JACKSONVILLE – The "run" will happen, most likely early.
With rare exceptions, that's an annual truth with offensive linemen in the NFL Draft – that there will be a run that takes left tackles quickly off the draft board. The '20 draft appears to be no exception.
"Whichever order you like them, those guys are going to be gone by 15th or maybe even 14th," CBS NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson told jaguars.com.
"Those guys" are the 2020 NFL Draft's top four offensive linemen: Tristan Wirfs of Iowa, Mekhi Becton of Louisville, Jedrick Wills of Alabama and Andrew Thomas of Georgia. Analysts generally agree all four are first-round locks – likely in the Top 15 – and a level above the rest of the class' offensive linemen.
"After that, you're looking at some projects in terms of super-athletic, needing-to-grow-into-the-position guys – those types of players," Wilson said.
Added NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah: "Offensive line, it just doesn't have that depth. It falls out right away. Protecting hasn't been as important at the college level and we just haven't seen as many quality offensive linemen."
Opinions vary on whether the Jaguars will seek the position early in the draft. While many observers have projected Becton and various others to the team at No. 9 overall, the team's key decision-makers – Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell – have spoken positively throughout the offseason of the team's current offensive linemen.
Opinions also vary on which of the top four offensive linemen is the best, though Becton seems to have gained momentum among analysts as the top tackle as the draft has approached.
"To me Mekhi Becton is a freak, an absolute freak," Jeremiah said. "He's going to be that guy for the next 10 to 12 years to protect your franchise quarterback."
While Becton is considered a pure left tackle, some analysts consider Wirfs a possible NFL guard – "I think he has a chance to be an elite guard," Jeremiah said – and some consider Wills a truer right tackle than left tackle.
"He's a solid player, technically sound," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "He's a plug-and-play right tackle."
Other tackles also considered first-round possibilities: Josh Jones of Houston and Austin Jackson of Southern California.
"He's got great knee bend," Jeremiah said of Jackson. "He can really move laterally. He's going to get better. He donated his bone marrow to his sister over the offseason. The loss of that offseason, he just needs to get physically stronger, but as a 20-year-old with that type of athletic ability, the upside is really endless. And I think he's somebody that maybe people are sleeping on a little bit at this point in time."
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Mekhi Becton, Louisville; Jedrick Willis Jr., Alabama; Tristan Wirfs, Iowa; Andrew Thomas, Georgia; Josh Jones, Houston; Austin Jackson, Southern California.
Jeremiah: "If you look at the young quarterbacks that have been successful, for the most part a lot of them have had good offensive line play around them and that's been a huge benefit in their growth. At some point in time it's not complicated: The teams with good offensive lines, you have a high floor every year. They'll keep you competitive, give you a chance to win each and every week. I don't know that offensive line has been more important than it is right now. You need to take care of your offensive line. I think that's first and foremost."
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN IN ROUND 1
Relative good – though perhaps not as good as defensive tackle, cornerback or wide receiver.
JAGUARS AT OFFENSIVE LINE
Cam Robinson, left tackle (projected starter); Andrew Norwell, left guard (projected starter); Brandon Linder, center (projected starter); A.J. Cann, right guard (projected starter); Jawaan Taylor, right tackle (projected starter); Will Richardson, tackle/guard; Tyler Shatley, center/guard; KC McDermott; Tyler Gauthier; Donnell Greene; Blake Hance; Ryan Pope.
What observers believe the Jaguars will do may differ here from what they actually do. While the offensive line has been targeted by many as a weakness and offseason priority, the Jaguars to this point in the offseason have shown little inclination to move aggressively at the spot – and Marrone and Caldwell have spoken highly of the team's current group on multiple occasion this offseason. If a player such as Becton or Thomas were the best available player to the Jaguars No. 9, the team likely would look seriously at selecting the player. But this doesn't feel like a situation in which the team will trade up or force an offensive lineman early.
This looks to be a rare crop of offensive tackles coming into the league. There's size, freakish athleticism and top-level experience should the Jaguars decide to take the best big man on the board. Wirfs might be the most tantalizing prospect after the massive tackle from Iowa dazzled with a strong Combine capped off with an epic vertical leap and 40-yard dash. Wills, Thomas and Becton are all top prospects; one or more will be sitting there when the Jaguars go on the clock. The question: the status of Robinson? Can he be the guy they used a second-round pick on in 2017 or is he a slightly above average tackle who now will have to battle a rebuilt knee? If there is any doubt, this is the year to pull the trigger at tackle and reconfigure the plan up front.