JACKSONVILLE – Keep an eye on quarterback.
That's always wise in the NFL Draft – and even if the Jaguars don't select one in Round 1, what happens at the position early in the 2020 NFL Draft could determine who will be available for the team's first selection at No. 9 overall.
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects three quarterbacks in the Top 5 and discussed perhaps the most intriguing of the three – Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama – Wednesday.
"The medical … is going to determine everything," Kiper said on a pre-NFL Scouting Combine conference call Wednesday afternoon.
Tagovailoa underwent two ankle procedures at Alabama, and his season-ending hip injury this past November is one of the major pre-draft storylines. Kiper said how teams assess the injury will determine if Tagovailoa is the draft's third or fourth selection or if he slips to Nos. 11-15.
"I think he goes in the Top 5," Kiper said "The medical technology has come so far, and the reports so far have been pretty positive. Well see. But even if you have to medically redshirt him his first year … There's nothing wrong with letting his body heal, and that may be needed."
Kiper projected Tagovailoa to the Detroit Lions at No. 3 overall in his most recent mock draft with a caveat that he could go to a team trading with the Lions. He projected quarterback Joe Burrow of Louisiana State to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 overall and quarterback Justin Herbert of Oregon to the Miami Dolphins at No. 5.
Kiper said the question with Herbert isn't so much talent as intangibles.
"We know he has the athletic, physical talent – the arm talent, the athleticism, the mobility," Kiper said. "We know how intelligent he is. We know what a great kid he is. Is he instinctive enough as a quarterback and does he have that 'It' factor to be that incredible, off-the-charts competitor that a lot of times separates the good ones from the average ones, the great ones from the good ones? I think that's what teams really want to find out."
SIMMONS OR KINLAW AT NO. 9?
When it comes to the Jaguars at No. 9, most analysts recently have projected Clemson safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons or South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Kiper agrees, having projected Kinlaw to the Jaguars in his first '20 mock draft on January 24. He projected Simmons to the Jaguars in this week's mock and Kinlaw to the Indianapolis Colts. "I had him (Kinlaw) going to Jacksonville at No. 9 in Mock 1.0, but things changed thing since then with Simmons getting pushed down into that spot," Kiper said. Kiper, like many analysts, has Kinlaw just behind Derrick Brown of Auburn as the top two defensive tackles. "If Brown's going No. 7 [to the Carolina Panthers], you can make a strong case that Kinlaw can't be far after,'' Kiper said.
DEEP YEAR AT WIDE RECEIVER
Wide receiver is another position that could define Round 1, though Kiper agrees with most analysts that any "run" at that position likely won't start until just outside the Top 10. Kiper mocked Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb as the first wide receiver selected – at No. 11 overall to the New York Jets – followed by Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 12. Kiper cited Lamb's versatility – the ability to play slot or outside – as a reason for a slight edge over Jeudy. Wide receiver is considered perhaps the draft's deepest position. "At wide receiver, you can find guys who may be better as second-round picks than some of the guys who go in the first round; I like a lot of these second-round receivers," Kiper said, adding that wide receivers such as Tee Higgins of Clemson and Henry Ruggs III of Alabama could be mid-Round 1. Kiper said 25 could be selected in the first three and a half rounds – and possibly 13 in the first two rounds. "This is going to be maybe historic," he said.
*Kiper said Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah could be one of the draft's top two players, comparing him favorably to Arizona Cardinals perennial All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson in terms of draft status. Kiper had Peterson ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft. "Okudah's right up there," Kiper said, adding that Okudah could be around third on his "big board" with Tagovailoa and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. "Okudah will be on most boards one of the top two or three players," he said. "Some may have him No. 1, right behind Chase Young. I think Okudah's going to go very, very early." …
*Kiper on Wednesday said he had a fourth-round grade on Oklahoma and former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, adding that Hurts could have a similar role to New Orleans Saints reserve quarterback Taysom Hill – who plays situationally behind and with Drew Brees. "If you get a creative coordinator like what [Saints Head Coach] Sean Payton does with Taysom, get him involved, give defensive coordinators different looks, different things to prepare for … I think that will be Jaylen Hurts' role in the NFL," Kiper said. …