MOBILE, Ala. – If the Jaguars want defense early, they're in a good spot.
That was the assessment of three prominent NFL Draft analysts earlier this week at the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl, annually the most prominent college football all-star game and a key early date on the pre-draft calendar.
The Jaguars, who hold the No. 4 overall selection in the April 27-29 NFL Draft, have selected defensive players in the Top 5 of the last two drafts – cornerback Jalen Ramsey at No. 5 overall in 2016 and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. at No. 3 overall in 2015.
This year's draft is considered strong at all levels of the defense, particularly up front.
"It's loaded at defensive line," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay said.
Tony Pauline, longtime NFL Draft analyst and publisher of draftanalyst.com, agreed and said the top two defensive ends – Myles Garrett of Texas A&M and Jonathan Allen of Alabama – are "outstanding players."
"Overall, if you get one of the top picks, it's very good," Pauline said. "After that, it's a crap shoot."
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks agreed that the Jaguars may be forced toward defense in the first round.
"It may be a situation by the depth of the draft that you're forced to look at the defense again," Brooks said. "If you look at the defense, you're going to get another pass rusher or any other interior defensive tackle. That's not a bad thing because you can never have too many of those guys."
Pauline said a player such as Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers could be a good value selection at No. 4, and that he can help in the secondary and on special teams as a returner. Pauline advocated the Jaguars drafting the "best player available."
"If they don't like the best player available, then the best thing is to collect [selections] and trade down," Pauline said.
Though the consensus among analysts is that there is not an offensive lineman in this year's draft who merits a Top 10 selection, Pauline said of the Jaguars, "They've got to protect [quarterback Blake] Bortles better. He has shown flashes. He hasn't played all that well, but a large part is they haven't protected him. That has to be a primary goal.
"They have to get good players on the roster. They can't just be filling holes, because if you do that you find yourself in the situation they are now."
McShay agreed that offensive lineman at No. 4 likely will be too early. "There's not an offensive lineman worth drafting in the Top 10 right now," McShay said.
He also called the safety class "loaded" with Jamal Adams of Louisiana State and Malik Hooker of Ohio State elite-level defensive prospects.
McShay said the strength of the early part of the first round "depends on what you're looking for."
"If you want a quarterback, no," McShay said. "If you want an offensive lineman, no. If you want anywhere on defense, then yes, I think that's the strength of this draft. It's also a really good tight end class compared to what we've seen. You can probably get one in the second round."
BROOKS ON COUGHLIN
Brooks, who played safety for the Jaguars in 1996-1997 – Tom Coughlin's second and third seasons as the team's coach – said he is intrigued by Coughlin taking on the executive vice president of football operations role.
Coughlin took the position with the Jaguars after seven seasons as the Jaguars' head coach and 12 seasons as the head coach of the New York Giants.
"The challenge he will have, being the guy who still had the itch to be the head coach: can he step back and have a bird's-eye view?'' Brooks said. "Because the person who is in charge at the top should be thinking long-term while the head coach is more short-term: How do we win this week?
"As he's reinserting himself into the league, does he have the ability to be patient enough to take a long-form look at what they need to do to be a team that can be a consistent and perennial contender as opposed to the quick fix?"
Brooks said the working relationship between General Manager David Caldwell – the general manager the past four years – and Coughlin will be key.
"It's tough," Brooks said. "How can they collectively get on the same page and do what's best for the team? It will take some self-checking egos to make it happen. I think they can do it, and obviously as a former Jaguar, you want to see them get back on track."