Week in focus: Senior Bowl

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JACKSONVILLE – When it comes to the Jaguars, at least one draft analyst is breaking form.

With many analysts projecting a defensive player to the Jaguars early in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Rob Rang of CBSSports.com and The SportsXchange had a different view last week while attending the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl.

Rang agrees with most analysts that the top of the draft is strong defensively.

But Rang says he believes the Jaguars can accomplish improvement offensively by following the example set by Dallas last offseason and selecting running back at No. 4 overall.

Rang's choice for the Jaguars at No. 4 overall? Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

"You're looking for an immediate-impact type of player," Rang said. "Given the amount of investment the team already has made in defensive linemen, that's probably the most likely scenario."

With the draft three months away, the top is extremely speculative. Many mocks have pushed quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina into the Top 3, but it remains to be seen if either player will go so early. Most analysts consider defensive end Myles Garrett of Texas A&M the best non-quarterback available followed closely by defensive end Jonathan Allen of Alabama.

Many mocks have the Jaguars selecting Allen at No. 4 and others project a safety such as Jamal Allen of Louisiana State there.

As Rang noted, the Jaguars have invested in defensive line recently – with positive results. Malik Jackson is a front-line defensive tackle, and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue registered 8.0 sacks as a rookie. With end Dante Fowler Jr., tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, end Jared Odrick, tackle/end Tyson Alualu, tackle Abry Jones and tackle Roy Miller, selecting defensive line in the top five would be adding strength to what already may be the strongest position on the roster.

While the overall perceived draft value of running backs generally has dropped in recent seasons, the Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott No. 4 overall in last year's draft. Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, and the Cowboys improved from 4-12 in 2015 to 13-3 this past season.

The Cowboys' improvement also could be attributed to improved play at quarterback, with rookie Dak Prescott throwing 23 touchdowns and four interceptions, but Elliott's success may help Cook's draft status as well as that of Leonard Fournette of Louisiana State.

Both are generally considered Top 10-to-15 selections, and they are projected in the Top 10 in many early mock drafts.

"We saw in Dallas what they did with Ezekiel Elliott and we saw with the Rams did the year before that with Todd Gurley …" Rang said. "Teams are going to be taking running backs earlier. I think they [the Jaguars] are looking to complement the investments they've already made at defensive line and that they've already made at quarterback.

"Dalvin Cook's a special player, so I think that makes sense. Just connecting the dots, I think that's more of a possibility than the average fan might anticipate."

Another real factor to consider: Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin has had history of success with running backs in the Top 10 having drafted Fred Taylor No. 9 overall selection in 1998.

That was a different era, an era when more backs went that early. Will Coughlin veer the same direction 19 seasons later? Stay tuned.

SENIOR BOWL TAKEAWAYS

A few quick thoughts following the Senior Bowl …

*The guess here is the Jaguars' choice between defense or running back at No. 4 overall in April remains an issue through draft night. Cook and Fournette are enticing, but the arguments against running back early in the first round are strong. Not only are running backs' careers often shorter, but the position usually is dependent on a strong line – and production at the position can be found in later rounds. …

*The buzz among draftniks and league people at the Senior Bowl was that this indeed is a comparatively down year at the offensive tackle in the draft. Cam Robinson of Alabama has been mentioned as a Top 10 possibility, but the consensus is he likely won't be selected in the Top 5.

*Tight end is considered a strong position in this draft, and it indeed proved so in Mobile, with Alabama's O.J. Howard – as expected – the top prospect at the position. He appeared to solidify himself as a first-round selection. Evan Engram of Mississippi also had a strong week.

*Dan Feeney of Indiana entered the week as perhaps the top offensive lineman at the game and he exited it the same way. He continues to be a first-round possibility and can play guard or center.

*The intrigue around the league regarding the Jaguars' management structure is real. Coughlin is a high-profile presence within the league, and his move to running football operations after two decades as a head coach is a significant change. There's confidence within league circles that he will make the adjustment, but how he and General Manager David Caldwell work together will be intriguing. …

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