JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars have more needs than quarterback.
And while that position was a major focus for Jaguars observers during the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine this past week, a major focus in the coming weeks and months figures to be tight end.
General Manager David Caldwell was asked the importance of production at the position.
"It's key," Caldwell said.
That's true for every NFL team, and it could be particularly true for the Jaguars this offseason – and not just because the team has lacked a big-time receiving threat at the position for too long.
The Jaguars figure to have a new quarterback next season, and they don't figure to completely stop wanting to be able to control clock and tempo with a strong running game. Better production from the tight end position would help both areas.
"For us, we are a run-oriented team and I think it would be a key factor for us to have a guy that can make plays," Caldwell said. "You look at some of the best teams in the league and the tight ends they have had. My time in Atlanta, we always had a good tight end. My time in Indianapolis …
"It is probably the quarterback's best friend, especially to have a guy that can make plays in that role."
Head Coach Doug Marrone echoed that thought.
"When you look around the league, when you have someone to create a matchup problem with, it's a weapon," Marrone said. "You see that throughout the league. A lot of quarterbacks, if you look at the ones who are really playing well, they have that threat – that seam player, that middle read.
"They're able to win and they're able to run. It's an important piece of not only the passing game, but also the running game. I think that's where the challenge is."
Knowing there's a tight end need is one thing. Filling it has been a struggle for the Jaguars in recent memory. The team signed high-profile tight end Julius Thomas as an unrestricted free agent in the 2015 offseason and released him following the 2016 season. The team signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins – a lower-profile free agent – last offseason and declined to pick up his option for 2019 after he missed the final 11 games following core-muscle surgery.
The Jaguars' tight-end challenge is one many teams face – i.e., finding a capable receiver at the position who is not a run-blocking liability.
"People look at it now and they label it," Marrone said. "They say, 'Well, that's a 'Y' tight end. That's an 'F' tight end. You look at the elite guys and they're the guys who are able to do both. That's what you're always trying to find where you're not as limited or predicable in what you do.
"Most of them are playing basketball right now."
The good news for the Jaguars at the tight end spot? The consensus among analysts and many personnel people is that it's one of the best, deepest classes at the position in recent memory. The class not only includes T.J. Hockenson of Iowa – versatile enough as a run-blocker and receiver to be considered a possible Top 10 selection – it also includes projected first-round selections Noah Fant of Iowa and Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama. Kaden Smith of Stanford, Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M and Caleb Wilson of UCLA also are projected as possible Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) selections. "It's one of the better ones that I have seen in recent history," Caldwell said. "I think you can get one through the whole draft that can come in and make your team and contribute for you."
ON HYDE …
Running back Carlos Hyde's future with the Jaguars was a topic at the combine last week, and Caldwell was non-committal on the issue. "As of right now, yes," Caldwell said when asked if Hyde figured in the team's plans. The Jaguars in October traded a fifth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns for Hyde, who rushed for 189 yards on 58 carries after joining the team. "It is always hard when you get a player midseason," Caldwell said. "Each case is different. [Defensive tackle] Marcell [Dareus] came in and hit the ground running [following a midseason trade in 2017, but] it may be a little bit easier for a defensive lineman than a running back to do that. I think some of the unknowns about when [running back] Leonard [Fournette] was going to come back and what his role was going to be probably factored into that." Adam Schefter of ESPN over the weekend reported that the Jaguars could pursue trading Hyde and veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson with the goal of getting a trade in place that can be processed when the league year opens March 13.