O-Zone: Shipbuilding

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Mike from Atlanta, GA:
It seems like this is "supposed to be" a very good defensive line, whatever "supposed to be" means. Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson would start on nearly every team in the league. I think Yannick Ngakoue can be a 10-sack-per-year guy. Abry Jones is definitely a solid, reliable starter. Sheldon Day may be a consistent, disruptive presence. I'm only unsure of Dante Fowler Jr.; he is very athletic, but hasn't developed much. What do you think about the defensive line?
John: I think the Jaguars' defensive line should be a good bit better than last season, with the addition of Campbell and the assumed Year 2 improvement of Ngakoue accounting for the "good-bit" part. That's a good thing for the Jaguars because the defensive line for the most part was good last season. I'm using the word "good" a lot in this answer by design, because you must avoid terms such as great or even "team strength" until this line shows it can rush the passer in big situations. That was the line's main shortcoming last season and it still appears an elite pass-rusher away from "great." That's why the Year 2 improvement of Ngakoue and the question of whether Fowler can begin to make strides toward being elite are such key questions. Can Ngakoue develop into a consistent double-digit-sack guy? Can Fowler? Perhaps. But until those things happen they haven't happened.
Micky from Orange Park, FL:
O.J. Howard at No. 4; Joe Mixon at No. 35? Both are climbing in the mocks and both would bring game breaking skillz!
John: OK.
Scott from Aurora, IL:
Give me a defensive end in the first round and either Mixon, Alvin Kamara, or DeShone Kizer with what constitutes the Jags' second pick. Then get me a guard that can run block with the third pick. I care little for what we do after that.
John: That's plausible. There are billions of combinations, so there are a few other plausible combinations, too – but yours could happen. Sure.
Mark from Jacksonville:
What are your thoughts about the Jags signing center Nick Mangold for a year or two and moving Linder back to guard?
John: My thoughts are that I get a lot of questions about the Jaguars moving Brandon Linder from center to guard and I don't get the idea that's something that's going to happen.
Charles from Midlothian, AL:
So, how many of the guys screaming to get Leonard Fournette will want Dave Caldwell's head if he gets injured or is any other way a bust?
John: Ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine, nine – or about the same percentage who will want Caldwell's head if anyone the Jaguars select at No. 4 doesn't live up to that draft status.
Cliff from Callahan, FL:
I won't even ask this question since I know you won't dare answer it because you work for the team and it's not a popular question. So there ...
John: Good choice. I rarely if ever answer questions and have rarely if ever done so every day for more than five years. The exceptions are popular ones. Those I answer. Whatever that means.
Jon from Palm Coast, FL:
I grew up a Chargers fan and remember when the Chargers decided to move past Drew Brees and go with Philip Rivers. Granted, Drew was not a first-round pick, but his first couple years were painful. In his contract year, things changed and it looked like the Chargers would face a difficult decision at the end of the season on what to do with him. The injury in the playoffs made the decision for them. The Saints took the gamble and the Saints, who were a struggling team for many years, changed overnight. I still have faith in Blake Bortles to take the talent we know he has and improve the decision-making, and consistency. A more balanced offense would be a big help. Some players take a couple of years to figure out who they are. Could Blake be one of them?
John: We'll find out in a few months. It appears he's going to get one more legitimate go at this with a familiar offensive coordinator, a familiar head coach and what appears to be a decent defense. This likely will be his last chance with the organization that drafted him. It's a huge year for him. Huge.
Howie from Buford, GA:
It seems like the NFL rule that prevents drafted players from joining their teams for OTAs until after the end of their school year puts those players at a real disadvantage in developing their rookie year. For example, last year Myles Jack couldn't join the Jaguars until the end of the UCLA school year – and there have been plenty of other examples over the years. How much do you think not being at OTAs impacts these players?
John: You're referring to a rule that prevents rookies from participating in their NFL teams' offseason program until their colleges' spring semester has concluded – and yes, it kept Jack from participating in organized team activities last spring. I've said before I believe it's an antiquated, misguided rule because it won't have the intended effect. The idea theoretically is to encourage players to finish classes in the spring rather than join teams for OTAs. The reality is many players such as Jack take the spring semester to prepare for the NFL Draft, so they wind up staying away from their teams and falling behind other rookies. I don't see the rule getting changed, though. It only affects a few players each offseason and I don't get the idea the league wants the perception of changing a rule that's (theoretically) designed to promote academics. How much does it impact the players? That depends on the player – how quickly he learns the system, how much is expected of him the first season, etc., etc. It doesn't have to preclude them from being good as a rookie, but time lost getting acclimated is time lost. It doesn't help.
Chris from Mandarin:
I'm concerned about Sam. Is he dead or what?
John: TBD.
Gary from Jacksonville:
John, do you ever wonder about how much the culture or situation at a rookie's first team affects their career? I feel bad for some of the potentially great players drafted early to bad football teams who go down in flames. At the same time I wonder if they would have made it had they been drafted into the right situation. My biggest hope for the new crew at the Jags is that we are no longer a career killer, we coach up everybody to be the best they can be, and the culture becomes that of a winner. We get there, and who we take at No. 4 will matter a lot less. Picking in the Top 10 will be a thing of the past. Go Jags!!!
John: This of course an impossible question because you can't take a player and allow him to relive his career. But I think for the most part players reach their level of potential based on their work ethic, skill, mental approach and coaching/culture. I believe most truly great players will figure out a way to achieve greatness whatever their environment. Now, can fit/culture/scheme and the like enhance or hurt the career of less-gifted players? Yes, without question.
Hill from Nashville, TN:
A different angle on the whole cornerback discussion: if the Jaguars thought there was a cornerback worthy of a top 5 selection, I don't think they would have signed A.J. Bouye to a free-agent contract. Amirite?
John: Perhaps, but remember: It's not an absolute that a position signed in free agency can't also be addressed in the draft. That's particularly true at a position such as cornerback, where more than just a team's "starters" can contribute. The NFL is a pass-first league and teams now play more three-cornerback "nickel" packages than they do base schemes. And signing Bouye isn't necessarily a reflection on how the Jaguars feel about the cornerback position. The draft is an uncertain process because you must hope a player you want falls to you; free agency is an uncertain process, too, but you can control your fate a bit more. Still, the premise of your question is pretty much spot on in that it seems unlikely the Jaguars would take a cornerback in the Top 5 because of the presence of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. It's not out of the question, but it has to be considered a long shot.
Fred from Naples, FL:
Ships are indeed cool. People do indeed like them. What they may not like is getting duped as that was the biggest April Fools' joke in quite some time. It was very well played by the Ravens to even include a video form John Harbaugh endorsing the trip.
John: I generally think April Fools' aren't that cool and don't like them. But that was good. Kudos to the Ravens.
Loe from TildonK:
John, are you coming to London again this year?
John: I'm coming on the Ravens' ship.

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