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View from the O-Zone: Wrapping the ‘18 draft

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JACKSONVILLE – That’s a wrap, ‘18 draft style.

The 2018 NFL Draft indeed ended Saturday night – inevitably but at last. When two high-profile nights and a long final day were over, the defending AFC South champion Jaguars had selected seven players in their first draft since coming within a few tantalizing minutes of the Super Bowl. The early verdict?

The Jaguars like this draft. A lot.

“We have quality football players here; that’s what makes it better,” Coughlin said inside EverBank Field moments after Jaguars’ final selection Saturday. “That’s what the consideration is, always.”

Will the weekend push the Jaguars to the next step, the ultimate game?

That’s an unfair question, because it takes more than one draft to do that – and because it can take time for rookies to make franchise-defining impact – but make no mistake: This draft fits this franchise’s direction.

It fits Coughlin. It fits Head Coach Doug Marrone.

This team is no-nonsense, play-defense, run-first – and this draft followed suit. The last three days weren’t as much frills and flash as solid selections. They were wise choices, with an eye on the present but a harder eye on the future. This draft was about line play and depth, speed and special teams, potential and talent.

Mostly, it was about taking best available player. Plain, simple and for real.

Coughlin and General Manager David Caldwell hammered that theme before and during the draft, and it played out throughout much of the weekend.

Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and that’s particularly true in the draft. Misses are the nature of a speculative, developmental process. But a good feeling during the process perhaps gives you a better chance of success. This weekend had that feel.

“I felt like we were getting the guys we wanted, which doesn’t always happen,” Marrone said.

Quickly, the Jaguars’ ’18 draft:

*Round 1: Taven Bryant, defensive tackle, Florida.

*Round 2: DJ Chark, wide receiver, Louisiana State.

*Round 3: Ronnie Harrison, safety, Alabama.

*Round 4: Will Richardson, offensive tackle, North Carolina State.

*Round 6: Tanner Lee, quarterback, Nebraska.

*Round 7: Leon Jacobs, linebacker, Wisconsin.

*Round 7: Logan Cooke, punter, Mississippi State.

One notable point about the list: it may not include an immediate starter. What’s notable about that is it’s OK. The Jaguars are a good team, a contending team. They have division title and Super Bowl hopes. They also have aspirations of being that sort of team for a long time, and those sorts of teams draft players to contribute early and develop into starters and front-line players soon enough.

Bryant, Chark, Harrison …. all figure to contribute as rookies, with Bryan and Chark quickly in the rotation at their respective positions. Look for Harrison on special teams quickly.

But all could be key players – even starters – by 2019, their second seasons. That’s the proper timeline for young players on a healthy roster.

Richardson’s story could be similar, likely playing swing tackle behind starting left tackle Cam Robinson and right tackle Jermey Parnell as a rookie. Taking over for Parnell in 2019? That would be Richardson’s ideal path as far as the Jaguars are concerned.

The rest of the draft, Rounds 6 and 7, felt like normal late rounds for a contending team – with Lee a developmental quarterback on a team with an established starter and Jacobs likely a special teams contributor early.

The Cooke selection made sense, too. Punter Brad Nortman struggled at times last season – and a short, low punt hurt in a big way late in the AFC Championship Game. A high salary cap number for a specialist didn’t help, either.

The late special teams focus was no coincidence. The Jaguars spent much of free agency focused on the area. It stood to reason it would be a focus in the draft. It was in a big way. Not only are Cooke, Harrison and Jacobs expected to contribute there, but Chark is as well.

Was it a perfect draft for the Jaguars? No. Those don’t exist. But listening to Coughlin, it was clear it has a chance to be a good one.

“Do you accomplish everything that you want to going in? Obviously you don’t,” Coughlin said. “But we’re pleased with this group, and we’re looking forward to getting them in here working.”

Balance, value, depth, ability to contribute on special teams …

Coughlin mentioned all of those as he wrapped up the draft, and he came back late in his comments to a point Marrone also made – that most of the players selected in the last three days will contribute significantly next season somehow, someway.

“These people were drafted to be football players, whether it’s starter or whatever,” Coughlin said. “It takes everybody. At some time in the course of the season, God willing, they’ll make us better and make a strong contribution.”

With that, inevitably and at long last, ended ‘18 Jaguars draft weekend – a weekend that had a decidedly Jaguars feel from beginning to end.

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