INDIANAPOLIS—When the Jaguars traded up to the eighth selection in last year's NFL draft, they had their pick of any offensive tackle in the draft other than Jake Long, but they picked defensive end Derrick Harvey, largely because the Jaguars had a desperate need at that position. Now, the Jaguars face an even more desperate need at left tackle and Terry McDonough, the team's director of player personnel, says it's important not to fall into the same trap.
"What's got us in trouble the past six years is we haven't had the take-the-best-available-player philosophy. We picked players we had to have. Every time we picked players we needed, we got ourselves into a jackpot. If you say we need to take a left tackle, you set yourself up for failure," McDonough said as the Jaguars prepared for Saturday's offensive line workouts at the NFL scouting combine.
McDonough is one of four men who received title promotions in a reconstruction of the Jaguars personnel department that began with the resignation of former personnel director James "Shack" Harris and the subsequent promotion of Gene Smith to general manager. McDonough came to the Jaguars from the Ravens in 2003 and is considered to have a keen eye for talent and a command of the big picture.
"I don't think we're falling into that trap," McDonough said of the need-based drafting formula that has seemed to be the team's first-round philosophy of the past six years.
The challenge Smith is facing in his first-ever draft as the Jaguars' boss of personnel is this: How do you fix a roster that has many needs, when you only have six picks?
"You can always move back and pick up picks, especially if there's a quarterback there a team covets or a player that's slipped. You start looking at who has the picks. That's one way. The other way is to not miss," McDonough said.
Free agency begins on Friday, Feb. 27, and though the Jaguars aren't expected to be active in the early days of the signing period, it's becoming apparent the team will have to at least dip into the less-expensive pool of free-agent talent. Simply put, the Jaguars' needs are many and the draft won't solve all of their problems.
"You answered the question yourself when you said you have a ton of needs and only six picks. But I think people know we're not going to be major players (in free agency)," McDonough said.
"The first wave (of free-agent players) we've signed hasn't worked for us," McDonough said of expensive free-agent signings such as Hugh Douglas, Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence, all of whom were disappointments and quickly cut. "The more guys you pay money to, the more (compensatory picks you're) going to lose.
"Gene has a draft-first mentality. You wish you had more than six picks, but would we supplement this thing through free agency? Yeah, but we're not going to spend the owner's money foolishly," McDonough added.
A third vehicle for talent acquisition, undrafted free agency, might be especially attractive this year, based on a deep and talented draft class that is likely to see productive players slip into the ranks of the undrafted. For those undrafted players, the Jaguars would represent a team of opportunity, which would give Smith and company a strong selling point.
Where does a defensive tackle such as Sammie Hill of Stillman College fit in this draft? He's 6-4, 327 and has a Grady Jackson look to him, but he played at a lower level and his postseason has been dogged by injury; he's expected to be a non-participant in the combine workouts and he only practiced one day at the East-West Shrine Game before being sidelined by injury.
How about North Carolina wide receiver Brandon Tate (pictured), who was thought to be headed toward a high draft selection until he tore an ACL in early October? Where is Tate in his rehab and should a team draft him with the future in mind?
Smith, McDonough and an army of Jaguars scouts and coaches are in Indianapolis to make those kinds of decisions. Offensive linemen work out on Saturday, quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers work out on Sunday and defensive players will show their stuff on Monday. These next three days will send the Jaguars back home to further tweak their draft board.
"If teams draft based on what a guy did on film, as opposed to what he did here, they'll have a higher degree of success. Is (the combine) important? Yes. Do people make the mistake of weighing it too heavily? Yes," McDonough said.
What's important for the Jaguars is to make sure they don't try to do too much. It's a certainty that they won't be able to address all of their needs in this draft. The picks they have, they must use wisely.
"It's not like we need a few pieces. We need a lot of pieces. We need players everywhere," McDonough said. "You have to hit on those first three picks."