JACKSONVILLE – David Caldwell needs to get this draft right.
That's true of Caldwell's fourth draft as the Jaguars' general manager, but you know what? It's also true of any general manager in any NFL city any offseason, so here's a bigger question:
What, exactly, does getting it right mean?
It doesn't mean hitting on every selection, so if Caldwell uses all eight selections the team has entering the 2016 NFL Draft don't think you're going to see all eight in the Pro Bowl. Shoot, all eight may not even be on the roster next season; the odds are actually against it.
It also probably doesn't mean making your team dramatically better the following season. Major, franchise-altering impact from rookies is rare enough you can't depend on it.
No, the draft is a percentage game – and it's far more about the long-term than the immediate. He needs to address defense and he needs to address a couple of key areas on offense. And yes, a player or two to make a significant contribution would be really, really helpful. So what Caldwell must do is enough to make the Jaguars a little better in the short term and more solid over the long haul. That's the goal of any general manager in any NFL city any offseason.
What, specifically do Caldwell and the Jaguars need to get done by early Saturday evening?
Here are 10 things:
1)Get Round 1 right.Duh, right? Of course the Jaguars need to get the first-round selection right. But that's particularly true with the team selecting No. 5 overall. There's every indication the Jaguars will be improved enough next season to finally get out of the Top 10. That means this could be the last premium draft selection for a while. You can't waste it.
2)Make a decision on Myles Jack's knee.This realistically already has been done, but since no one outside Caldwell and a few others are going to know their thinking until after the draft we'll include it here. The UCLA linebacker is an otherworldly prospect who seems an ideal combination of need/talent. There are concerns league-wide that a knee issue could shorten his career long-term. How the Jaguars feel about that could sway their decision at No. 5.
3)Draft defense at No. 5.Here's the logic: the Jaguars believe they have their core offensively with quarterback Blake Bortles, wide receivers Allen Robinson/Allen Hurns, tight end Julius Thomas, etc. The beginning of the core defensively could be Dante Fowler Jr. and Malik Jackson. One more premium selection defensively and you've got two top 10 selections – Fowler and this year's Top 5 – around which to build the core. Fowler/Jack, Fowler/Jalen Ramsey, Fowler/Joey Bosa, even Fowler/DeForest Buckner – all feel like foundation-type duos. Just a theory …
4)Or …Here's the counterargument to No. 3. If Ramsey and Bosa are gone, that would leave Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil on the board. Many consider Tunsil the best player in the draft. If the Jaguars take him at No. 5 that would give them one more core piece and one of the most talented young offenses in the NFL. This scenario is possible, but it will be very difficult to ignore defense in Round 1.
5)Explore trading down.Caldwell never has traded down in Round 1 in three offseasons with the Jaguars, but it sounded like real possibility when he discussed it during Friday's pre-draft luncheon. Caldwell said he likes more than three players at No. 5, which means he believes he can trade down and get a player he likes. How far? For what price? Stay tuned.
6)Get deep.This is what this draft is about as much as anything for the Jaguars. Can they find a starter? Yes, early. Will they find more than one or two? Likely not, but they can get valuable depth – especially on defense.
7)Get fast. The Jaguars need to get faster, particularly on defense. Look for the Jaguars to draft speedy defensive backs and linebackers. Certainly more than one and probably more than two.
8)Get better on special teams.No, this doesn't mean drafting Florida State kicker Robert Aguayo; the guess here is kicker is not a priority. But it can mean getting better in coverage and on returns. That goes hand in hand with getting deeper and better on defense. Linebackers and defensive backs can be the core of your special teams, and the Jaguars figure to draft heavily there.
9)Draft an offensive lineman.This is low on this list, because it's not an absolute have-to. The Jaguars may move Brandon Linder from guard to center, and a line featuring Jermey Parnell, A.J. Cann, Linder and Kelvin Beachum/Luke Joeckel is capable group. But if, say, center Ryan Kelly from Alabama is available in Round 2 …
10)Get lucky.No, the draft is not all luck, but without question luck plays a role. Will the breaks fall your way to give you the player you want? Is the player you want really the best player? Can that player stay healthy? All play a role, and a lot of the elements aren't in the team's control. It's not really better to be lucky than good, but being lucky is sure better than the alternative.