General Manager Gene Smith shouldn't have to leave the value line of his draft board to address the Jaguars' needs in this year's draft. That's the early forecast as the team heads to Indianapolis for this week's annual scouting combine.
"The strength is on the defensive side of the ball. The strength is the defensive line. It matches," Smith said of the talent in this draft and the Jaguars' needs, which appear to be greatest on the defensive side of the ball.
Specifically, the Jaguars need to improve their pass-rush, which produced a league-low and franchise-low 14 sacks last season. The good news is that this year's draft class is loaded with pass-rush prospects.
"I think it's a good group. You've got some 4-3 ends and some 3-4 outside linebackers, plus, you have some interior defensive linemen," Smith said.
Defensive ends selected in the first round of this year's draft might approach double figures. It's a group that's headed by edge pass-rushers Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech and Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida.
The Jaguars will have either the 10th or 11th overall pick, depending on a coin flip at the combine with the Denver Broncos. Morgan and Pierre-Paul would figure to be early candidates for the Jaguars but Smith confirmed to jaguars.com that he'd like to trade down and acquire an extra pick or picks, and the depth of the pass-rush crop would suggest that Smith could trade down and still get his man.
Florida's Carlos Dunlap, USC's Everson Griffen, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Mississippi's Greg Hardy are top prospects, and South Florida's George Selvie, Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds, Arkansas State's Alex Carrington and Murray State's Austen Lane are intriguing down-the-line prospects, and the list doesn't end there.
The list, in fact, is so deep and the Jaguars' need is so great that Smith could find a pass-rusher at the top of his board on multiple occasions. Smith said he will remain firm in his commitment to drafting the best available player.
Will you stick to it, he was asked?
"Yes," he said. "I hope we can match best available player with some areas on defense where we need improvement. There's a good likelihood we might be able to do that."
Smith is coming off a blockbuster draft in 2009, his first draft as the Jaguars' boss of all bosses in all matters pertaining to personnel. Smith's first gutsy move as draft boss was to trade this year's second-round pick to select cornerback Derek Cox from William and Mary last year in the third round. Cox immediately became a starter and led the Jaguars in interceptions last season with four.
Now Smith would like to get that second-round pick back and he's hoping the Jaguars' pick in the first round this year will be high enough to entice a team to come up for a player, as the Jets did last year for quarterback Mark Sanchez. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen are the bait this year and winning the coin toss for the 10th pick could turn out to be the difference in trading down.
"We'd certainly entertain the possibility of acquiring more picks," Smith said.
He's also hoping the league will award two compensatory picks to the Jaguars for having sustained a net loss in free agency last year. The Jags are also without their pick in round seven, it having been traded to Tampa Bay for quarterback Luke McCown.
Smith's draft board has already been stacked. He'll use the combine to acquire information from medical exams, player interviews and psychological testing and he'll use that information to make subtle modifications to the board.
"Trust the tape," Smith said of the fall scouting season. "That's why we stack the draft board before the combine, based on padded exposures. We just concluded our predraft meetings, where we stacked our draft board. The board is going to change more from things we'll find out medically and character-wise than from ability. Once we conclude that, we really start to build our value line, regardless of position. Rank takes precedent over grade; how you would pull them off the draft board."
Last year's draft was considered to be offense-heavy, with 19 of the 32 first-round picks having been offensive players. The Jags, of course, made offensive tackle Eugene Monroe their first-round pick. The first round of this year's draft is expected to be concentrated with defensive players.