ORLANDO—The Jaguars aren't in the most enviable of positions in this year's NFL draft. They only have six picks and 27 teams are ahead of them in the order. So, given that limited draft status, what can the Jaguars expect to accomplish?
"The one thing we know we can do is pick six players," personnel boss James Harris said as NFL execs left this week's owners meetings.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, their needs aren't many. Three years ago, when Harris and coach Jack Del Rio contemplated their first draft together, the Jaguars had needs at nearly every position. Now, their only pressing need is for a linebacker.
Sure, Harris and Del Rio would like to address some other positions, but linebacker is the team's only screaming need and in a draft class that's deep at the linebacker position, finding a guy at the weakside position shouldn't be that difficult, even at the bottom of the first round.
"You can't do all the things you want to do. You just hope they come off the board according to your board. If there's a run and they pick your guy, you just can't pick the next guy at that position," Harris said.
"Most people look at the starters. We're looking at the 53-man roster," Harris added. "Keep making your roster better. If you make your team better every year, then we'll get in the playoffs."
Three years of roster-building produced a 12-4 record last season and the Jaguars' first trip to the playoffs in six years. Advancing in the playoffs may now fall on the shoulders of Harris' three first-round picks, for it's improvement on offense that is most necessary.
"Byron is progressing. He didn't make the big mistakes to get us beat," Harris said of quarterback Byron Leftwich's performance last season. "People think he's been around longer than he has. Last year he had a new coordinator. We think he'll make improvement this year."
Leftwich was a more efficient passer last season. His touchdown to interception ratio was 3-1 and his 89.3 passer rating is the highest of his career. Under offensive coordinator Carl Smith, the Jaguars made gains in nearly every way last season, but in Leftwich's first game back from a broken ankle, the Jaguars managed only three points in their playoff loss to New England.
What will it take for the Jaguars to get over the hump on offense? Leftwich is only part of the equation, though, clearly, the greatest part. The Jaguars also need their young wide receivers to become play-makers.
"It takes a number of receivers 2-3 years to come on. He's tough," Harris said of 2004 first-round pick Reggie Williams. "He had a big training camp last year. We think this is a big offseason for him. He has the ability to be a good receiver in the NFL."
Last season's first-round pick, Matt Jones, showed play-making ability in spurts as a rookie. Jones was making the transition from college quarterback to pro wide receiver and it's hoped he'll make that move fully in 2006.
"Matt Jones is a natural play-maker. He made a contribution. There's still a lot to learn," Harris said.
Another draft pick, running back Greg Jones, will also play a key role in the Jaguars' quest to, in Del Rio's words, "go to the next level" in '06. Jones was the Jaguars' feature back when Fred Taylor was injured last season and Jones gave Del Rio reason to expand Jones' ball-carrying opportunities this year.
"He's been over a hundred yards. He's shown he has NFL running skills. Last year he was as good a blocking fullback as there is in the game. He's a player you love," Harris said.
The Jaguars will look specifically for a linebacker in this draft, but the other pieces would seem to be in place. Three years of drafting and roster-building would seem to have left the Jaguars in a position of just do it.
"We have a good organization; a good personnel department. Jack has gotten the players to buy into the system. We have to continue to upgrade the roster; continue to make sure we have competition," Harris said.