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View from the Ozone: '15 draft revealing healthier roster


JACKSONVILLE – One was perfectly fine with his draft status.

The other new member of the Jaguars was decidedly less thrilled, and University of South Carolina guard A.J. Cann said he actually had a pretty miserable time of it for a while Friday night.

But Cann and his Jaguars new teammate, University of Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, had a few things in common. The first two:

*Their emotions when the telephone finally did ring. Yeldon got his call early in the second round Friday evening and Cann got his early in the third round a short while later. When those calls came, all was good …

*Their status as big-school, Southeastern Conference guys -- just as first-round selection Dante Fowler Jr. was a big-school guy, an SEC guy. Yeldon (Alabama), Cann (South Carolina), Fowler (Florida) … yes, the days of small-school drafting are officially and finally over around the Jaguars …

But here's the big thing Friday's duo has in common:

Yes, each is a need addressed. Each has the potential to be a significant step forward for this organization, for this offense, for this running game. But perhaps most significantly, each is an example of the Jaguars now being able to draft less out of desperation and more from a simple desire for improvement.

That's what this 2015 NFL Draft feels like thus far for the Jaguars, doesn't it?

Doesn't that feel like the biggest difference between this draft and the past two?

There's a feel that General Manager David Caldwell, after two seasons and three offseasons, is that much closer to having the roster at least close to how he wants it. Needs remain, of course. No NFL roster is perfect, particularly not one that went 3-13 a year ago. But through drafts and a few free agencies, the Jaguars' roster entering this draft was clearly closer to being competitive than it had been in the past.

Caldwell had alluded to that a couple of times in the last month or so, saying after the team's foray into free agency in early March that the team for the first time in his tenure would enter the draft not having to draft for need. That was true, because technically the Jaguars could have gone into next season with any of the three positions drafted thus far unaddressed. They could have started Chris Clemons at Leo and Denard Robinson at running back and Zane Beadles at left guard, and perhaps those players will start. All three certainly could play significant roles.

At the same time, all three positions – particularly running back and guard – could certainly stand to improve from last season, and after two years of a long rebuild that's where it feels like the Jaguars are. Like a team that can identify a few specific needs and address them rather than have to address an entire roster full.

"That's what we were talking about with (Owner) Shad (Khan), that we're starting to get position groups where there's even more numbers to bring that competition level," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said.

They're doing that, and they're getting more front-line starters, too. When Caldwell first arrived, there was a feeling at some positions of needing to turn deficient into OK. Now, it's about going from good and OK to better. While the Jaguars have good players at the Leo, they didn't have an elite player there. More than one team had Fowler rated as the No. 1 prospect in this draft, and when you're ranked there, the expectation is you'll be elite. Maybe not immediately, but sometime relatively soon.

The same is true on a different scale of Yeldon. The Jaguars could have played next season with Robinson, Toby Gerhart or Bernard Pierce, but none had the feel of a potential every-down back. Yeldon is being brought in to be just that.

As for Cann, selected No. 67 overall, he's intriguing. At first glance, left guard – Cann's best position – isn't a glaring need. The Jaguars had a more obvious need on the line entering the offseason at right tackle, which they filled with Jermey Parnell. Left guard was more of a half-need. Beadles started there last season, and while he struggled early, Caldwell said following the season he had improved late. There wasn't an overriding feel before the draft that it was a critical area of need.

Still, Caldwell addressed it. And while Cann may or may not win the starting job, he's certainly being brought in with the idea of it being possible. Right guard Brandon Linder was drafted in Round 3 last year and was the team's best offensive lineman with the look of a future Pro Bowl selection.

Whether Cann can have such an immediate impact remains to be seen. But the fact that Caldwell felt the rest of the roster was solid enough to draft Cann is significant. In years past, that selection might have been used elsewhere, to pick a player at a position so weak that it would be a deficient unless addressed.

The Jaguars aren't there anymore.

And while they may not yet be where they want to be, they appear to be beyond drafting for immediate, glaring need.  And as Caldwell enters the final day of his third draft, that's a significant step in the right direction.

The Jaguars selected A.J. Cann, a South Carolina product, with their third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

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