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O-Zone: Bayou boys

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

JT from Palm Coast, FL

Color you shocked then, huh?

This email came immediately after the Jaguars selected Louisiana State University defensive lineman Maason Smith No. 48 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft Friday – and yes, the selection surprised me very much. I, like many observers, figured cornerback was the selection there because I believed there was an obvious need there. A run on cornerback from Nos. 40-43 likely went a long way to changing the team's course. But remember: The draft isn't always about filling immediate needs – and in fact, the draft ideally is faaaaaar more about value than need. The Jaguars know their needs and they know cornerback is one of those needs. The fact that they chose wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. in Round 1 and Smith in Round 2 knowing these things shows you what they thought of Thomas and Smith. One other thought on the Smith selection: While I know many fans coveted corner there, remember how many games late in the 2023 season were lost because the Jaguars simply were not strong, deep or stout enough on the defensive front? This was a move to ensure that situation improves in the short- and long-term.

Michael from Orange Park, FL

I'm meh on this draft, Zone. What say you?

I say this is my 30th NFL Draft, and the first 29 have taught me a couple of things. One is that the feeling during and immediately after a draft has little to do with the eventual quality of the draft. Another is that the excitement of drafts is often misplaced because rookies rarely impact a team all that significantly in terms of adding victories or even making immediate impact. Here's the reality: This probably wasn't going to be an "exciting" draft for the Jaguars. They entered with the No. 17 overall selection in Round 1, and it was going to be very expensive to move up high enough to draft one of the top three wide receivers. It also wasn't considered an overly deep draft, which makes it difficult for teams to boldly move up because teams don't care all that much abut acquiring later-round selections in a "shallow draft." Was this a "meh" draft? Not if Thomas makes the offense more explosive and Smith makes this defensive line stouter and more physical. Stay tuned.

Jon from Jax Beach

How in the world is anyone buying Baalke saying Thomas was the pick at No. 17? If he's the pick, you pick him. Period. Who is he trying to fool?

Saying "If he's the pick, you pick him" sounds great. It's bold and it sounds great enough you almost think it's true. And then you remember it's not necessarily true.

Scott from Jacksonville

Seems kind of strange that the Jags would trade back like that if Thomas was the guy they wanted all along. Were they hoping someone else would take him, forcing their hand into taking cornerback? Hey, kudos to them for getting the extra picks and the guy they "hoped for all along!"

It's not particularly strange. They liked Thomas at No. 17, but also liked enough players at No. 17 that they felt comfortable that they could trade back and select a player of essentially equal value.

Deane from Daytona Beach, FL

Yo, O-Zone! Ok, so we didn't get the corner in Round 1. Instead, we got a beast of a wide receiver for quarterback Trevor Lawrence! Looking forward to Trevor slinging it downfield! In Round 2 we got our big ugly, Maason Smith! Love this pick!

One fer Smith.

Tom from Sanford

Well, he whiffed on getting a starting cornerback, but he beat the rush for injured defensive tackles, so one for Baalke!

I was surprised the Jaguars didn't select a cornerback in one of the first two rounds. I have a tough time not liking selections that strengthen this team's lines.

Jim from the edge of the Okefenokee

Make the catch in the red zone and score and stop the run. If you watched the end of last season, HOW can you complain with these first two picks??

It is my experience people can find a way to complain about most things if they are so inclined. They typically don't find it all that difficult.

SteveC from Cardiff, UK

D, D and more D was the vibe we were getting on the draft. What is your take on why we went the other way?

This question seems to assume two things, with one being that the NFL Draft ends after Round 1 and the other being that teams select first-round players based solely on need. Neither assumption is true, particularly not for teams that want to build strong top-to-bottom rosters for the long term.

John from Dripping Springs, TX

Why do they call the 167th pick Round 5? 32 x 5 = 160. Having more than 32 picks in any one round seems a little misleading. Could it have something to do with the rookie pay scale?

Because compensatory selections.

Stephen from Jacksonville

Why does a team trade one spot up to make their pick?

To prevent another team from trading into the spot and selecting the player they want.

Zach from Jacksonville

Trying my best to spin this in a way that Trent Baalke looks like he didn't know what he's doing. Still working on it.

I guess I'm not sure what to do with this topic anymore. Baalke in his fourth season as the Jaguars' general manager has "general managed" the Jaguars out of the depths of having the NFL's worst record in 2020 and 2021 to the franchise's back-to-back winning seasons since 2005 and 2006. He did this while digging the team out of a bad roster, which meant having to overuse free agency during the building process. He hasn't made perfect moves because no general manager makes perfect moves. He hasn't drafted perfectly because no general manager does that, either. He has done a few things I would have done differently, most notably it seems from this view there's some risk with some age in some key spots entering 2024. But that's nitpicking. This is a better roster and better team now than a few years back. Baalke has been part of that. Did he know what he was doing in this draft? We'll know in a few years.

Tom from Cairo, Egypt

Me in the group chat with the boys two hours before draft time. "If I have to say a name, I'm saying Brian Thomas. LSU wide receivers are almost always beasts. Everyone seems to be predicting cornerback, but I would rather push all the chips into just making sure the offense is functional to see if Trevor actually is a guy or not." You're welcome, Trent.

Not everyone is this awesome. Congratulations.

MrMakersMark from E 3rd Street

Not a question, just a statement about your article concerning the Jaguars picking a wide receiver. You could have left this part out and not reminded us..."Thomas also became the fifth wide receiver selected by the Jaguars in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. They previously selected Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State, No. 5 overall, 2012), Matt Jones (Arkansas, No. 21 overall, 2005), Reggie Williams (Washington, No. 9 overall, 2004) and R. Jay Soward (Southern California, No. 29 overall, 2000) in their respective first rounds." :-(

Why would I have left that part out? When writing about the Jaguars in the NFL Draft, I try to include the Round 1 history with as much historical context as is reasonable no matter the position of the Round 1 selection. It's not overly pertinent to how the player will fare, but it's a topic. So it's included.

Anita from Springfield

I for one love the investment in the defensive line with the second pick. I also had noticed that there are still several good veteran cornerbacks in free agency who could likely be signed on one-year deals (according to websites). Do you see the team pursuing something like that after missing out on the front-line cornerbacks in the draft, and could that have been a contingency plan all along?

The draft isn't over yet, but I wouldn't rule this out.

Lance from Lebanon, TN

Why, if the intent is to stretch the field, would you not take the speedster out of Texas? He's not only fast but runs good routes and has a good history of catching the ball! Disappointed in not taking a cornerback when either of the top two could have been selected. Kick that can down the road and we can all watch this defense be torched next year with young inexperienced corners.

The Jaguars selected Thomas because they thought he was the best player on the board at the time, and that he was a better value at the spot than anyone else available. I thought they were going to select cornerback in Round 1, but if they had Thomas graded higher he was the right selection.

Tom from The Mean Streets of Nocatee


Good one, Tom.