the next Julius Peppers. It's not as though Kiwanuka had a bad senior season; quite the contrary. It's just that he didn't play with the force expected of him. Does he have the skills necessary to succeed at the NFL level, or was he successful on the college level merely because his size and athletic ability overwhelmed ordinary players? He's big, fast and athletic, and he's also a high-character guy. If he fell to 28, he'd be tough to ignore.
Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State—He's not as big as Kiwanuka but Hali can run and no one, but no one, will out-work him. The question is: At a shade under 6-3, will Hali be gobbled up by behemoth tackles? That concern is causing Hali to fall, even though he plays one of the most premium positions in the game. What if he falls to the Jaguars?
LenDale White, RB, USC—He's falling hard as a result of a poor pro-day workout. Let's not forget that the head coach is a USC grad and his running backs coach coached White at USC a couple of years ago. Hmmm, makes you think, doesn't it? White's a pounder. He's this draft's only pounder and Del Rio made reference recently about wanting a power-running game. But what about Greg Jones? Might the Jaguars already have White on their roster?
Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State—Had he not lost last season to ACL surgery, Cromartie might be a top-five pick. He's big, he's fast, he's athletic. Cromartie has it all. He's a rare specimen at the most premium of positions, but he's only eight months removed from knee reconstruction. Cromartie turned in a great 40 time at the combine, but declined to do the cone drill. He ran great at his pro day and turned in an OK cone drill. Is he all the way back? He would represent a major risk/reward decision for a team that already spent $10 million on a cornerback in free agency, but don't think Cromartie won't be a serious consideration by the Jaguars if he's available at 28. You don't turn your nose up at a guy of his talent, regardless of need or lack of it.
There's the first "short" list handicapping. Maybe the Jags' pick will come from that list of eight names; maybe it won't. The picture, however, is beginning to clear just a bit.