JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts as the Jaguars move on from the 2018 NFL Draft to the rest of the 2018 offseason
*1.Youth is a key subplot. *This has been true for a while, but this past weekend’s 2018 NFL Draft reiterated the point in a major way. The Jaguars improved dramatically in 2016 and 2017 thanks in large part to some of the best veteran acquisitions in franchise history: defensive end Calais Campbell, safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson Sr., defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson and cornerback A.J. Bouye. But those contracts were structured – and in Dareus’ case, acquired in a trade – in a way that it will be difficult for the team to retain all six. It’s also difficult to sustain success relying on free agency as heavily as the Jaguars did for several seasons. That makes developing young talent key. At least four 2018 Jaguars draft selections – Round 1 defensive tackle Taven Bryan, Round 2 wide receiver DJ Chark, Round 3 safety Ronnie Harrison and Round 4 offensive tackle Will Richardson Jr. – fit into the category of players with starting level talent who may not start in 2017. Dawuane Smoot, a 2017 third-round defensive end, fit into the same category last season – and he also is unlikely to start this season. But it’s very possible – and even likely – all five players could start in 2019. How those five players develop is a major storyline to watch, and could be key to sustaining success.
*2.The Jaguars confirmed their belief in Bortles – again. *The Jaguars’ belief in quarterback Blake Bortles has been apparent throughout the offseason, particularly after they signed him to an extension through the 2020 season in February. Still, doubt lingered among many draft analysts and fans, with many in each group believing entering the draft the team had interest in a quarterback early. Perhaps that idea finally went away when the Jaguars passed on Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson at No. 29 overall. While many fans wanted Jackson and many analysts mocked him to the Jaguars, the Jaguars never were going to take a quarterback in Round 1 – and never after signing Bortles have they wavered that he is their starting quarterback. He’s the guy. Period.
*3.The Jaguars accomplished their special-team mission. *The draft drove home another offseason Jaguars theme – that special teams was a major area that needed improvement. While the team signed guard Andrew Norwell, wide receiver Donte Moncrief as unrestricted free agents, also important in mid-March were the signings of special teamers Don Carey III, Cody Davis and Niles Paul. Chark, Harrison and sixth-round linebacker Leon Jacobs also will play special teams, but draft weekend’s major special teams news was the seventh-round selection of punter Logan Cooke. The Jaguars released veteran Brad Nortman two days later, showing yet again that on a Jaguars team that wants to run and play defense, the third element of that equation – special teams – was a major offseason priority.
*1.BPA is the only way. *The selection of Bryan is proof that the best-available-player philosophy was in full effect in the draft room this past weekend. That they were willing to wait on Chark, exercising patience for a player whose grade was close to Bryan’s and whose need was greater, underscores their approach. Teams that take best player available are rarely disappointed at having made the logical choice instead of reaching for need. If you’re going to spend millions on scouting, shouldn’t you follow the results of that effort? Bryan isn’t a need today, but the Jaguars spend more money on their defensive line than any other position on the roster. Two plus two equals four and the Jaguars have a big-time prospect at what will likely be a need in 2019.
*2.Pittsburgh Part Three. *If you want to see the 2018 Jaguars a few months early, re-watch the playoff victory at Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett let Bortles attack with the power running game and take his shots with the underneath routes to tight ends and receivers as he dismantled an excellent Steelers defense. Now they’re arming the quarterback with a full power Proton Pack and letting him attack with 4.34 speed. Chark’s explosive combination of height, arm length, hand size and speed make him an enticing weapon; wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell was heard to exclaim, “Let’s go!” as he floated from the draft room following Chark’s selection Friday night. The Jaguars were better at receiver in March after signing Donte Moncrief to pair with Lee, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook. If Chark is as good as McCardell believes, the Jags are going to be able to matriculate the ball down the field any way they want; short, middle and deep. In a rare moment of draft room transparency both Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin told us they had a first round grade on Chark and were considering him at No. 29. He would seem to be a guy worthy and capable of having a first-round impact in 2018.
3.Expectation abounds. No less an expert than Mike Mayock expressed his belief on the NFL Network that following the draft the Jaguars owned the NFL’s best roster; he wasn’t the only one. The Jaguars have talent and depth across the board – and that’s with the retirement of Paul Posluszny and the losses of cornerback Aaron Colvin and wide receiver Allen Robinson. Obviously, it takes more than talent; it also requires the good fortune to stay healthy, chemistry in the locker room and a good bounce on the field along the way. Still, this team is stacked, the league knows it and everyone will be ready for this Jacksonville team in 2018.