Many analysts and fans were surprised when the Jaguars selected punter Bryan Anger in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Anger was a bit surprised, too, but not shocked.
Anger, who played at California and who was graded as a third-to-fourth-round selection by some draft analysts, was expected to be drafted, and he felt like he had a good connection with Jaguars special teams coach John Bonamego.
Bonamego worked Anger out in California before the draft.
"I was hopeful that I could get the chance to get picked up early but I really had no clue," said Anger, who is considered a good directional punter in addition to possessing a strong leg.
"You never know with punting and kicking, they always end up going later. It was a big surprise but I was hoping I could get it."
Anger, the No. 70 selection overall, finished four seasons with a 43.51-yard average, and forced 75 fair catches with 90 punts inside the 20. He had a 44.25-yard average with 13 fair catches and 19 punts inside the 20 as a senior.
"He's got all the things to become an outstanding punter at this level," said Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith, who compared Anger's leg strength to Oakland punter Shane Lechler, widely considered the NFL's best punter.
Smith said the reasoning behind the move will be obvious soon enough.
"I think it will be evident when you get a chance to see him punt," Smith said.
A GOOD FIT
Andre Branch won't have a problem believing in Joe Cullen. He sure doesn't have a problem believing in himself.
Cullen, the Jaguars' defensive line coach, told Branch – a defensive end from Clemson University – before the draft that there was a good chance Jacksonville would take him if available.
That's just what happened early Friday evening, when the Jaguars used the No. 6 selection of the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft – the No. 38 selection overall – to take a player who finished 15th in the nation with 10.5 sacks last season.
"I'm just happy to be in Jacksonville," Branch said, adding of Cullen, "He said they needed a pass rusher and I know I'm a great pass rusher so I knew I would be a great fit for them."
Jaguars Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough said drafting Branch was a case of need meeting value. The team needed a pass rusher and had Branch at the top of the draft board when selected, but McDonough said had Branch not been there they likely would have gone a different direction.
McDonough called Branch a good fit, and Branch said he couldn't agree more.
"I'm here to rush the passer and that's what they wanted me to do," he said. "I'm ready to do that."
McDonough said while many analysts saw Branch as possibly a 3-4 outside linebacker the Jaguars saw him as a 4-3 end, which Branch said is his "natural position."
"I feel that is why Jacksonville picked me," he said. "I feel greatly appreciated and blessed to have the opportunity to play there. I feel like I can't be blocked one on one. That's what the thing is, who's will is better. I feel like one on one I can't be blocked and with that mentality I know I can't be stopped."
Branch said while he emulates Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, as of Friday, "Right now Andre Branch is my favorite player and will always be my favorite player."
CULLEN: BRANCH HAS GREAT MOTOR
Cullen said there's a lot to like about Branch and said while Branch lasted into the second round, he has skills that could translate into an effective NFL pass-rusher.
"He has a great motor," Cullen said. "He plays hard. He has the ability as an edge rusher. He can beat the tackle with speed and he has the ability to finish plays. He can beat the tackle with speed and has the ability to bend. He has the ability to finish plays. He has the ability drop his shoulder and close on the quarterback."
Cullen said he would like to see Branch use his power more.
"He played hard," he said. "That was the big thing."
Cullen said another factor played into Branch's drafting: toughness.
Cullen knows Branch's coach at Richmond (Va.) High School, Gary Chilcoat, well after coaching at the University of Richmond for eight seasons. Chilcoat told Cullen Branch was the toughest player he ever coached.
Cullen said Branch has a chance to develop into the most athletic pass rusher on the Jaguars' roster.
WHAT SMITH SAYS (ABOUT ANGER)
"When you going into the draft you're trying to acquire players that you feel can improve the talent on your roster. He's got a chance to be a very good punter in this league for a long time."
WHAT MULARKEY SAYS (ABOUT ANGER)
"People can look at it that way (that taking a punter in the third round was too high). I think when he performs and does what we just drafted him to do, I think they may have a different view on things. I'm a special teams guy. I know you win games week in and week out on special teams. It can be the difference in the game."
WHAT ANGER SAYS
"I'm just looking forward to the opportunity coming out there and winning the spot and establishing myself as one of the top guys. I think I can do it. I think I can do it fairly early and I'm just looking for the chance and got it."
WHAT MCDONOUGH SAYS (ABOUT THE FIRST TWO SELECTIONS)
"We are a draft-the-best-available-player team. It just happened to work out that two of our needs coincided with who the best players were. We were fortunate to match needs with value and we're very excited about the two players we selected with the first two picks."
WHAT CULLEN SAYS (ABOUT BRANCH)
"He's very confident in his abilities. He's a competitor. He's not a guy that is going to back down from anything."
The Jaguars will enter the final day of the 2012 NFL Draft with selections in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. They traded their fourth-round selection – the No. 101 selection overall – to the Buccaneers to move up two spots in the first round to take WR Justin Blackmon.
The criticism over the Anger selection was quick and intense. Among Jaguars fans, while few had a problem with using a draft selection on a punter, many wondered why the need to use a third-rounder. This is a team with multiple needs elsewhere, and an argument can be made that punters are only on the field a limited number of times a game. That's a valid argument, but Smith said Anger was the highest-rated player on the board at No. 70, and said he considers Anger a starting-level player. That, he said, outweighed getting a backup player at another position. I get the concern over taking a special teams player so early, and I'm not sure I disagree, but I'd offer the following story as an argument for the selection. In the post-season following the 2008 season, I watched Chargers punter Mike Scifres averaged 51.7 yards a punt against the Colts. His punts completely turned the game's momentum and allowed the Chargers to win a game the Colts otherwise likely could have won, and perhaps should have won. The previous off-season, Scifres had a similar effort in a game that also knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. I don't know that Anger will be Scifres, but in some cases – especially in the post-season – a punter who can flip the field can matter.
*Branch said while he watched the draft Thursday and thought he might be a first-round selection, he didn't worry much and didn't lose sleep that night. "When you get to know me you will know I won't ever have a problem falling asleep," he said, laughing. Branch said he wasn't nervous entering Friday. "I'm just happy to finally have a new home," he said.
*While Branch is similar in size to former Jaguars defensive end Derrick Harvey, McDonough said he is different in two important ways. "Branch can bend, and he can close – he can flex his hips and accelerate to the quarterback," he said.
*Anger on comparisons to Lechler, widely considered the NFL's best punter: "I hope I could live up to his name and the things he's done. That's what I work for. I watch him and see what he does. I would definitely love to become the player he has become eventually. He's amazing."
*Cullen said while Branch was primarily a right end at Clemson, he can play either side. He said Jaguars defensive Jeremy Mincey also can play either side and that the team will see where Branch feels more comfortable. "The great thing about Jeremy is he can play both sides and I think that he (Branch) could," Cullen said.