By all appearances – though the draft remains more than a month away – the time-honored clash of "need" vs. "best available player" philosophies won't occur when the Jaguars select with what would be the ninth overall pick. This team desperately needs a young, star-quality receiver and an every-downs defensive end, and it's very likely one of the two will be at the top of the Jaguars' board when it's their turn to select.
Manipulate this year's list of top candidates any way you wish, but it's almost impossible not to have a Roy Williams, Will Smith or Kenechi Udeze available for the Jaguars. They are the early leaders in the rumor "clubhouse" to be the Jaguars' pick, and they all have something in common.
Williams is everything a team could possibly want in the way of talent at wide receiver. He's big, he's fast, he's athletic. His measurables are off the chart. Williams is a workout wonder, an athletic marvel, but he may be on the board when the Jaguars pick because Williams' intangibles are suspect. He's had a penchant for disappearing in the big games. He's led some to believe he lacks passion for the game. In other words, after the team that selects Williams is finished cheering their decision, they'll begin biting their fingernails.
Smith just had a knockout personal workout in which he ran nearly as fast as his Ohio State teammate, cornerback Chris Gamble. Smith was timed in the 40 at 4.58 and 4.62. He threw 225 pounds around as though he was a defensive tackle, and leaped better than would be expected from most wide receivers. The Ohio State defensive end is everything a team could want in a young talent, but there's concern for his rather ordinary size (6-2, 267). In other words, right after the team that selects Smith is finished cheering their pick, they'll begin worrying.
Udeze will workout for scouts on March 24 and, without a doubt, the Jaguars will be represented in a big way at that workout. Udeze is a major physical talent. The scouts say there's no way he won't hit a home run; maybe even to a greater degree than Smith did. The USC defensive end is everything you could want in a young talent, but there's great concern for the unknown. Udeze came to USC as a 380-pound offensive lineman. He's since made a very successful transition to defensive end, where he dominated his Michigan counterpart in the Rose Bowl. Oh, did he dominate him. But there's not a lot of information or tape on Udeze, he's coming out early and he'd have to rank as a courageous choice if he was drafted in the top 10. In other words, right after the team that selects Udeze is finished cheering, they'll begin worrying.
Of course, it can be said of any draft choice – except Jim Brown – that something in his background made him a risk. Tony Boselli had knee troubles. Fred Taylor was a draw runner in a finesse offense.
But Williams, Smith and Udeze offer concerns that go beyond ordinary, and that makes you look around at the other candidates and ask, "Are there players who offer less upside but also less risk?" Well, yes, there are, but the problem is they address neither of those two time-honored philosophies. They would not fill one of the Jaguars' priority needs, and they would not be the best available player.
Hmmm, maybe this draft requires a new approach. How about "safest available player?"