JACKSONVILLE – Depend on rookies at your peril.
Still, if that’s a longstanding NFL truism, it’s also true that teams must depend on at least a few rookies. And that certainly will be true for the Jaguars in 2019.
What shape will the Jaguars’ 2019 NFL Draft class take? What will be its importance?
Those are key questions as quarterbacks, rookies and first-year players gather at TIAA Bank Field Monday in advance of Jaguars 2019 Training Camp beginning Thursday.
Defensive end Josh Allen …
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor …
Both were drafted among the Top 35 players in the April ’19 draft, and both will have opportunity to contribute sooner than later. They won’t be the only rookies with that opportunity. Here’s a look at five rookies whose storylines will be key during ’19 camp:
1)Josh Allen, edge, Kentucky, Round 1 (No. 7 overall). Allen hasn’t been discussed much since the draft, perhaps because he sustained a knee bruise on Day 1 of organized team activities and didn’t participate in on-field offseason work after that. Head Coach Doug Marrone said the Jaguars held him out of the rest of OTAS/minicamp for precautionary reasons, and Allen is expected to participate 100 percent when camp begins. Allen’s storyline will be more prominent if defensive end Yannick Ngakoue misses time during camp because of his contract situation, though any such absence from Ngakoue likely would be relatively brief. The presence of Ngakoue and end Calais Campbell should ease pressure on Allen early, and his presence could give the Jaguars one of the NFL’s better end trios. There’s not big-time pressure on Allen as a rookie, but his pass-rushing ability is expected to make an already potent front even better.
2)Jawaan Taylor, right tackle, Florida, Round 2 (No. 35 overall). While Allen isn’t expected to start as a rookie, it would be a surprise if Taylor isn’t starting by Week 1 – or soon thereafter. Taylor was projected by some as a Top 15 selection, and the Jaguars – who allowed 2018 starter Jermey Parnell to become a free agent – were giddy when he slipped to them early in the second round. Little was learned about Taylor during OTAs/minicamp because you don’t learn about linemen during unpadded work, but many analysts considered him the draft’s top pure right tackle – and a player who should start immediately. There are other options for the Jaguars at the position, including underrated veteran Josh Wells, but the ideal scenario is Taylor winning the starting job by being as good as advertised.
3)Josh Oliver, tight end, San Jose State, Round 3 (No. 69 overall). While Oliver is the third rookie on this list, he may be as important as any rookie. The ’19 draft was so deep at tight end that many analysts believed quick-impact players at the position – particularly in the passing game – could be found through at least three rounds. Oliver on paper seems to be such a player, having caught 56 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns in his final college season despite much of the team struggling around him. Oliver impressed in OTAs and minicamp by showing athleticism, instincts for the ball and good hands. Now, he must do the same in the heightened environment that is padded work in training camp.
4)Quincy Williams, linebacker, Murray State, Round 3 (No. 98 overall). Perhaps no Jaguars rookie will be watched more closely in the coming weeks, and perhaps no Jaguars rookie could play so important a role so quickly. Williams will have every chance to secure the starting weak-side linebacker position made available in May when longtime starter Telvin Smith announced he doesn’t plan to play this season. Williams’ selection raised eyebrows in April because Murray State is a Football Championship Subdivision school and because few analysts knew much about Williams in college, but that issue is in the past. Williams’ combination of speed, athleticism and explosion is reminiscent of Smith. But having those skills is one thing; producing is another. The Jaguars need Williams to do so with at least some consistency to minimize the effect of Smith’s expected absence.
5)Ryquell Armstead, running back, Temple, Round 5 (No. 140 overall). Just how important Armstead will be to the Jaguars’ 2019 success will depend on the health, availability and effectiveness of starting running back Leonard Fournette. But whatever Fournette’s status, Armstead will matter. The Jaguars selected him with the idea of having a second physical back who can run in something close to Fournette’s style – either in Fournette’s place if he is unavailable or as a reserve when Fournette is playing. Armstead looked the part during the offseason, but nothing a back does in non-padded work matters compared to how he looks in the contact work in preseason and training camp.