As Gene Smith sees it, this night isn't about pressure.
An important night? Yes.
A night critical to a team's future? Absolutely.
But Smith, who on Thursday night will begin his third draft as the Jaguars' General Manager – and who has received generally favorable reviews for the first two drafts – said the 2011 NFL Draft won't be about nerves, or pressure, or last-minute decisions.
And it sure won't be about chaos.
"I think pressure is being unprepared," Smith said as the Jaguars prepared for the 2011 NFL Draft, which will begin Thursday at 8 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and last through the seventh round Saturday evening.
"There are a lot of demands on you, but if you study in earnest before the final exam and you do it in a very good manner, which I didn't learn until later in my high school career, you are ready to go into the draft with the mindset to thrive. I think if you don't prepare really well and study very hard then you're going in trying to survive.
"My whole goal is to try and thrive. We feel like we have done the work and we are going to trust our judgment."
The Jaguars, who finished 8-8 this past season as the AFC South runner-up, enter the draft with seven selections – one each in the first, second, third fifth and sixth rounds and two in the fourth round. They are scheduled to select 16th in first round, 17th in the second, 16th in the third, 16th in the fifth and 17th in the sixth.
They select 17th and 24th in the fourth round, having obtained the second selection in that round in a trade with New Orleans, and when the draft begins, it will mark not only the beginning of that process, but the end of the long period of evaluation of the '11 draft class.
"We believe in the work we put in," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "Gene does a great job working through things. The scouts and the coaches get together and spend a lot of time putting our board together and Gene ultimately makes the call.
"We know we are going about it the right way. We've got to continue to stay the course."
As is the case with any team any season, speculation about the Jaguars' '11 draft has focused on the first round, and many analysts and mock drafts have projected the team will select defensive end or quarterback at No. 16 overall.
Ryan Kerrigan, a defensive end from Purdue, has been widely projected as a possibility for the Jaguars, as has California defensive end Cameron Jordan, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn and Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt.
"There are a few no-brainers, but some of them you just have to take out of the equation because you know they're going to go off a little earlier than we'll be able to pick," Del Rio said. "That's the one thing about this process that is sometimes not understood. You have a wish list. It can be an extensive wish list, but you take a player and then you wait a while and then watch a bunch of players you like go off the board and then you get to take another player. That part is probably the toughest part."
Christian Ponder of Florida State, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Andy Dalton of Texas Christian have been mentioned as possibilities at quarterback, a position that has been of particular interest for Jaguars fans and observers leading to the draft.
Smith has said often leading to the draft he would like to obtain a quarterback to develop, but he and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio have said veteran David Garrard likely will remain the starter at the position this season.
"The quarterback is a unique position," Smith said. "It's not one where you would like to have to play the guy right away. There are some positions that are less mental and more physical that you can come in and play right away as a young player.
"Quarterbacks, I would like to think if you can, can go through the on-the-job training and be more prepared when they step out on the field to help you win."
The Jaguars also potentially could trade out of the No. 16 position – either trading up in the first round or, more likely, trading down and garnering additional selections in later rounds.
"I think there's a chance of that," Smith said. "Certainly where we're at there are still some very good players on the board, so that could be a viable option on draft day."
Smith said he and Player Personnel Director Terry McDonough have been in contact with "every team in the NFL" regarding a potential trade.
"We do that in a very aggressive manner from the standpoint of making sure that people know, that need to know, that we will have interest in any round if in fact we're able to be good for each other to make a move," Smith said. "But certainly if there's a player there that we like, I've said this before, I'm not about getting cute moving around the draft. I'm about executing and trusting our work on guys that we feel are Jaguars."
Smith said such decisions – as well as any draft-day decisions – are made in a calm, analytical manner. The Jaguars prepare for the draft year-round, and the idea behind such extensive preparation is to be ready to make calculated, long-term decisions on draft day.
For that reason, Smith said the Jaguars' draft room is a calm place on draft weekend. He, Del Rio and McDonough talk, but draft-day debate and drama isn't Smith's way.
"You hear things around the league," he said. "Obviously in your business people talk, in our business people talk. You have people who aren't certain about this guy or about that guy or maybe they don't set their thing up quite the way we do. We certainly don't feel like we have all the answers. We feel like we have some that work well for us but you hear different things. You hear there's a war room.
"Well, you would like to think you're making rational decisions before draft day and not irrational ones when you're on the clock. You just stay with the system that you have in place and to hear some of the stories at times, it amazes me."
Smith said the approach is designed with one thing in mind, and that it's not to please observers or displease them. He also said it's not about having a good draft grade from analysts or leaving the draft Sunday with a feeling of being right on a large number of players.
"We know we don't have all the answers," he said. "We're not trying to get all 254 players right in this draft. We're trying to get the seven or however many we take right. That's our number one goal. . . .
"The only credit we need is winning. Since there are so many variables that play into players' success or lack of at this level, it really comes down to winning. If we're winning, then we're doing something right."