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O-Zone: Sleepy time

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Cory from Fort Myers, FL

Then-Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner, now with the New York Jets, was clearly the most talented prospect heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. You knew it, I knew it, and I'm sure most of the Jaguars scouts knew it. Although I like then-Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker – selected by the Jaguars No. 1 overall in the '22 draft – and believe he can develop into a good player, we obviously didn't get as much production from him as the Jets did from Sauce. My question is, why is it so taboo to pick a cornerback No. 1 overall?

It's about positional value. There's a belief around the NFL that you must be strong at certain key positions when building a roster – and there's also a belief that the best place to get premium talent at those key positions is the top of the draft. Those positions typically are defensive line/edge defender, offensive (left) tackle and quarterback. No player outside those three positions has been selected No. 1 overall since wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson of Southern California by the New York Jets in 1996. No cornerback ever has been selected No. 1 overall. I suspect a wide receiver may be selected No. 1 overall sometime in the foreseeable future. The impact of players such as Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals likely has created an environment in which that could happen. I don't know that cornerback will follow. There remains a league-wide thought that the importance of a disruptive player close to the line of scrimmage trumps the importance of a corner defending one player yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Michael from Middleburg, FL

How much time is it or should it take for Ridley to get his answer?

There's no hard, fast timetable on these things. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, acquired by the Jaguars in a 2022 midseason trade with the Atlanta Falcons, currently remains on the indefinite NFL suspension that kept him out last season. He reportedly applied for reinstatement from the NFL last Wednesday, the first day he was eligible to do so. Just as there is no timetable, there's very little "inside information" on these matters because it's about the Commissioner's office deciding – then announcing that decision. I expect news on this before the March 15 start of the 2023 NFL League Year because there would seem little reason to delay longer than that.

Sal from Austin, TX

We understand that as a journalist working for an NFL franchise, you have a responsibility to present your viewpoint in a sober and thoughtful manner. People, however, are convicted of conspiracy in the federal court system every day. People whose fortunes are so staggering that it's outside the scope of reasonable thinking that they would need to rig the system, but that's just what happens. This isn't an accusation, but do you know how these refs are vetted? Corruption happened in the NBA, MLB, College Basketball – and those are the just the ones we know about. How bad did the Saints get hosed just a few years back? You think that load of mess was on the level? To flatten everyone who has questions as a "conspiracy nut" isn't very journalistic.

How I write and discuss things here in the O-Zone isn't about working for an NFL franchise. I wrote and spoke in a similar manner when working for the Florida Times-Union. It's about examining issues from a reasoned and logical viewpoint rather than an emotional one. I've never said it's impossible for there to be corruption in officiating, just as it's possible to have corruption in any system that involves human beings. I also have never said that NFL officials are perfect. What I have said is it's silly to believe/say that the league systematically wants certain teams/team to win and lose, and that officials are instructed to call games in a way to push those teams in that direction. It's understandable that fans/observers think this, I suppose, but there's simply not enough to be gained and too much to lose to reasonable believe this is likely. People love to rail against imperfection in others, and it's natural for one's quick-trigger reaction to be that there's something unjust or untoward in every mistake. Officiating therefore is criticized and suspected whenever there is a mistake. But the reality is when you watch most NFL games, there are countless plays that could be called in either direction. Depending on a fan's perspective or rooting interest, a case can be made in one direction or the other. As for the "load of mess" that was the non-interference call in the Los Angeles Rams' victory over the New Orleans Saints in the AFC Championship Game following the 2018 season … yes, it was a bad call. But do I believe something was "off the level?" That there was corruption or intent? No. And while I don't consider those with questions "conspiracy nuts," I don't believe in a leaguewide initiatives to push games in certain directions. That has nothing to do with journalism. Just a little old-fashioned reason.

Paul from Lake City, FL

Given that Rams and former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is a few years older than when he was traded, I wouldn't be comfortable with a trade. Back injuries have a habit of reoccurring as a player.

We talked a lot in the O-Zone at various times last season about the importance of being nice. We haven't discussed it in a while. This email was not "nice…"

Tom from Nocatee

Never trade for players with a history of back injuries.

… nor was this one.

Mike from Cartersville (AKA Trevortown), GA

Are all the people asking to bring back Jalen Ramsey sure that his back is fine? It was so debilitating that he couldn't even play for us until the flight to Los Angeles fixed his back. Also, are we really that desperate at safety? I think we're good back there with safety Rayshawn Jenkins and safety Andre Cisco. Jenkins made some big time plays last season, seems like that would be a downgrade.

This email started not particularly nice, then it devolved into discussing the Jaguars' safety position. The Jaguars indeed were good at safety last season, with Jenkins showing a remarkable knack for big plays and with Cisco beginning to develop into the turnover creator at the position the Jaguars hoped he would be when selected in Round 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Andrew Wingard, who played well as a reserve when needed this past season, will be an unrestricted free agent next month. If all three players return and give the Jaguars what they gave in 2022, that's for the most part a winning level at the position.

Andrew from Summerville, SC

In regards to the Ramsey question, I'll point out to my fellow fans that Ramsey was happy with the front office when the Jags were a winning team, an attitude that changed drastically when the Jags' fortunes turned. He was happy again when the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl, and now he's rumored to want out after the Rams failed to make the playoffs. I remember a certain sportswriter predicting this. Jalen Ramsey is not the kind of player I'd want to see on the Jaguars.

This indeed was my thought on Ramsey when he left the Jaguars. I don't know enough about Ramsey or his specific situation in Los Angeles to have keen insight into why he wants out, or if he indeed does want out. Perhaps he has changed. People do.

Ray from Jax

John: Three thoughts on officiating:

No doubt.

Taylor from Columbia, MD

Hi, John. Long time since my last question but still read daily! You wrote that there is more to outside linebacker than rushing the passer, but isn't that far and away the most important part of the position? Unless a linebacker is a total liability versus the run (Yannick Ngakoue), wouldn't the best pass rusher be the most valuable player? Here's to hoping Jaguars outside linebacker Travon Walker becomes the best pass rusher of the Kayvon Thibodeaux/Aidan Hutchinson/Travon Walker group.

Sacks and pass rushing are really important for outside linebackers. But if Walker becomes a dominant player on the edge, and if he develops into a player who can be effective – and dominant – at various positions, he can be an outstanding selection regardless of whether he wins a sack race with the other two players.

EJ from Jacksonville

You've explained (endlessly) about the judgment calls and the general quality of officiating. There will always be missed calls and calls that are reversed . Aren't officials graded by the league and on some basis that is used as awarding playoff games to the officials.


Michael from Orange Park, FL

You said it's not the dead zone. It feels dead to me.

It's not. This time of year is a little sleepy, and it has a calm-before-the-offseason-storm feel, but it's not really dead.