The Jaguars have been all about small school players in the NFL Draft in recent seasons.
That continued Saturday. In a big way.
The Jaguars, who have selected 14 non-BCS Conference players in Gene Smith's three years as general manager, finished the 2011 NFL Draft having selected four such players, including all three Saturday selections.
*Cecil Shorts III, wide receiver, Mount Union.
*Chris Prosinski, safety, Wyoming.
*Rod Issac, cornerback, Middle Tennessee State.
Three selections, three smaller schools . . .
And a very definite 2011 draft-weekend trend.
"We're going to take the guys that we think can play," Jaguars Player Personnel Director Terry McDonough said.
The Jaguars on Thursday night made Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert the No. 10 overall selection, and while that selection will define the draft, the team's other four '11 selections were from smaller schools, a list that included Lehigh offensive guard/center Will Rackley (Round 3).
"I've said this before, I believe this, I told our scouts this, you hear about sleepers," Smith said Saturday after the Jaguars finished drafting. "I feel like the only sleeper is the scout that's sleeping in and not doing his job well enough. He should know his area."
Smith said when it comes to grading, "I go back to grading the player, not the school."
"Let's put it this way, there are certain positions in the draft that don't get over-drafted," he said. "There are certain schools in the draft that don't get over-drafted, smaller schools. You have to have a conviction now because you've done the work to project a guy at a level he's never played at when you've never seen him in the SEC. . . . They had a chip on their shoulder. A lot of these guys didn't get a scholarship so when the NCAA when to 85 and started spreading some of this talent out, players ended up other places. They weren't getting offered a scholarship when there are 100 scholarships and being a backup to an All-American.
"So I feel like it makes too much sense not to ensure that you're scouting all the schools the same way, although understanding the major emphasis is the major producers which are the I-A schools."
McDonough said the reality is when it comes time to draft, the team simply doesn't emphasize size of school.
"That's what the owner's paying us for, so we'll sink or swim with our decisions," McDonough said. "We really can't give in to the pressure, and on the other hand we're not going to sit here and invent guys. I'm not saying people didn't scout this guy. What I'm saying is in that round we liked that player and we think he can come in here and help us.
"We don't look a lot into that, we just don't. We really look at everything case by case individually. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. If the guy's a good player and we think he fits with what we're doing and the value is appropriate, we're going to pick the guy. And we're not going to worry about what perception is.
"Now we've had some success doing that the last couple of years and it's worked, and we understand if it doesn't work and the guy's not a player, we're going to hear it."
The Jaguars' Saturday started in fitting fashion, with the selection of Shorts (6-feet-0, 193 pounds), the first player from a Division III school selected since the Indianapolis Colts selected Pierre Garcon – also a wide receiver from Mount Union – in the seventh round in 2008.
The Jaguars selected Shorts No. 114 overall.
"I was just waiting to see my name called," Shorts said. "It was great when Jacksonville called. It was a great feeling."
According to D3football.com, Shorts is the highest-drafted Division III player of the last 11 such players selected.
Shorts believed he was the highest-drafted player ever from a Division III school, but the Cincinnati Bengals selected quarterback Ken Anderson from Augustana No. 67 overall in 1971.
Not that Shorts said he cared too much about the record.
"I was hoping to go as high as I can," Shorts said. "I did everything I could. I gave it my all throughout the whole process. It's a long process, but I loved every minute of it. I wasn't thinking about that. My personal goal was to try to go higher than Pierre (Garcon).
"He definitely paved the way for me. His success in the NFL definitely opened eyes up for me. I still had to do what I had to do on the field, but he definitely paved the way for me and is a big reason why I'm in this position today."
Shorts, who had been projected by some as a third-round selection, had met with the Jaguars twice – at the NFL Scouting Combine and at the East-West All-Star game in Orlando in January.
"I had a good idea coming into the draft they would take me," Shorts said.
Shorts caught 259 passes for 4,705 yards and 63 touchdowns at Mount Union, rushing 75 times for 492 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His receiving yardage was the third-highest total in Division III history.
McDonough scouted Shorts in the Division III National Championship Game, and McDonough also said he was the best wide receiver at the East-West Shrine game.
"We were talking amongst each other, Gene and I, 'this is the best guy here,''' McDonough said. "Then luckily for us he went up for a ball and pulled his hamstring on the second day. We were like, 'Thank God,' because the kid was really showing out. There were enough eyes down there, if he played in the game, if he kept doing that he wouldn't have been here in the fourth round."
Seven selections later, the Jaguars used their second fourth-round selection -- No. 121 overall – on Prosinski, a safety Smith said has a chance to contribute quickly.
Prosinski, a captain as a senior, visited the Jaguars before the draft.
"I got to sit down with (Jaguars Head) Coach (Jack) Del Rio, the GM and some of the position coaches and special teams coaches," he said, adding, "My goal right now is to go in there and compete and do everything I can to get on the field and help the organization and help the team win games.
"So whether that means just trying to find my role on special teams or in the starting lineup. That is all I can really say. I'm just going to go in there and compete and see what I can do."
Prosinski was not invited to the combine.
"A few days I was kind of down there," he said. "It was kind of a slow start but everything went real well since then. For me I knew I had one opportunity during my pro day and these visits. Just through this whole process, I just wanted to make sure I did everything right just so whether it happened or not I felt good about what I did and made most of the opportunity, and fortunately it worked out for the best."
The Jaguars, after trading up four selections to obtain Rackley Friday, did not have a sixth- or seventh-round selection. They finished the draft by selecting Issac with the 16th selection of the fifth round, the 147th selection overall.
"He's a very good tackler," said McDonough, who compared the selection to that of cornerback Derek Cox in 2009. "You saw that in all his tapes. We liked him all along. We targeted him. We thought we could get him in that round."
Smith and McDonough each called Issac one of the most physical cornerbacks in the draft, .
"He can run, he can play press and off," McDonough said. "He'll come in and he'll play for us this year."
Said Issac, "That's how I feel about myself and how I'm going to go about things coming into the Jaguars organization. I love to tackle. That's one of the points of my game that I put an emphasis on is tackling. Nowadays there is a big skeptic about corners being only cover guys, they don't really tackle. So I pride myself on covering but also I pride myself on tackling."
Smith, like McDonough, said Issac has a chance to play the nickel corner spot immediately.
"Right now I've got in my mindset that I'm going to come in and try to get myself a spot on every special team," he said. "That is no question. I have to get a spot on special teams and then I am going to fight for that starting nickel spot. Become a starter at nickel."