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Next week is critical


It's the most important week of the draft season. If the Jaguars truly are a team that embraces the "best available player" philosophy, what will happen in their draft room next week will be every bit as important – maybe even more important – than the decisions they'll announce on April 24. You see, for true "best available player" teams, those draft-day decisions will be made next week.

"We're in the final phase. The coaches and scouts meet all next week. We come together and put the emphasis on coming up with a 'we' grade. We start stacking the (players) by grades; by position and overall," Jaguars Director of College Scouting Gene Smith said.

In other words, next week the Jaguars assemble their "value board;" from one to 301, figuratively speaking. They'll spend more than eight hours a day for five days putting those players in the proper order, and all across the league the process will be repeated by the other 31 teams, and no two boards will be the same.

Don't ever forget that fact: No two boards are the same. That's why there are surprise picks. Who thought Jonathan Sullivan would be the sixth player chosen last year? Apparently the Saints thought he was worth it. Mel Kiper didn't think Marcus Stroud was worthy of the 13th pick of the 2001 draft. Kiper tagged Stroud the most overdrafted player on the board, but the Jaguars thought Stroud was worth the pick and last season Stroud validated that opinion by being selected to the Pro Bowl.

So, if you've already decided who's going to be gone and who's going to be available when it's the Jaguars' turn to pick at number nine, you might want to reconsider. In fact, you might even want to get off the Roy Williams/Kenechi Udeze train and consider some players who would, well, surprise you.

Would it surprise you if the Jaguars selected Tommie Harris? It would? Why? He's a defensive tackle a lot of scouts believe might be better suited to play defensive end, and Smith will tell you Harris has some serious pass-rush potential.

"He has the capability of being a better pass-rusher at the NFL level than he was in college. He was inside in college and was double-teamed the majority of the time," Smith said.

That's the kind of information that will be discussed in draft rooms across the league next week. Players will rise and fall based on projections.

Consider the plight of Virginia Tech running back Kevin Jones, who fell hard on the value boards of draftniks everywhere when Jones ran 4.6 in his pro day. All of a sudden a player who had never been caught from behind, who was a breakaway back in college, was regarded as slow-footed.

What wasn't provided from Jones' pro-day workout – it's not the scouts' job to provide information, only accumulate it – was that Jones' 40 time was seriously compromised by a flaw in his starting technique. He would raise his hand from the ground before he would move his feet. The scouts began their watches on Jones' first movement, which damaged his official time, but the flaw was duly noted by the scouts and it's very possible Jones' stock did not fall as hard as thought. By the way, the rest of his pro-day workout was "AAA," especially a pass-catching display that was most surprising.

Gee, is there any chance the draft won't go exactly as we believe it will? What if Detroit goes hard for need and picks Steven Jackson? What if the three quarterbacks are the first three picks of the draft? What if there's a mini-run on "big guys," or on speed or need?

In other words, it's too early to tell. All we know for sure, provided the Jaguars truly are a "best available player" team, is that a good player will be available when the Jaguars step up to the "plate." We don't know what position that guy plays, but this is a draft that certainly has nine good players in it and that assures the Jaguars of getting one. Smith says he has no doubt.

"That's the main emphasis he brought in," Smith said of the impact personnel boss James Harris' "best available player" philosophy has had on the Jaguars. "The draft is set up with that in mind. The order in which you select is based on your prior season's record. Why not take advantage of the system?" Smith added.

Smith agrees the strength of this draft could cause "need" and "best available player" to meet when the Jags pick. He's hoping that'll happen, but he also has no fears should it not occur.

"I think your assessment of what was accomplished in free agency and where there's value in the draft; I think you're accurate," Smith said.

That assessment is that the Jaguars attacked all of their major need areas except two, wide receiver and defensive end, and that leads us all to believe the Jaguars' first-round pick will play one of those two positions. But "best available player" teams aren't as simple as that.

"The draft is for value and we'll stay with value, so nothing is etched in stone," Smith said.

Not until next week. Next week, the true "best available player" teams begin the chiseling process.

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